This is one of those posts that I don’t want to write, but I need to write (and have been asked to write). And so, I’m going to write it. But note that this is under duress.
You see, I am going through an ordeal right now. I have been for months. And the fact of the matter is, it’s of my own choosing.
Well, kind of.
I am choosing to write this for a couple of reasons. I think the biggest reason is that I need to finally come out and say what the heck is going on in my life, and why I haven’t blogged in two months. But it’s also because I don’t know if many understand what a spiritual ordeal actually is, and what it means to go through one. I’ve seen many people focus on the spiritual aspects of a goal and not recognize the ordeal that needs to be gone through in order to achieve that goal. Or, people only focus on the spiritual aspects of the ordeal only to deny the practical disciplines that need to go along to achieve the spiritual goal. That is one of the reasons why I’m being asked to share this right now. To use the well-worn phrase, be careful what you wish for people.
Let’s get some clarifications out of the way before I go further.
The Background of an Ordeal
First, what exactly is an ordeal? The definition of an ordeal, through a very quick Google search, is, “a painful or horrific experience, especially a protracted one.” Now, with that definition, why the hell would anyone want to go through one?
The quickest answer I can come up with is to become stronger. Or, to become wiser. And, well, to live. We actually are going through ordeals almost daily in this world. Sickness, trauma, arguments with others and many other things can be considered ordeals. For a while, there was a meme going around that said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Those battles spoken about in that meme are other people’s ordeals.
So my belief about these ordeals is that since we have to go through them anyway, why not learn from them? Why not try to approach the ordeal in a manner that will help you further your understanding about a specific topic or issue? Or even better, how can the ordeal help you work on uncovering and dealing with issues that you carry? For me, that is a very specific point of my spirituality; to use ordeals to better understand the world around me and for my own self-improvement.
So as someone who gravitates toward a self-centered concept of paganism, who only 6ish years ago found deities that she agreed to work with directly after a multi-year hiatus, and is starting to find her voice again in the community, it makes perfect sense that my mundane ordeals would have a spiritual aspect to them. It also makes sense because I am doing intimate work with specific Gods. And those specific Gods expect that you clean up after yourself and work towards a common goal.
These ordeals are a blessing in that when you are done you will be absolutely shocked at the mountains you have climbed, the struggles you have gotten through, and that you did all of the things that you thought you couldn’t do.
Ordeals are also a curse because you are about to go climb those mountains, work through multiple struggles, and do all of the things you think you can’t do right now.
It seems like many pagans today seem to equate ordeals with spirituality only; as in, they only focus on spiritual struggles (initiations, rites, and other journeys) and assume they are the only path for spiritual growth. Some even focus so hard on the spiritual aspects that they literally are hiding from the physical issues of their life (which in fact, are their actual ordeals). Still, others may focus on the physical as not an ordeal, but something else. They may, in fact, give the physical issue a spiritual cause (e.g., someone is out to get me). That is where discernment is absolutely necessary to understand what is really going on. In my case, yes, there are other reasons why things are happening in my life right now, and I recognize the cause and effect of those reasons. But at the same time, I know my issues are part of an ordeal and that this ordeal is physical and spiritual in nature. I say that because I see the results of the struggle that I am in. There are both physical and spiritual benefits to this to this struggle. That in my mind classifies this as an ordeal.
The Path to My Own Ordeal
Looking at things as ordeals comes naturally to me. Long story short, I’ve set myself on a path of reinventing myself once before, and although it took some time, I’ve come through those struggles beautifully. I’m proud of what I have accomplished, and because of those accomplishments, I’ve caught the eye of a certain one-eyed deity.
Odin is very much a deity that appreciates people dealing with their own crap. And I’ve done several cycles of dealing with my own crap already – once doing a full reinvention of myself, and multiple times in overcoming significant obstacles and fears. Looking at that resume that I am so proud of, it makes sense that he’d want me to be working for him (to put it bluntly).
Other than following through with the self-improvement, I wonder if Odin also works with me because I have developed skills to handle new ordeals. I’m disciplined (for the most part), and I have the drive to push myself forward, even sometimes at the expense of overdoing it and hurting myself. I’m also stubborn as all hell and if it meant proving a point, I will take on detrimental actions that in the end will cause more trauma than it will likely be worth (but I proved my point, dammit). So there are lots of pluses and minuses here.
Anyway, Odin comes along, and I agree to work with him. And in the span of a year and a half, I start a new spiritual training program, decide to go to graduate school, find a degree program that matches my interests, start it, take on a larger role in my work life, and find my intuitive readings becoming more and more accurate and specific as well as going into deeper spiritual issues. And I often find myself being drawn to do specific readings at specific times, giving the client “exactly what they needed to hear” (their words, not mine).
And if that wasn’t enough, the energy of my household raised to the point where my husband started feeling it and started his own road of improvement. And just as he started his own training, he was laid off of his work (which I think was all part of his spiritual development as well). Overall, being laid off will be a good thing – he was being underutilized and there was no room for growth at his former employer – but the finding of a job has added a level of deep stress for him and I to both be dealing with.
Again, you can see spiritual ordeals are not just spiritual tasks. You face things that you are holding onto that are detrimental to your growth. You go out of your comfort zone, taking risks you wouldn’t normally take, and most importantly, changing your habits and mindset to allow for more understanding and compassion for yourself and others. After all, ordeals are meant to open yourself up for a clearer link to the spirits and to the Gods, and sometimes it’s shadow work that is keeping you from them. Shadow work cannot be cleared up by spirituality alone.
Now Onto My Confession
To put it bluntly, this ordeal is kicking my ass.
It’s taking me places in my psyche that I haven’t talked about, haven’t dealt with before, and couldn’t even define with words until a month or so ago.
I now realize that I have a very, very deep animosity for myself, my intelligence, my skills, and my abilities. I believe this animosity to be a learned behavior, but also a congenital one. And that animosity has influenced my life in ways I’m still realizing. It’s one of the reasons why I (still) cope with overeating. It’s the reason why I haven’t followed through in some of my past self-improvement endeavors, and it’s the reason why I sometimes push myself so hard I break my own body. There are other things I’ve realized too; other things that I haven’t really articulated before (and if I tried to explain, I’d take up two or three more blog posts just to describe), but the animosity is the one I’ll confess now as it is front and center in my head.
But now that I know it is there, the ‘mental tape’ that was buried for so long just reinforcing self-defeating behavior is now something I hear loudly being played over and over again as I continue to step out of my comfort zone. While I’m doing homework in my class (that I have to pass with a B or better just to stay in the program – no pressure) I am constantly fighting it beat me up and telling me I will fail. I get tapes at work telling me I’m not good at my job and will be laid off soon, making me lose my house and my security because we have no other cash flow. At home, I’m not doing enough, I’m ugly, I’m fat, and I’ll never be any healthier.
Why are there multiple tapes going on? Because this animosity was buried so deep it has become a habit, so just acknowledging that it is there isn’t going to stop it. I need to figure out and establish new tapes to replace the ones that keep flooding my brain, and ultimately, create new habits that will replace the bad ones.
So while I’m dealing with all of the uncomfortable feelings of this animosity, and with the insecurity of my current financial status, I have other questions about the success of this endeavor in my head. What if I do succeed in getting rid of this animosity? What then? Who will I be? What will replace it? What will my comfort zone look like? Will it be a place I want to be, or am I asking for something I really don’t want and don’t know it?
And from a spiritual perspective, the question about why Odin is pushing me to do this is also at the forefront of my mind. Don’t forget, Odin is a God of manipulation as well. He does things for reasons we won’t always understand. And that manipulation may not have any right or wrong to it; in his mind, it is all for the greater goal.
To say all of this has brought up insecurities, anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings is an understatement. I’ve had panic attacks, bouts of anger, bouts of depression, frustration, tears, and so many other emotions I’ve lost track. But while all of these emotions are being sorted out, I’m still working 45ish hours a week (in a job I like, so that is good), putting in about 35 hours a week on my graduate studies, trying to get in some sort of healthy exercise, keeping up spiritual disciplines and trying to be support to my job seeking husband as well as helping to keep up the house and try not to let my emotions get the best of me so that a fibromyalgia pain flare-up doesn’t sideline me.
This shit is hard. But it’s meant to be. And I keep getting reassured that each and every piece of this ordeal has meaning. Every struggle day in and day out is part of the ordeal. And I do know this won’t last. My husband has had 11 interviews in two months. The only reason he isn’t working is that the firms he’s interviewed with are taking their time due to the holiday working schedules (it happens at this time of year). He’s putting in the time so the financial security will come…sooner or later. I’ll be finished with my class in mid-December (after I finish a final examination, which has its own negative mental tapes playing in the background).
I keep reassuring myself (and getting reassured) that I’m doing everything I can, and I’m doing it all right. I’m making the mindful choices, I’m sticking with things and putting in the time I’m supposed to be doing. I just need to keep moving on.
I’ve been focused on self-improvement work for the past 16 years. I’ve done a lot, and I’m still always surprised at the requirements that are laid out before me to achieve another personal goal. I know I do more than many others do when it comes to spiritual discipline, but I also recognize that there is give and take here. If I want to do more, or am asked to do more, I have to be ready to accept the burden of the ordeal to prepare me for that endeavor. I also have to accept the responsibility that comes along with the tasks I’m asking to take on.
Not everyone is fit to be a teacher, a mentor or a spiritual leader. Not everyone is meant to be a Priest or Priestess. But yet we all have something to contribute to the pagan community as a whole. Our task, if we want to be a part of a pagan community, is to find that thing we are meant to do and serve our community as we can. This means that we will have to go through at least one spiritual ordeal in our lifetimes. And while my personal ordeal is tough, I am recognizing that it is also very much about finding that place in the pagan community as a whole. So I will continue with it to the best of my ability. There is still a chance I may fail, and I accept that. Either way, I will be continuing to learn, and that is the most valuable thing I can do.