As I mentioned last time, on New Year’s Day I fell into a deep despair around my ability to change, and an antidote emerged in the form of prayer.
If I couldn’t envision myself changing, then I was destined to keep finding myself in some very familiar and very painful places.
And the idea that these familiar and difficult places are ‘not my fault’ but rather the fault of those around me just doesn’t cut it anymore either (though I’m still addicted to finger-pointing).
I don’t want to have my head in the sand of projection. I’d rather feel deep despair than be delusional around waiting for others to change so my life can get better.
So yeah, NYD, hard day, but on the upside, it unexpectedly galvanized me into stepping more fully into my Priestess Self.
I shed a skin with that Dark Moon, and by the New Moon on January 5, I was feeling more purposeful. A tiny, familiar flame of hope was alive in my heart.
My brother-in-law recently used the aphorism: “There’s a ceiling to the healing.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about it since. What resonates is the idea that we can only go so far with our stuck thinking, our stuck living, if we keep on approaching things from the realm of psychology, or our own individual efforts.
So often transformation comes when I reach out to another – say, a helpful counsellor, or feel the solidarity of placing my story in a wider context, like what happens when I am part of a women’s circle.
Last month, for me, the reaching out was to the realm of the spiritual, doing what a priestess does: pray.
I’ve been journeying with the concept of ‘priestessing my life’ for some years now, not to mention ‘midwifing my soul’ before that, not to mention growing up with the idea of daily devotions as part of my childhood Christian faith, so it’s ironic that the idea of a daily prayer practice felt new, but it did!
In journeying through some significant despair, I came up with this new concept: how about I pray?
Yep, stay tuned for more insights, folks!
And sure, I’m laughing at myself, but I can also see why it felt new. I don’t actually live the life of a priestess (translate that to ‘nun’ for a modern semi-equivalent). I am a mother, wife, creator, entrepreneur. The habits and rituals of these roles shape my daily life.
My physical surroundings don’t invite me into prayer the way living in a monastery would. The rhythms of how I spend my time don’t centre around my relationship with Divine Mystery. No bells call me to prayer. And the wider culture in which I exist doesn’t value prayer at all.
The insight provided by my despair was that not only could I change my environment to invite me into regular connection with Something Bigger Than Me, but that I had to, in order to change and grow.
I pray, even though I’m not sure who or what I’m praying to.
Actually, often I’m praying to myself! To remind myself of the things I know to be true, the important things I need to return to again and again.
It doesn’t matter that I haven’t got a neat theology or thealogy. I just know that Mystery surrounds me and the forces of Life and Death weave us all together in an amazing, endless, miraculous cycle. These inklings and unfinished, felt truths are enough.
And I know that prayer transforms me. I am changed by one round of my altar, speaking my hard-won truths and deepest desires.
What did I do?
I made a physical altar. The visual reminder of the sacred, of my spiritual process, of my quiet inner truths, is in my face every day (expand).
I wrote prayers and affirmations that are nuanced and relevant to me in this particular body, on this particular journey, based on what was and is arising, inspired by what I’m reading, listening to, and experiencing…
And I started showing up at my altar day after day.
I pray by moving around it, rather than staying statically in one place. It is potent to pray with my body and my movement. I need the embodied reminder that life changes, and all the opportunities of each phase are within me.
And get this! The day I began, I opened a package from my teacher that was radiating ‘special’ and inside was this circlet! (see photo above) So every time I pray, I start by adorning my third eye with this magical moon, and entering a different ‘headspace.’
My altar changes. Generally with each Dark Moon. I clear the altar of everything but the key orientations and symbols, so that over the course of the following month I can add the things that are resonant. Clearing it off feels like a nourishing fresh start.
My prayers change too. I add in quotes and ideas that speak to my journey. I tweak my words, or add in meditation. This last month, the written prayers became so long that I changed the process of how I move around the altar so that I don’t read them all every day – that gives me fresh ears to hear them and means I’m not taking too long.
Most mornings I show up to pray. It’s a beautiful attuning way to start my work day. I sit in the place that corresponds with the current phase of the moon, and I speak the prayers that I have related to that moon phases.
I also like the idea of a transportable altar, laying it out each day! Here’s a photo of a temporary one I set up during my first Dark Moon solo retreat!
Implement this idea:
Create an altar.
Anywhere and anything will do, but the more meaningful you make it, and the safer you feel to put things on there that speak to your unique journey, the better it will ‘work’ as a visual invitation into your spiritual process. For example, you may not want to have it in a public place.
Orient it to the directions – North, South, East and West.
This is part of grounding ourselves in Where We Are. Use the compass on your mobile phone to work out where North is. Correlate North with the season on Winter (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) or the season on Summer (for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere).
Connect the other seasons with the other directions, and add lunar phases if you want, so that your altar reminds you of the potent invitations of the wisdom of the cycle: Birth, Growth, Full Bloom, Harvest, Decay, Death, Rebirth.
Write some prayers, or guidelines for prayers.
Perhaps use the lunar cycle to shape these prayers. I have long wordy prayers/affirmations for each phase, truths I want to return to, day after day and month after month. But this may not work for you.
Perhaps you have a single sentence for each Season, or each lunar phase, and you say them all each time you pray.
Perhaps you free-form all your prayers, making them up on the day, different each time.
Maybe you meditate in silence, as an embodied prayer.
Maybe you simply bow to each direction, a different embodied prayer that acknowledges the cycle that holds us all.
Perhaps at the Dark Moon you pray for yourself and at the Full Moon you pray for others, by holding them in your loving heart.
Somehow, work out how you are going to pray over the course of the lunar month, one New Moon to the next.
Find a time each day to pray.
You can’t beat consistency. Showing up again and again allows new awareness, ideas and possibilities to unfold within us. I pray best when the kids are all bundled off to school and the house is quieter.
There may be no ‘best’ time, though. Perhaps you grab five minutes as you’re boiling water for your morning cuppa. I find it harder to pray on the weekends, when there’s sleep ins and kids home and less of a rhythm. And I don’t beat myself up about this.
The point is to pray, even for one minute, regularly!
Just see what it takes to show up at your altar most days. See if and how it changes your days. Tweak the words of your prayers so that they feel very aligned and authentic. Allow your words and practice to change over time – for me there’s such nourishment in my spiritual practice not being a static thing.
If you are willing, share a picture or video of your altar, or share how a prayer held you through a day. #pylaltar