Making the Most Out of the Dark Time of the Year

Making the Most Out of the Dark Time of the Year

 

by C. Cheek

In the days before deep freezers and electric heating, winter was a time of deprivation, a time of hungry children and wolves baying in the dark. Now, winter means a thousand media images asking you to spend money you don’t have, to buy presents people don’t need, in celebration of a god you don’t worship. The difficulty of turning down yet another plate of free cookies is nothing like wondering if you’ll have enough food to last until the spring. We live in better times now, times in which our main problem is one of excess. But aren’t we missing something? The silence and hunger of winter have something to teach us.

How then, can we draw back our lives? How can we cast off the gluttony and excess that surrounds us and listen for what darkness has to teach? Here are some practical suggestions for bringing this paring-down into your own life.

Clear your debts: Shinto-Buddhists, on December 31, pay off old debts to start the New Year with a clean slate. Even if you can’t “consolidate all your high credit card bills into one easy payment” as the spam advises, how about giving back that ten bucks you borrowed from your sister? And what about other debts? Sometimes we owe debts to our friends that aren’t monetary. We all borrow things — books, clothes, movies, CDs — and sometimes those things never find their way back to their owners. Those shoes will sit in your closet, with you always meaning to give them back to Sarah next time you see her, and then years later you clean it out and realize that Sarah has moved out of state. The shoes have now entered that uncomfortable stage where you don’t feel right keeping them, but you can’t get rid of them either. Go through your home and find anything that doesn’t belong to you, and make a point of returning it. Don’t wait until the next time you accidentally see that person. Bring that book back now, or send that DVD in the mail if your cousin lives too far away.

Sometimes we have emotional debts. In many relationships, we ask more than we offer. Are you the asker? Do you have a friend who listens to all your problems without complaint? Or maybe your coworker has covered your shift? Think about your life and try to balance out, get down to a place where you owe no debts, and have no obligations tugging you out of your center.

Clear your home:While you’re getting rid of some of your money, how about going through your household goods? Do you really need four spatulas? Are you ever going to wear that size six bridesmaid’s dress again? Many worthwhile charities could use donations, but more to the point, we can use the feeling of relief we get when things we don’t need leave our homes. Maternity clothes are a perfect example. I kept bags of maternity clothes in the closet for almost a year after my daughter was born. Clothes are symbolic of periods in our lives. Giving my maternity clothes to the Goodwill meant that I was acknowledging the end of the childbearing chapter in my life. Hard? Yes, it’s always hard to close a door.

Let this be the month to slay white elephants. When my grandmother died, she left boxes and boxes of antiques, which a packrat like me couldn’t resist — a silver-plated teapot, a porcelain figurine, a souvenir from someone’s trip to Mexico — a lifetime of clutter from my grandmother’s life. She hadn’t showed these things to me while she was alive, so the objects had no sentimental value. I kept them because they were too `good’ to throw away. But there’s a perfect place for white elephants: re-gifting. How about that lava lamp, or your singing bass? Look at it, think about all the people you know, and try to decide who would like to get this as a “just because” gift. Can’t think of anyone? There are always eBay and yard sales.

Clean your home. Once you’ve gotten rid of the knickknacks you never really liked, it’s time to get rid of the dirt. Some Zen practitioners believe that manual labor is the perfect meditation. Launder those curtains. Wipe down the walls. Push the mop back and forth against that floor, and let your mind empty itself. And when you’re in that restful center place without thought, wash away the negative energy that’s accumulated in your home. Pour it down the drain with the dirty water.

Clean your body on the outside: When your home is clean and uncluttered, you can work on the home of your soul. My morning shower feels so rushed. Some days there isn’t even enough time to wash my hair. Make a day for cleaning. Sit down, look at yourself. Toenails grow, calluses build up on feet and elbows. Get a pumice stone and rub away that built-up skin. That skin is weeks old. Let it go. You don’t need it anymore. A toenail can take 12– 18 months to grow out. What were you doing when that toenail first came out the quick? Maybe there was something in your life a year ago that you wish hadn’t happened. Snip, snip. Throw that crescent into the garbage.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our outside face, we forget to show people who we really are. When you’re a child, soap and water seem enough. Then, you add moisturizer, conditioner, make-up, colognes — product after product until the scents and chemicals swirl around you. Don’t forget, you’re a human under there. If you dare, let your hair go un-dyed, leave off the conditioner and hairspray and gel, stop your make-up routine for a week. Or only a day? Do what you can. Look in the mirror. That skin, that hair, that’s you. Haven’t seen her for a while, have you?

Clean your body on the inside: You know those egg sandwiches for breakfast aren’t really good for you, and neither is that two-latte-a-day habit. Yes, we all gain weight over the holidays. Unless they’re living in Siberia, no one can escape the Christmas blitz. Free food, parties, candy on sale; sluggish overeating can make us feel terrible. Go through your pantry and get rid of the food you don’t need. Give it to food banks. No, not just the can of beans; the food you really don’t need, the Oreos, the cake mix, the six-pack of soda, the giant tub of frosting. In this day of plenty, we don’t need high-calorie foodstuffs hoarded away. Be a lean hungry wolf, not a fat hoarding chipmunk.

Make New Year’s resolutions and diet, not just to lose weight, but also to feel hunger. That’s right, hunger. Hunger can teach us things about ourselves that we can’t learn in any other way. That empty belly, the grumble, the hint of pain. Our ancestors lived with that for months on end. Could you live on dwindling supplies of grain and dried meat? No? Could you live without cigarettes, or caffeine, or chocolate, or beer? Try. See if you can. See how strong you are. See what’s in your core. Maybe you’re tougher than you gave yourself credit for.

Clear your heart: Take a vacation from people who harm you, from those who sap your energy, from those who make you angry. The holidays can be hard to bear, and there’s no reason to keep carrying emotional angst around with us until spring. Sometimes people hurt us, knowingly or unknowingly. Get a notepad and write down the hurt: My sister criticized me. Someone dinged my car in the parking lot. My co-worker got a raise and I didn’t. Take those notes and burn them. Watch the smoke fly away. You don’t need the hurt anymore. In the spring, you’ll make a new life for yourself. Feel neutral yet? No? Maybe you’re the one who harmed someone. Find the strength within you to apologize to your brother for yelling at him. Admit to your roommate that you didn’t clean your mess, and make it right. Even if it hurts, you’ll feel better afterwards.

Some friends and I used to play roller hockey on Sunday mornings. We’d get up early, and play for hours until our arms and feet ached and our shirts were soaked. No shower feels as good as the one that sluices off sweat. No meal feels as good as the one that truly slakes hunger. By truly embracing the cold and darkness of winter, we’ll make the most of spring. Now is the time to tear away all the old weeds in our flower bed and clear the soil to make room for new growth. Let go of that which you don’t need, and that which you can live without. Prune away the inessentials, until only you remain. Then we’ll see what blooms when the earth warms again.

Weird Questions You Don’t Want to Ask Your Vet

Weird Questions You Don’t Want to Ask Your Vet

  • Nicolas, selected from petMD

 

By Dr. Patty Khuly, PetMD

Got a question for your vet but too embarrassed to ask? Dr. Khuly answers some odd, gross and downright silly questions!
1. Why do some dogs have hair in their ears and some don’t?

Arctic vs. non-Arctic breeds, mostly. Dogs who must survive in cold climes are more likely to have hairy ears. That’s an easy one. Next…?

2. Why does my dog like to stare into my eyes and hold eye contact (not when he wants food or something)?

I will have to ask a behaviorist (or twelve) to get a better handle on this one but here’s what I suspect: Dog domestication has evolved patchily over the last eon or so. Greater domestication is accompanied by behavioral traits that include the very human (and much less dog-like) eye contact thing.

Extended eye contact among dogs is verboten unless you want to spar, but domesticated dogs have come to associate eye contact with humans as a way to get things from us. Wilder dogs (like Morgan) would never deign to beg in this way but happy dogs like Maddie fall all over themselves to get your attenshun* any way they can.

3. Did yoga develop from watching dogs? They totally do a downward dog thing.

Yes. Yogis obviously engage in bio-thievery. They totally stole the pose from dogs.

4. Why do dogs’ pads sometimes smell like evergreen meets rosin? And other times like corn chips?

Knowing your dogs I’d say it depends on the season, the hiking terrain and moisture levels. Got moist feet? Then maybe you’ve got yeast growing there; that can kind of smell like corn chips.

Hiking among the evergreens? Voilà.

5. What is the purpose of a dewclaw?

Vestigial; which means it no longer has a purpose. It is in the process of being evolutionarily rejected, which is why so many purebred and sporting dog owners want them lopped off.
6. Why do some dogs poop every morning like clockwork and other dogs is not as regular?

Why does my receptionist constantly complain of constipation in spite of an Activia habit, and my acupuncturist not-so-subtly tut-tut that my elimination habits are more frequent than most?

Get over it! As long as everything that goes in comes out and no impact on health results … who the frick cares?

 

7. Why do they say dogs can’t go into restaurants for health reasons — what health reasons?

They lie. Or rather … they are ignorant. They excuse the feverish sneezes of a human child in the table at the front of the restaurant as “cute” while a dog’s under-the-table snores are regarded as “the devil’s music.” (I’m making stuff up now.)

Honestly, I think most restaurants are more worried about dog bites and liability insurance than they are about any health risks. That or they truly are as stupid as all get-out.

8. What makes dog saliva so slippery?

I think I’ve also overheard that it’s the world’s best natural lubricant. Truly, however, I have no answer, other than to note that cat saliva is also incredibly viscous. Maybe someone else out there knows…?

9. If a dog’s tail hangs over its anus why doesn’t it ever get really dirty?

I’m not sure which way to go with this one but I think I’ll err on the side of biology:

Dogs have a lot more natural oils on their fur than we do on our human hairs. These oils repel the mucosal exterior of most dog stool. But that’s not universally true. By virtue of their hairy genetics, some dogs have finer, longer, less oily hair (think Maltese). That’s what a groomer’s “sanitary clip” was invented for: clean tails.

Shamanism and Shape-shifting

Shamanism and Shape-shifting

Author: Gentle Deer Lion Tamer

Shamanism:

Shamanism is a set of tools and techniques used to interact with the spirit world and the world around us. It has no specific pantheon of gods and is attached to no particular culture. It is a way of looking at the world and at yourself. There are no hard-set rules, no hierarchy to try and work through. Shamanism is the oldest known form of spiritual practice. It is a time-tested practice, what works is kept, what doesn’t is left behind. When our ancient ancestors prayed that the spirit of the Deer would come to them allowing them a good hunt, they were using shamanic techniques although I am sure that was not the word they used to describe it.

Shamanism is a personal quest for knowledge and inner power, but it is a quest that has traditionally taken place within the confines of a tribe or family group. The same holds true for those who follow a shamanic path today, but our groups might be different. We could work to guide and aid our family or a group of friends or a pagan circle. These groups are just as valid and appropriate a place for a modern person walking a shamanic path as a tribe was to an ancient one. A shaman’s place is within a community, not apart from it.

Shamans have held an important place in many different cultures throughout the world since our beginnings. They have been mediators, ceremonialists, healers, diviners, many different kinds of artists and much more. They learn and work with power for both themselves and the good of those around them. They understand the connection and need for balance amongst all things, that all aspects of the world that we share with the rest of creation is alive, humans, animals, plants, rocks, and even the wind.

Traditionally people generally came to a shamanic path by being chosen and trained by an experienced shaman, or by inheriting the role from a parent. Often people choose or are led to follow a shamanic path after a near death experience, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go out and try to kill yourself if you want to learn shamanism. In today’s world many people come to the shamanic path because they feel drawn to it or curious about it. Anyone can incorporate shamanic practices into their lives. You only need to believe that you can.

However, interest in shamanism does not make you a Shaman. If you are just starting this path it is much more appropriate to say you are following a shamanic path or a student of shamanism. Shaman is one among many titles that can be used for a person who has followed and studied this path for many years. Another common title is Medicine Woman or Man.

Another common misconception is that shamanism is synonymous with Native American spirituality. Native Americans were one of many groups that used shamanic practices in their spirituality. Many other cultures did and still do, from South America all the way to Siberia in fact. Some of the better known shamanic paths include Native American shamanism, Celtic shamanism, and Siberian shamanism.

Shape-shifting:

Shape-shifting is a type of meditation on the relationship between humankind and nature, in particular animals. Shapeshifting is based on assuming certain characteristics of an animal. Traits and talents are also included in these characteristics. These characteristics, traits, and talents are assumed for a limited time and for a particular purpose. A shape-shifter is able to change shape either at will or under special circumstances.

Shape-shifters are not just human; they are also animals and plants. Shape-shifting ability depends on the level or degree of energy or quality of life the creature possesses. It is more difficult for plants because they are stationary, and least difficult for human beings because they are most able to understand the dynamics involved. Animals, including humans, are mobile, and it follows that animals are adept at moving and directing energy. It is, as humans, our innate nature, and our state of being.

For Chinese Taoists, there are two methods or purposes for shape-shifting. One, to strengthen or improve your vital essence by the study of metaphysics and nature. Two, to share your vital essence with others. This shift can be accomplished through meditation, channeling, dancing, and singing – as well as chanting, ritual, and making love. More or less, any situation where people merge together as One and build energy.

Toltec shamans shape-shift and gather energy by pulling together the power from the universe, for instance, from dead stars. Through a complex set of physical movements, breath and intention, the Toltec shaman gathers and collects energy to be used toward specific purposes.

The Celtic shaman also understands that things never truly die; they merely change form. Thus, the cycle of life becomes more understood. All things continuously change shape. A child grows to adulthood to old age to death and again. Everything is continuously reborn through shape-shifting and the elemental components are constantly recycling.

A glass of water is a good example of these changes. If given a glass of water, you cannot destroy it; it is impossible to destroy the water. If poured our, the water becomes part of whatever you pour it into or onto. If evaporated, it later becomes rain. If drank, it becomes part of the body then waste that is recycled into the Earth. In other words, like all other things, it cannot be destroyed. Nothing can be destroyed. All is ever-beginning, never-ending. All things merely shift shape. This very strongly suggests that shapeshifting is a natural state of existence.

Human reason and logic do not necessarily apply to shapeshifting. To shift into another person, animal, or elemental energy means being privy to the secrets of a state of being where you are able to feel the unexplainable, the mysterious. By setting aside known and accepted natural laws, like inertia, you can merge into the body of any animal, plant, rock, body of water – anything you choose. This merging allows you to experience the world of instinct. This world is frightening to most humans who have separated themselves from nature and from the “natural” state of being.

As you learn more about shifting, and abandon the structures and forces that hold you to the Earth, time and space become very fluid and soft. This creates a gateway to Oneness, a threshold of awareness where your perspective alters and changes permanently. Once you move through that threshold, you are transformed. It becomes a metamorphosis.

The fluidity of reality becomes “normal” and you realize you are not a fixed human being on this planet but a multidimensional being with the potential of experiencing an infinite number of lifetimes, worlds, and shapes. One important thing to remember in practicing shape-shifting is that nothing is what it seems to be, especially time, matter, and space.

On a very basic level, shifting allows for a richer and fuller perspective of life and experience. As a way to gather information and build magickal skill, shape-shifting connects you with your creative ability and your spiritual center, regardless of your religious, philosophical, or cultural preferences.

The key to learning how to shape-shift is merging, sometimes called the “thirteenth factor.” Merging, or the thirteenth factor is the point where there is no division between body, mind and spirit. Everything becomes Oneness, and all knowledge and wisdom are readily accessible in this place of being, depending on your intentions and desire. Merging is the mystic state where you become one with all things. This occurs naturally when you are in a beautiful nature area, and suddenly you feel yourself becoming part of the trees, the waterfall, and the rocks.

It also occurs when you fall in love. You merge and meld with your partner. Another example is the bonding that happens between parent and child, or between twins.

The Two Main Components of the merging process are breath and intention. First, your intention needs to be specific, simple, and directed. Focus on the intention before, during and after merging.

Second, pay close attention to how you are breathing. Relax. Use “in, 2, 3, 4 – out, 2, 3, 4.” Hold your breath briefly in between. Repeat this as many times as needed for you to relax. After practice, you will find that merging becomes automatic.

When you merge into an animal, you enter the energetic being of the animal, stepping into catness or wolfness, and so on. It is as if you enter the domain of essence, becoming the animal, almost like becoming a mirror of the animal. Each animal becomes an aspect of yourself, your eyes, your legs, your heart become one with the eagle, the horse, the lion, etc.

When you incarnate into the physical, you take form and become flesh, embodied and defined. Definition gives temporary form and shape as a human being. Shape-shifting allow you to briefly step out of that form. It also allows you to move out of “ordinary” reality into multidimensional awareness, realizing you can be here and there at the same time.

It is a strange feeling at first, until you accustom yourself to this new perspective. With practice, you can eventually learn to experimentally be in several places (worlds) at once, hence the concept of simultaneous lifetimes.

There are three levels of shape-shifting: mental, physical (usually accompanied by mental) , and astral.