Today is the 1st of August, the first day of autumn in my Gaelic culture, and I am sitting in a café and contemplating what it is that my spiritual practice needs this year. As I often do at the Sabbats, I read back over all my blog posts written on or near this day over the past six years. And I had a sobering realisation: my spiritual practice began to really, drastically falter this time two years ago.

In hindsight, I am no longer surprised to revisit what I wrote on the 31st July 2015 and read depression and hopelessness between the lines. My beloved cat, Bumble, had died less than three weeks before. I had spent the past twelve months gradually dismantling my life in Dublin. And in the end, I perhaps felt that I had not burst out of that difficult period with the brilliant new life I had hoped for. I was excited to move to Edinburgh a month later; but I was still mired in a relationship which was making us deeply unhappy, but which we still were unable to relinquish. In a way, it felt as though I had given up so much with little return.

From my perspective now, two years later, I am starting to see the progression of my spirituality – its rise and decline – as a caution to myself on imposing a burden of expectation on my practice. In 2015, I was not merely conjoining my spiritual practice with my self development – I was expecting that working harder and harder at my practice, at my ritual, would magically (sometimes literally) make me a happier and better person.

I don’t think this attitude is inherently problematic; but it became a problem for me. I felt frustrated that I was not emerging from a sort of spiritual chrysalis as a perfected being, contented and creatively virulent. All of the dissatisfaction I felt with my daily life, I felt I should and could be solving if only I could just feel more in ritual – if only I could be more spiritual and have deeper, more ecstatic experiences.

If I could go back in time, I would counsel myself some patience. I would remind myself that it’s ok for life to become hard, and to experience emotional turmoil. I would remind myself that when this happens, it’s ok for things like a spiritual practice to feel a little hollow sometimes. But most of all, I would tell myself: your unhappiness is not a failure of faith. Your uncertainty is not a failure of diligence. And for gods’ sake, try to just find one thing that really, truly brings you joy and excitement, and focus on that for a while.

Two years on, I am finally in the process of slowly – so slowly – breathing life and vigour back into my spirituality. What I have learned so far is that, while self-care and self-development need not be segregated from my spiritual practice, if I get too caught up in transforming myself as the aim of practice, it eventually falls flat. If I expect my spirituality to be the driving force behind the changes I want to see in my working and creative life, this will inevitably lead to disappointment, exhaustion, and even resentment in my spirituality.

I need to stop waging a war against myself – and nowhere more than at the altar. I can see now that self-development became a stick with which I beat myself; and after some time, this became synonymous with my spiritual journey.

Instead, now, I am focusing on shifting awareness. I don’t need to change, my habits and my life don’t need to change, in order to “be spiritual”. I simply want to sit at the altar and remember the web of which I am a part. I want to sit at the altar and feel my awareness expand, feel this tiny self expand out to meet the infinity of cosmos. And I no longer want to expect that when I return to normal consciousness, this spiritual experience will have magically transformed me into a perfect, creative, energetic person who can “live her bliss” without stress, anxiety, uncertainty, or obstacle.

6 thoughts on “Lughnasadh: It’s time to return to something new

  1. Paula says:

    Random follower of your work here for a few years now, writing from Pittsburgh USA. I appreciate the stuff you share — your journey mirrors my own in interesting ways and I find encouragement in seeing others learning similar lessons to my own. Your creative work is appreciated! Looking forward to listening to your audio later in the day. Blessed be! (Not “blessed do”!)

  2. Claire says:

    Sometimes we overburden ourselves with expection and ‘shoulds’… ‘Should’ was the prompt for yesterday’s art journalling
    It’s no longer in my vocabulary 🙂

  3. Nicholas says:

    If I’ve learned anything from my own practice, it’s that you can’t fit a square peg into a circle – or however it goes. The more you force it, the harder you make things for yourself.

    Your last paragraph summed it up nicely; your expectations have been tempered. You’re more realistic about what all this spiritual stuff brings. That’s how we go from, “OMG why isn’t this working” to, “all systems go, Captain”.

    So, yeah, the First Harvest. Here in Maine, I’m watching the corn stalks grow to full height – and eagerly awaiting the first signs of old John Barleycorn starting to strain and bend under his own weight.

    ‘ve loved your work for some time now, and this just re-affirms why. 🙂

    • Áine Órga says:

      So true. Thank you for this! That sounds wonderful – here in Edinburgh, we’re just starting to get some leaves turning in earnest now, and it’s beautiful. 🙂

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