Wednesday, February 24, 2016

FAQs about My Pro Services

First of all, thank you so much for all the interest in my first official Proccultist service (and thanks to Jason Miller for that nifty term -- he gets all the credit). A couple of people had questions, so I thought I'd put up a quick FAQ.

This is exactly what I look like when I read!

1. What's different about your Black Swan Divination (AKA: why is it worth it)?
This is a totally legitimate question. There are tons of skilled readers out there and I certainly don't claim to have cornered the market on divination ability. The Black Swan Divination has several unique characteristics:
  • It's a comprehensive life reading in three parts. The reading asks what's going to happen in every major domain of your life. For those areas where a major upset -- either positive or negative -- is coming (a Black Swan) it then suggests where to look for more information and gives you the most likely outcome. Finally, for outcomes that are potentially negative or highly uncertain, it digs deep and tells you what to do about them. This reading assumes that major upsets are a natural part of the life cycle to plan for and deal with rather than "bad luck."
  • It's customized specifically to your life. You get to choose the domains that apply to you (are you a student? do you have kids? do you have a career or a business or both?). In addition, each reading includes the enigmatic "unknown" category, which helps you identify the unknown-unknowns. This category frequently proves highly useful.
  • It's cross-functional. Domains often cross over into one another and the reading often reveals links between one area of your life and another. The way the reading is laid (in parts with the potential to see cards reappear as you dig deeper) often provides very specific information about how to deal with issues or where to look for solutions.
  • It's broad in scope (looking at multiple areas) and in depth (continuing to dig deeper and deeper). The number of cards interpreted are typically between 18 and 36. Yet the writeup is designed to clarify and not confuse. Each writeup concludes with overview points and common themes.
2. Is this the same reading you were giving for free before?
Not quite. The readings that I was recruiting volunteers to try out included only the first two parts of the divination. It also did not include quite as extensive of a writeup or the pictures of the layouts. Frankly, these readings take quite a bit of time and I can't keep doing them gratis.

3. Do you prescribe magical and/or mundane solutions based on the reading?
Such a good question! My readings are pragmatic, but not prescriptive. I interpret the cards and base suggestions on what they say. My skills here are intuiting the messages in the cards, finding patterns and themes across the layout, and suggesting broadly how to approach any problems. In order to provide detailed consulting (for avoiding a Black Swan, launching a PMPM working, meeting a goal, performing a risk analysis, or making a life-change) I need to work more closely and directly with you... which is a whole other thing.

4. What about your other readings? 
I have several other readings, some published on my blog and some that have only been delivered to volunteers. Some of these may become available. Others really only work in the context of a detailed consulting session (like an interactive Skype). And there are some that are small and I think need more surrounding context, like a series of lessons on the topic. If there's something you'd like to work on with me, please let me know.

5. Who are you again?
I'm a Tarot reader with 30 years experience (I started in my very early teens). I'm also a second generation reader. My grandmother used to read with a Tarocchi playing card deck (what I wouldn't give to have that deck today). In addition, I'm a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with over 10 years experience in project management and business analysis. This means that companies pay me to help them achieve their business goals. Finally, I'm a witch who's been doing magic as far back as I can remember.

Thanks again for all the questions and interest. If you have any questions, feel free to email me and hey, if you want a reading, check out the Services page.

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Monday, February 22, 2016

PMPM Execution -- Task Estimation

This is part of my PMPM series. For other posts related to magical project execution, see the main Execution post.

We've been looking at project execution. Specifically, all things that can keep you from doing what you need to do in order to meet your PMPM goals. While magical project management can give you a boost in terms of achievement, we still need to get the work done. One of the ways this goes sideways is in task estimation, which seems to be a failing of human nature.

Two hours, tops!

Let's say you get up on a Sunday morning and decide you want to clean the garage, which is a gigantic, epic mess. You can image your newly clean garage and picture being able to park your car in it, find all your tools and garden supplies when you need them, and have the space to work on various projects. Your mind jumps to the wonderful conclusion and you get started with great enthusiasm.

Fast forward to six PM. You're exhausted, you're filthy, you're hungry. Your kids are complaining because you've been ignoring them all day. And the garage? It's in worse shape than before! I think we've all experienced this -- thinking that something is doable when in fact it's a lot larger and more work than you expected.

But here's the opposite example. You're dreading cleaning up after dinner. Fair enough, as the kitchen looks like a bomb went off, due to a combination of a) not having emptied the dishwasher beforehand, so there dirty dishes are everywhere, b) your spouse's sudden enthusiasm for Thai cooking, which means new sauces and spices that don't have a home, and c) a elaborate multi-pot dinner -- delicious, but what a mess!

But it has to get done, even though it will take all night. So you throw yourself into the effort with vigor, going through your normal routine (store leftovers, put ingredients away, empty dishwasher, scrape plates and toss garbage, load dishwasher, hand wash the pots, clean the stove, wipe the counters, spot clean the floor, take out the trash). And within 20 minutes, everything is done. In fact, unloading the dishwasher only took like 5 of those minutes, so you really should just do it before the dinner rush starts.

Honestly, we do this all the time. We routinely overestimate small projects and underestimate large ones. There have been various reasons proposed for this propensity, but what's more important is how to deal with it, because it's actually a pretty big problem. Underestimating big tasks is demoralizing, while overestimating little ones tends to breed procrastination. The biggest risk is that the little tasks you are putting off become big tasks over time, so you leave them until they are too big to tackle.

Why we Underestimate Big Tasks
1. The big jobs are usually not really tasks at all, but projects in their own right.

The process of getting your garage in order actually includes a ton of smaller projects and tasks like:
  • Separating and tossing trash
  • Identifying stuff to donate and actually donating it (small sub-project)
  • Identifying stuff to sell and actually selling it (which is a sub-project with a bunch of tasks of its own)
  • Figuring out what goes where (categorize and prioritize)
  • Figuring out where stuff goes (buy storage -- another mini project)
  • Letting go of things that you're hanging on to (oh god, emotional work!)
  • Actually getting the space clean, which is hard without completely emptying it
Break that big project down before you start and you'll have a better time seeing it accurately.

2. The big jobs usually don't have a set routine.

If you clean the kitchen all the time, you know the steps and the order to get it done quick. You know that taking the trash out is the last step and that certain items have to be hand washed. You don't have to stop and think about it. You don't have to plan. You don't have to buy special supplies.

If you're looking at a project you don't have a routine for, maybe take a bit of time and make a plan. So, first we'll go through the garage and throw out all the garbage and recyclables, then...

3. The big jobs have been lingering a long time.

If you ever want to motivate yourself to clean up your house, watch an episode of hoarders... or come look at my garage. See several years ago, we were planning on putting a workshop in the garage. The idea was to pull out some shelving, put in a work surface, and organize all the tools around it. Sounds great right? Except that in the middle of things our household suffered a serious injury. Suddenly the garage was the least of our priorities, but because it was in pieces, with less storage and more stuff in it, it quickly spiraled out of control. The old saying "a stitch in time saving nine" is absolutely true. The trouble is that because there was a very long period of time where we weren't finishing the project, or neatening the garage, it got worse and worse. Only now have things been slowly coming back together, and it's taking a long time to dig through all the layers.

Go one layer or zone at a time. And cut yourself some slack. A problem three years in the making isn't going to get fixed in a weekend.

4. The big jobs are usually dense.

If you look around your kitchen, you can immediately see how much mess there is because the mess is usually in a single layer. But look into a closet... there's no way of immediately seeing how much there really is to deal with, so you tend to assume it's less than there is.

Take a closer look before you judge the effort. Dig into the back of that closet... still feel like it's a 5 minute job?

Why we Overestimate Small Projects
1. Because there are so many of them.

The problem is not that the kitchen takes 20 minutes. The problem is that the kitchen is only one of about 8 things you need to get done before bed tonight. If I look around my house right now, I don't see 5 minute tasks, I see a whole list of things to do today.

Combine related things, either by type (all the dusting) or by area (all kitchen-related items). It helps improve efficiency and makes it easier to focus.

2. Because you can see the full scope of the mess.

The messy kitchen is a great example of a completely visible problem. But because it's visible, it can look much more daunting than that innocent closet door.

Sometimes you have to organize before you can clean. Maybe you put all the dirty dishes by the sink and all the pots in the sink and all the recyclables into a bag by the door. Now things are less crazy and all over the place -- even if they still aren't clean.

2. Because routine maintenance is boring and there isn't a big payoff.

You see this on TV ads for home stores. The couple looks out at their dreary yard and go to the hardware store. Cue inspirational montage and suddenly their world is transformed! Sure, they spent thousands and put in weeks of work, but the payoff is equally huge. But wash the sticky casserole dish and no one cares. Basic maintenance is by its nature never ending and not that rewarding.

This video clip resonated incredibly strongly with me when I first saw the movie (one of my favorites, natch). Not that I think you need a man (or a devil for that matter) to fix things. It's the acknowledgement that the daily grind is what drags you down and keeps you from being your best self.

... Still, after enlightenment chop wood carry water, you know?

Try arranging it so that part of your basic maintenance is giving you something back. When I clean the kitchen, yes I get the satisfaction of a clean kitchen (which is nice, but you know, not earth shattering). But when I clean the house altar and lay out new offerings, that gives me -- and the whole house -- a real boost. This is one of the reasons I have a mini kitchen altar (just next to the stove) so I can tie that benefit to the daily chore -- thereby making it less of a chore. When we go through and neaten and dust the living room (the place we spend the most time together) it feels good to wrap it up with a nice cup of tea together. And while cleaning off my desk is not that exciting, doing a reading for someone there? That's great stuff.

The more I can integrate my magic into my life, the easier it is to get those endless little chores done.

Estimating Accurately
If you, like me, tend to overestimate the small stuff and underestimate the big stuff, the best way to mitigate that problem is to just keep it in mind when you estimate.

First, make sure you know how long things actually take. Doing the dishes still seems like a long chore, but I've made a point of timing myself so I know it doesn't take much time at all. Once you know your tendency to mis-estimate, you can adjust on the fly.

For example, you automatically divide your estimate by four (for the little things) or break the big thing down into four parts. I do this routinely for myself and others at work. One engineer's estimate gets automatically doubled while another's gets halved.

I can do that because I know them and know myself, so you have to build a baseline first.

Understand what things eat time: Transitions eat time. Anything involving the car. Doing two things at once. Distractions of all kinds.

It can take a long time to get better at estimating, but it's worth the work because it makes the work easier.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Sometimes They Take What they Want

Interesting discussion going on. First, Jason over at Strategic Sorcery talked about offering disposal. Then Gordon at Runesoup took up the topic with a more general overview of the economics of offerings. Both are well worth a read (although honestly, do I have a single reader who doesn't already read these two blogs?).

The one interesting aspect that wasn't covered is the ability of certain entities to take offerings for themselves.

When you make offerings to higher beings (angels, deities, major land spirits) that you're interested in working with, you are setting up a symbiotic relationship. More than just an economic transaction, you're asking to create a bond. But this can work in reverse as well.

Imagine that you live near a large river. The river's original name was "The Great River" in the local languages of the people who settled its banks thousands of years ago. The river has a huge body of mythology and folklore built up around it.

Of course this could be, literally, any river in the world. The particular river I'm thinking of was created during a punishment for a greedy trickster God who would insist on having his way -- though morality and punishment are always slippery when you're talking about a trickster -- and was once crossed by a landslide called the Bridge of the Gods.

Now the river is part of your landscape. You wade in the shallows and swim in the tributaries. You eat the fish from its waters. Maybe you have a boat, or even work on the water. You have a symbiotic relationship with the spirit of this river. You have one whether you like it or not... whether you even know it or not. What kind of relationship will you have? Will you be greedy like the trickster? Will you be punished for your greed?

Or maybe it's a mountain. One that was home to a malevolent demoness. Transformed by a Buddhist monk into a benevolent Goddess, the local mountain people know that this being still requires the appropriate attitude of respect and honor. Perhaps you decide you will climb this mountain. Leave your detritus and shit on her flanks. Are you in symbiosis or are you a parasite? What else will you leave above the clouds?


When I discovered Paganism in the mid-80s, one of the mythologies was that the "Old Gods" (tm) used to demand human sacrifice, but that now they didn't so don't be afraid, OK? Along with "never again the burning times" and "witches don't even believe in the devil" these are good PR, but not particularly accurate.

It's not impossible for spirits to up and decide that they have a relationship with you. Maybe it's because of where you live or something you do. Maybe it's just something about you that strikes them. A call you put out a long time ago that you don't even remember. A place where you connected and now the spirit of that place is like "is that it? don't you owe me?" If we are taking these beings seriously, the question isn't should I be doing offerings, but who did I miss?

Because sometimes they'll take what they want.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Shit Multiplies

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

I have a recurring stressful dream where I'm staying somewhere away from home (a hotel, friend's house, vacation house, etc.). In the dream, it's time to get packed in order to leave. However I can't because all my things are strewn everywhere and mixed in with the other items in the house. Many times, they are mixed in with other people's items. I can't go until I sort out and collect all my things.

Now there are dreams that include subtle and difficult to interpret symbolism... but this isn't one of them. No, this is what I call a "getting your shit together" dream and it's a signal to me to take some time to organize my life in general (or alternately that I'm worried about organizing my life).

In my last project execution post, I talked about Logistics, particularly as it applies to project execution. And in the Organization post, I suggested a bunch of different ways of keeping track of all the stuff you have going on when you're in the midst of a PMPM working. Today I'm going to focus on dealing with things when things are going wrong.

Because let's face it, no matter how great your goal is or how well-planned your project, if your life is a giant chaotic disaster, it's going to be hard to execute. Beyond that, a life that is reasonably organized is more sustainable. But no matter how much effort you put into keeping your shit together, things will tend to go sideways. Which means that getting your shit back together is a critical life skill.

But getting your life under control is often way harder than it looks... and that's because shit multiplies.

The old adage that bad luck comes in threes has actually been born out by science -- specifically chaos theory. I'm not going to dig too deep into the details here, because I know just enough to embarrass myself. However, according to non-linear dynamics, in highly complex systems with many moving parts -- like a human life -- there's a mathematical tendency for situations to appear in random-seeming clumps. So there's that time when you had to put your dog down the same week as someone in your family had an accident and there was a ton of unusual work pressure.

Nonlinear dynamics makes me crave doughnuts...

There's also an interesting concept of a strange attractor, which is some event that attracts other related events to it. So you are short cash and your car suffers deferred maintenance, which means it breaks down by the side of the road, but you can't afford to tow it so it gets broken into, and you end up late for work because the bus sucks, and your boss fires you thereby making your money situation worse.

Note, this applies to good stuff too, and there are things you can do when things are going well to reduce the chance of them going badly later. I always advocate doing magic and getting organized in advance of things going wrong -- which is the kind of annoying advice that's easier to give than to take (even for me). However this post is about when things are messed up -- either generally disorganized or because of specific current issues. So let's put that aside. The time for preventative medicine is over and the shit is multiplying rapidly. What to do?

If you are beset with troubles and dealing with several issues at once, there are several techniques that you can use to try to assess some kind of response.

Center of Gravity
If there is a single issue that seems to be your strange attractor, it makes sense to attack that item first. For example, let's say your job is really stressful. This is impacting your health, putting a strain on your finances as you visit various doctors, and causing strife in your family life. I know this seems obvious, but I was in this, er, I mean I've known people in this situation and the tendency is to work on the health and the family... and not deal with the central issue. Fix the job and everything else will start to sort itself out. This is one of those things that's way easier to see if you aren't in the midst of it.

Sometimes problems are like links in a chain. You have to deal with things one at a time. Yes, it would be nice if you could find true love, but if you are also in the middle of dealing with a career blow up and a cross-country move... one thing at a time. Sure, if love comes for you, you have to grab it. But in the mean time you need to take things as they come -- first things first. It's not that you can't have several projects going at the same time. But when things are going wrong and need to be fixed, you have to priorities where you put your energy. Which brings us to...

Triage is a model for prioritizing patients in order to optimize patient outcomes. It also neatly applies to problem solving and goal setting.

Let's say you are currently wrestling with the following issues:
  • Your lease is coming up and you are worried that the landlord will jack up the rent and you won't be able to afford it.
  • Your job security is increasingly sketchy.
  • You aren't getting along with your extended family.
  • You would really like to have love in your life.
  • You want to be more creative and spontaneous in your life.
These are all great goals. However from a triage standpoint, you really need to focus on your housing first and your job a close second. While the US still embarrassingly suffers from hunger, it's actually easier to access free food and water than housing (ok, Flint might be an exception -- though I think that's a case of the deliberate poisoning of certain populations by people in power).

Forget about survival shows set in the forest or jungle. In the jungle of the modern world, an address is the most critical survival need. For anyone currently renting in a city like Portland (where prices are skyrocketing and landlords -- many of them out of state businesses with souls made of burned sulfur -- are pricing people out of the places they've lived for years) I can only suggest that if both your job and your housing are in dire straights you might take the leap and consider moving. However, whether you want to move or not, you will need to put your energy into making sure you have a place to live.

Of course the job is a close second and there are a number of different ways you can proceed. You can shore up your employer or position so that it survives. The trouble here is that if you hate your job that can impact your ability to make that kind of magic effective. In that case, it's better to enchant for a new job.

But ironically, as you sort our your basic security, it's also a good time to work on your relationships. Because connections with people are great for helping you find the resources you need.

For job hunting, you should particularly look at building "weak connections" -- people who know you but who aren't close friends. That's because your close-knit circle probably know of all the same opportunities you do, but your acquaintances will know things you don't. That's the strength of LinkedIn by the way, it doesn't expect you to be friends with (or overshare with) everyone on your list.

On the other hand, family is who you count on let you crash on their couch in a pinch. So strong connections are the best ones here.

Triage also says that you get the bleeding stopped first. That means dealing with the emergency cases (house, job) before the routine care (creativity).

And I know this seems obvious when you read it, but when you are in the middle of it, it's harder to see. One of the key things that an adviser (a therapist, mentor, consultant, etc.) can do for you is give you that perspective. And everyone has this issue, myself included.

So if you aren't knee-deep in it, think about those connections and networks. Don't neglect them. Because into every life, some poo will land. And we all need help getting out with our shoes clean and ourselves intact.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I'm Going Pro

So, the feedback from everyone who's gotten a reading so far has been great. It's really honed my development of the readings, to the point that they've all left the beta stage. I think it's safe to say that the readings as I'm doing them now are version 2.0 compared to the ones I originally posted.

So, it's time to go pro.

Who am I?

  • A certified Project Management Professional (yes, that's a thing) who makes a living helping teams prioritize, identify risks, resolve issues, and get shit done.
  • A witch and sorcerer with a gift for integrating magic and practicality to get real world results. 
  • A second generation Tarot reader with professional training in risk management, gap analysis, and one-on-one consulting.

The Black Swan Divination
-- See what shocks are coming in your life and what to do about it --

What is the Black Swan Divination?
The Black Swan Divination is an integrated three part reading designed to keep you from getting blindsided by the unknown-unknowns. Not only does it tell you what shocks are coming in your life and what the outcome will be, it gives you solid advice on how to react to those shocks.

This reading is very different than others you may have had. Unlike a general Celtic Cross, this reading is based on your specific life context and the result includes practical advice for what to do. The Black Swan Divination doesn't just tell you what's going to happen, it outlines the corrects response to those events -- whether you avoid them, react to them, or even benefit from them.

About the Black Swan
Nassim Nicholas Taleb proposed the concept of a Black Swan in his seminal work of the same name.

A Black Swan is an event that:
  • Is a surprise
  • Has a major effect
  • Is rationalized after the fact (we should have seen this coming)

Our modern world is filled with the opportunity for Black Swans -- negative and positive. Taleb talks about environments that are prone to having extreme effects come from very minor causes. He calls this Extremistan, and we all live there. Small inputs can have outsized results -- Black Swan events.

Here's an example from Bertrand Russell: There's a turkey living on the farm. He's fat and happy. Life is good. Every day the farmer feeds him and he has to do nothing but grow large and fat and idle about on the farm. In his experience, this is the entirety of existence and will go on forever. But when Thanksgiving comes, the turkey will experience a Black Swan of terminal impact. The unpredictable -- the unthinkable -- will happen.

The farmer, on the other hand, has no such illusions. He knows what happens when autumn comes. It's no Black Swan for him as he feeds the bird and it's no Black Swan when he swings the ax.

Be the farmer, not the turkey.

Price: $100 - includes reading, photos of the layout, a full written debrief, and follow up email in case you have questions

See the Services page for details

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Routines and habits

Please note, the following content was a response to something related on a private list. The response got too long, so I dumped it here. It's not exactly out of bounds. All personal information has been removed.

I happen to have a pretty steady schedule and if I don’t keep routines, things will get all messed up fast. But not everyone is like that. If you are the type of person who has a hard time making regular routines, here are some suggestions for you...

Years ago, I had a friend who was a successful, self-employed professional, but who had a wildly irregular schedule. This women was massively busy and yet got a ton of stuff done (work, personal, spiritual, hobbies, travel, etc.).

So, we stayed at her house for about a week once on vacation and I got to watching how she accomplished everything. Here was her trick: She did stuff when she had time to do stuff, not when it was the “right time.” If she wanted to work on a project, she worked on it, and didn’t care what time of day or night it was. For example, she had a small altar in her house. But she didn’t do daily offerings. Instead, she’d do stuff whenever she’d walk by the altar. Sometimes just a gesture (which really did become automatic). Sometimes, lighting incense or a candle. Sometimes she’d drop off a cup of water. She was like this about everything. If she wanted to bake for the coming week, but it was 10 pm, she’d just do it. There wasn’t a lot of routine or habit, but she still did the things she needed/wanted to do.

If you have a hard time with routines, I recommend thinking about a couple of spiritual things that you can do whenever you have a moment and that don’t require routines and habits:

* Put small altar or shrine in your house, someplace where you pass it all the time (hallway, kitchen, bathroom – more on this last option below). Keep it simple, with stuff you have on hand. A glass of water, a dish of salt, an incense holder, and a tealight make a perfectly fine household alter. Print a picture of your favorite God (spirit/angel/etc.) and tape it up. Done. Make a small offering as you walk by. Don’t make a big event out of it. Don’t try to schedule it. Just work on keeping it in your awareness and remembering to acknowledge it. Most basic, touch the salt and say “bless this house.” Do it whenever you think about it. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t think about it for a while, just be happy when you do and act when you do. Say to yourself “the altar is calling me” and then tell it “I hear you!” Light the candle, refill the water, light the incense, remove the stuff that doesn’t belong. Whatever you have time for.

* Wear a spiritually significant pendant/charm/medal dedicated to the power of your choice on a chain around your neck. If you can’t afford something “fancy” use a hot needle to poke a hole in a guitar pick or plastic disk and use a sharpie to inscribe a meaningful symbol. When you take it off, give it a kiss and say a thank you. When you put it on, give it a rub and express a short petition. No fancy ritual. If you forget, that’s ok. But you probably won’t forget to take it off when you shower (if you do, get a leather cord for it, wet leather will absolutely remind you) so when you do, just the kiss and the thank you.

* Put yourself in the way of nature whenever possible. If you walk, walk through a park or under a tree. If you drive, take a route that goes past a green area. When you have a free hour, go outside as much as you can. If you have a free afternoon, instead of trying to “Get Organized” and “Start a Routine” use the time to go to where the wild things are and just BE instead.

* Enchant for the future, when you think of it now. Do you cook? Next time you think about doing something magical, enchant all your pots and pans for health and prosperity. Say “may the food cooked in these pots and pans bring a blessing on all who eat them.” Now, whenever you cook, you’ll be doing magic – without having to think about or remember at the time. If you do think about it, just strengthen the enchantment. Do you drive? On a day when your mind turns to magic, anoint the outside edge of your hubcaps with oil (olive oil with some basil and thyme from your spice cabinet is fine). Say, “as these wheels turn, elevate my spirit and bring prosperity to my life.” Now, every time the car moves you are spinning that spell like a prayer wheel – four prayer wheels even. Enchant an instrument and make magic whenever you play. Enchant your shower products. Enchant your shoes (put nice smelling essential oil in them – two birds, one stone). Write down your list of possibilities and magnet it to the fridge. When you have a free evening and are feeling it, go check your list for ideas.

Doing this stuff will integrate more spirituality in your life without forcing yourself to do a lot of regular scheduling. Which is the point really.

However, there are ways to incorporate more regular habits into your life. What you want to do is trick yourself by adjusting or attaching to a habit you already have. And yes, you have habits. You just don’t think about them because, well, that’s the point right? You have to have habits or you’d go nuts having to consciously think about all the things you do every day by rote. If you can’t have a routine, at least have useful habits. Here are some thoughts:

* Most people are in the habit of brushing their teeth in the morning. That’s a strong habit. And if you’re like most people, it would take some major disruption for you to leave the house without doing it. So attach a little something to your tooth brushing habit. First, enchant your tube of toothpaste (communication would be an obvious target, but heath and relationships are great too). When you brush you are already doing a spell. Now, how about a small altar in the bathroom? Maybe on the edge of the sink or on a little shelf? Cup of water and a dish of salt. Keep it simple. While you’re taking your two minutes on your teeth, reach over and rinse and fill the cup with clean water (because you are RIGHT THERE at the sink already). Then add a pinch of salt and ask your favorite non-corporeal entity to bless it (mentally obviously, as your mouth is full) and sprinkle yourself. It’s OK, you’re already where the towels are.

* What if you want to track things but have a hard time getting into the habit. While you’re brushing your teeth, you are probably facing a mirror, right? Get a wet erase marker (like a Vis à vis) and for every day that you do the thing you want to track, put a mark on the mirror… right in the way of your face. Don’t use white board markers by the way because they can be hard to get off glass (ask me how I know). You’ll be hard pressed to forget your tracking habit when it’s literally staring you in the face. If you only brush in the morning (no judgement, for years I was always forgetting to brush at night) track from yesterday. If you brush at night (my dentist would be proud of you) then track for the day. Try to keep a row of checkmarks going with no gaps or Xs. That’s Seinfeld’s “Don’t break the chain” technique.

* I'm guessing you are in the habit of getting dressed. Most people are, though without the day job, I’m convinced that I might never change out of my jammies (the last ice storm kind of proved it actually). There’s an item of clothing that most people wear every day. Yes, it’s your underwear. They usually live in a drawer together, so write short a prayer/invocation/chant on an index card and put it in your underwear drawer. When you are digging around in the early morning, cursing the world and trying to focus on exactly how clothing works again – welcome to my world – you maybe notice the prayer and glance at it, and poof you are praying. You don’t notice, maybe you do when you are doing laundry (with the enchanted bottle of detergent?) and then you dig it out and put it back on top of the heap.

* If you are on the computer every day at work, make your login password a short mantra or affirmation. Like “Bridgetbless&keepme” or “Iliveahappy&meaningfullife.” You’ll be able to type it quickly after a while and again it’s like a prayer wheel. Poof, magic habit. If your office has typical security algorithms, you’ll be forced to change your magic up every six to eight weeks or so.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Mind War: Part Four -- A Little Bit Crazy

So we talked about mental health in a very serious way in part two of this series (for other posts, see the Overview page). The key conclusion was that our modern world is driving a significant number of us crazy. And I mean the negative, bad kind of crazy.

But there's another kind of crazy. And it's the kind that our world doesn't make room for. It's the good kind. The helpful kind. The Dionysian kind of crazy.

Gonna party like it's 1899...

This has been on my mind a lot lately because I've been going to the gym...

Wait, that really does make sense. One of my personal goals is to get more exercise. The reason I want more exercise isn't to lose weight or to look hot, it's to have more energy and to feel better. See, exercise is really good for your mental health and happiness. So because I live in an area of the country where the weather is wet and miserable for a significant number of the winter months, and because I tend to be chilly and don't like to exert myself in that kind of weather, I joined a gym. It's a perfect gym for me too, because it has both a lap pool and a warm therapy pool, free yoga classes, and is filled with old Jewish people. That's not a stereotype by the way, it's literal -- the gym is part of our local Jewish Community Center. This means that it's not crowded or very intense or filled with people who want to hook up.

Oh, just fuck off already...

So I go before work and run on the treadmill and then use the weight machines. And soon after starting, I realized the joy of listening to music while exercising. And while I'm listening to Dave Mathews, Pharrell Williams, Annie Lenox, and My Chemical Romance (I have eclectic taste) on the treadmill, I just feel happy and great and, well, like I want to dance. So, you know what I do? I dance. I walk/jog/run along with the music, mouthing the words and bobbing my head, occasionally skipping, maybe enjoying some shoulder action and triumphant hand gestures.

I'm pretty sure I look kind of bat shit while doing it too. Because, let's be honest, it's a little bit crazy to jam out in public -- even at the gym. And if your a 40 something women it looks even more crazy (because cute little teenagers tend to get a pass on nutty behavior). But I don't care. Because my goal is to feel better, more energetic, and have fun. "Working out" isn't fun (it says "work" right in the word!). If I just got on the treadmill (or any of those other scary looking machines that make my thighs hurt way too much) and ran, all dour and serious about my serious, serious workout... well, I would not be meeting my goal.

I'm not judging anyone else mind you. Maybe they have a serious goal, to be in serious shape. So they are meeting their goal. But I wouldn't be. I need to be less serious and I need to have more fun in my life. If it's a little bit crazy, well, it's the kind of crazy I need. As the weather improves, I hope to run outside too, someplace with trees, but in the meantime, I get a treadmill that faces the window and jam.

Because life is tough, you know? There's a lot of tough, serious stuff. You have to let go sometimes.

I'd been pondering how to describe this for a while. But then the spouse pointed me to this and I realized I didn't have to. Because this does a better job than I ever could, and with cute animations too:

This is pretty much the opposite of the other kind of crazy. The kind where you are hurting yourself, not healing. But society doesn't really see it that way. If you get on a podium and froth with anger and complain about people who are different from you and how they shouldn't be allowed in your country? That makes you a contender for public office. Grownups enjoying music in public? Nuts, man. Maybe you should take something for that.

Which brings us to magic and spirituality. The poster child for crazy beliefs. In our society, magical thinking is a bad thing and generally considered a psychological problem... or a cause of psychological problems. Psychologists are leery of crapping too hard on Western organized religion (probably for fear of getting a big fat target on their backs) but many are happy to crap on "primitive" believe systems. Basically, they're OK with prayer but give hearing the voice of god the side eye.

There's a whole lot of Paganism that comes under the heading of that kind of good crazy. I mean, it's OK in our society to appreciate nature, to recycle and plant trees. But wanting to cavort in it? Preferably naked? Right. I'm reminded of this article (I swear I link to this thing monthly on various comments and may have in the blog before as well -- it's really important for my understanding of what it means to do magic and be a Pagan). We need to roll around in the dirt AND ponder the stars.

This time of year is challenging in the Pacific Northwest. It tends to be wet and cold. The first hints of spring are appearing (I saw my first bulb shoots yesterday), but the weather to enjoy it is still far off. It makes is hard to stay positive. I can always tell when I've been too stressed and busy and down because it makes me cranky on the Internet. And being cranky on the Internet is both pointless and annoying. Just because someone is wrong on the net doesn't mean it's my job to set them right.

For every comment I ever make anywhere, there are usually about six that I delete. This policy of self-censorship works really well for me. So when I start losing the self-control to apply it, I know I'm in a run down place. I need a little more of that good kind of crazy.