Many religions and spiritualities the world over teach that kindness and compassion is the way to live your life in order the create harmony and peace not only for yourself, but for the rest of the world. This is a form of service, which I think may be lacking in much of modern paganism. It is in the service to others where we truly shine. The Sisterhood of Avalon states it beautifully in a triad – service to the self, service to the Sisterhood and service to the Goddess. Like most things, it starts from within and then spreads to the wider community and the world at large. Sadly, perhaps due to the growing number of self-help books and various psychologies, this service tends to stop at the self. Instant gratification in our capitalist society combined with living in relative ease can allow complacency in our lives and in our minds. We can become grasping even, wanting to be healed, looking for that one thing or one person who will heal us, as we have been taught my marketing campaigns the world over. Me, me me. I, I, I.
There seems to be a great need for healing in the world today. Paganism embraces this healing with open arms, honouring it in all its various forms. We are often told that we must first heal ourselves before we can heal others. In this, I very much agree. It’s often the hardest thing to heal yourself – focusing on others is much easier than coming face to face with your own pain, grief, demons or shadow self. However, we can become too engrossed in looking inwards that we forget to look outwards as well. Too much self-awareness and not enough external awareness. It can even border on or become egocentric.
The key here I believe lies in kindness. Through these last few months, when the darkness of winter takes hold and we are gifted with the time and space to reflect, we can look at how we can be kind to ourselves. This is the best thing we can do for ourselves in terms of our own healing. It is easier to forgive others for hurting us, or causing us stress, grief or pain than it is to forgive ourselves for doing things that we regret. Yet we must look at ourselves in the same light as we do others and be able to forgive ourselves in order to move the service from self to others, through the act of love and kindness. This is our service to our self.
We have to be aware of our edges – we must create boundaries so that when we allow kindness to flow through us we have an awareness that not everyone will be kind in return. This is not a shutting down or closing off of the soul to others – it is simply being prepared. Like meeting a strange dog or cat for the first time, we are unsure as to how they will react, and so we proceed with caution. We still show compassion and love and try to help them should they need it in any way possible. We will also do all that we can to prevent being bitten. This is our service to others.
I have been too open – I have not guarded my boundaries as well as I should have. I have loved freely and been bitten on the ass in return. I have learned to use boundaries to let me help myself and to help others. In Brian Froud’s latest faery oracle card deck, there is a card that I drew called The Lady of Faith. She wears a helmet and shoulder armour, but her breast is bare of armour and she is leaning towards something with a hand to her heart. This card shows that we must protect ourselves but still allow our hearts to move us in kindness and compassion.
I recently saw a documentary on Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame about how he transformed his life through his religion and coming to know God and Jesus. While we may not share the same religious points of view we can agree that it all comes down to kindness. He described when he was making a living fishing on the river and other “river rats” would come and steal from his nets. After he had found Jesus, he worked with the idea of kindness and so, when he caught them stealing again, offered them the fish freely. They took it and responded to his kindness by never stealing from him again. Phil stated that he will act towards all things with kindness, but still carry a shotgun in case all things weren’t kind to him.
This is very similar to a Zen Buddhist story, where a monk is sitting and praying in his cave high on the mountaintop. A thief comes upon him and threatens him. The monk looks at the thief and states that if he wanted his possessions so badly, feeling he had to threaten and steal them, then he would freely give them if that was his need. The thief left bewildered and the monk sat outside, looking up at the moon. “If only I could have given him this beautiful moon”, he said. (Some argue that the monk should have done a Phil Roberston and had a shotgun as well, but that doesn’t fit in with the peaceful and non-violent ideals that the monk held to.)
Living to our ideals, exploring our shadow aspects (those aspects of the soul that we fear, that we loathe, that we deny) and giving back to the world results naturally in leading the way to the further service to the gods. We dedicate our lives to kindness and compassion with full awareness and in doing so, reflect the true nature of not only our being, but of being. For me, the gods that I follow all have an aspect of peace and kindness that we can find in their stories to inspire us along our own life’s journey. Tyr, most often seen as a god of war and justice, to me also represents kindness to animals and loyalty as when he fed the wolf, Fenris, when no one else would. Nehelennia, the goddess of the North Sea rages and leaves us with a fresh world – sometimes battered but ever inspired by the impermanence of all things. Morrighan heals after the battles and rejuvenates after the blood is spilled. Nemetona teaches of boundaries as well as love and peace. In this I have dedicated myself to learning and being open to the awen of their songs.
Through coming into our own true potential, we are better able to serve ourselves, our community and our gods. The key to it all is through kindness. How very simple, how often this message had been repeated over thousands of years. How easy it is to forget in today’s society. Yet when we open ourselves to the possibilities and let kindness lead us in our actions, peace and harmony are a natural result.