UNFROZEN: A Ritual for Getting Unstuck

Call it anxiety or procrastination or what have you*, life often grips many of us in a tense paralysis wherein we know we must act, we have obligations and deadlines and must-dos, but we just can’t move.

It is a terrifying feeling: to watch the sand dripping through the glass and yet not be able to make one’s self do what must be done. It can affect every aspect of a human life. It’s crippling.

What it’s about, fundamentally, is how the brain processes dopamine, the neurotransmitter of initiative and reward, but also of dread and anxiety.

Personally, I have problems producing dopamine. I take medications to keep my dopamine levels elevated, because I am prone to depression. However, this can also make anxiety more likely for me; the medications are a two-edged sword.

Accordingly, I have turned to my Atheopagan practice to help me break logjams when they occur and get to work on What Must Be Done. Here’s an example of a ritual I have done to get myself moving:

Preparation: Write down a list of what needs doing. Be thorough. Add everything you have anxiety about or are procrastinating about. Write the list in pencil on a small (5″ x 4″) sheet of plain paper.

Put the list in a quart container, such as a yogurt container. Set the list so that it stands upright in the container. Then fill it with water, and put it in your freezer until frozen into a solid block of ice–overnight should do. Remove the block of ice from the container by running water over the outside until it slides out.

Set up a Focus on a countertop in or near the kitchen. You should include a container of oil–perhaps scented oil, and, if you’re really stuck, WD-40 spray or 3-in-1 machine oil, to “lubricate what is not moving”. Other elements to include are a pair of orange candles in candlesticks, an incense burner set with incense that helps you to feel powerful and centered, a bowl or teabag of caffeinated tea, and symbols of the work you need to complete. Place the block of ice in a bowl in the center of the Focus.

Dress in your “power clothing”–whatever that means to you.

NOW, it’s time to do the ritual.

Put on some music that makes you want to move and helps you to feel good about yourself. I picked ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”.

Ground yourself. Speak the names of the qualities you want to help serve you: Motivation. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Focus. Feeling Good.

Light the incense and the candles, saying, I am in motion. I am Getting It Done. I am able, and willing, and DOING IT!

Now, take the block of ice in the bowl to the stove, and put the block of ice in a saucepan on high heat.

While you are waiting for the ice to melt, go and do something you have been procrastinating about. Yes, RIGHT NOW–go do it.

When you come back, wait until the water has all melted and has come to a boil. Add the tea. When steeped, pour a mug of tea (make sure the paper doesn’t slip in).

Before taking the first sip, say: I am breaking the spell of resistance. I am calling on my superpowers to Do The Things. I accept that Getting Them Done may mean not everything will be perfect–but it will be GOOD, and that’s good enough. I have GOT this. 

Drink the whole mug of tea. And get to work!

 


*But don’t call it laziness: that’s excessively cruel to yourself and completely unhelpful.

Atheopagan Practice and Mental Illness

It is said that about 13% of people worldwide suffer some kind of mental illness and/or substance abuse issue. That figure goes as high as 18% in some countries; poorer countries tend to have lower reporting, so these figures are skewed to the low end.

That’s 970 million people.

I am one of them.

I have lived with—and suffered through sometimes severe bouts of—Major Depressive Disorder since I was a young child. It has deeply affected and colored my life, for better and for worse.

As we learn more about the ways mental illness affects so many of us, it is important for us to be aware that, whether we know it or not, people around us are grappling with issues such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis. And, as people who have chosen a path that involves deliberately manipulating our emotions and brain states, we have to take particular care when working with groups or if we ourselves contend with mental illness.

Now, in writing this, I can only write from my own experience. I know depression inside and out, and I have lived in close enough proximity with a sufferer from anxiety such that I feel I know that pretty well, too. But when it comes to other symptoms, such as hearing voices or feeling paranoia, all I can do is express empathy, and work to try for my interactions with folks who suffer from these to be kind and not triggering of symptoms.

Let me just say this right here: if you are experiencing symptoms and need help, please seek it out. In the United States, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, has hotlines and other support resources. PLEASE call their hotline at 800-950-NAMI, contact them by texting NAMI to 741741, or find a local hotline to call. You are not alone, and you are worthwhile. Please reach out.

When it comes to our ritual practices, there are many opportunities to trigger insecurities and free-floating anxiety: stage fright over being the focus of attention and fear of being judged/wanting to “perform” well, fear over “losing control” as the mind shifts into the Ritual State, fear of “looking silly”, and so forth.

As for depression, The Black Voice says, why bother? And motivation to do ritual activities that could help us feel better drains through the floor.

It can be the hardest part of the work simply to carry forward with a ritual process without succumbing to the doubts and fears that mental illness trots out in front of us.

For my fellow sufferers, my advice is based in my own very trial-and-error process in developing a religious practice while living with depression.

It is to go carefully, but go.

People have been addressing their mental illnesses through ritual practices that support their self-esteem, their optimism, and their sense of beauty in living for thousands of years. Today, benefiting from the accumulated wisdom and technical knowledge about how to create effective rituals from all those centuries of human history, we can do good for ourselves by having a regular ritual practice.

I have one more thing to say, and that is about psychoactive drugs.

Depending on your diagnosis, the medications you may be on, and your personal values, some very intense ritual experiences such as those employing entheogens may not be for you…but on the other hand, they may be exactly what you need.

There is a growing body of evidence that such substances as psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA are remarkably helpful for folks who contend with depression and anxiety. I have personal experience of this, and I believe that a combination of MDMA and a very healthy, loving relationship in my twenties saved me from suicide at that time.

I am not encouraging the exploration of these substances. I’m just saying what I’ve learned and experienced personally.

Sometimes more mundane psychoactive substances can be helpful. I have found that prior to performing a group ritual, I benefit from a very small amount of alcohol—a single 12 oz. beer, or a glass of wine—to bring me more into the present and calm the jitters. No more than that, and no less: it’s a carefully titrated dosage.

All this aside, be sure that you take care of your physical and mental self when preparing for and after completing a ritual. Being fed and hydrated and making certain that you thoroughly ground yourself before re-entering ordinary human spaces or driving a vehicle is essential for your own and others’ safety. And if you are comfortable with disclosing your condition, letting your fellow celebrants know any aspects of the planned ritual you may find challenging or triggering is a good idea.

I feel for your struggle, and honor the courage and perseverance it has taken for you to live with your symptoms.

Mentally ill people are STRONG, make no mistake about it. We have to carry the equivalent of an anvil around our necks and we still manage to have families, careers, religious practices, and creative endeavors, and that is the very definition of strength, whether or not neurotypical people can understand this is the case.

Carry on, friend. I’m pulling for you.

 

Ritual Hygiene: Preparation and Recovery

I made a mistake this week.

I assigned the creation and completion of a solitary ritual to the students in the Atheopaganism U. class, and neglected to cover how to take care of yourself before and after a ritual. One of the students had a very powerful experience in her ritual, and then spent hours unable to sleep thereafter.

Whoops.

In all my writing here at the Atheopaganism site, I have completely overlooked the basic physical/psychological preparation and post-ritual self care that are necessary for health and safety. These are practices I engage in myself–it just never occurred to me to write about them.

So here goes.

Depending on their contents, rituals can be physically taxing. They can work up your feelings and metabolic and heart rates, and simply attaining and being in the Ritual State of focus, presence, emotion and awareness can burn a lot of calories.

Accordingly, we need to take care of our bodies and our minds prior to and following a ritual.

Pre-Arrival phase: Generally speaking, it is good to prepare for a ritual by eating a light, healthy snack of some kind, like a piece of fruit, and ensuring that you are sufficiently hydrated. Get a good night of sleep the night before if at all possible.

There are exceptions to these rules. Sometimes fasting is employed in the lead-up to a ritual, or sleep deprivation, or both. These can contribute to a ritual being very powerful, but are also dangerous unless thorough grounding and return to a normal state are employed after the ritual’s closing.

Hydration is always a must. Have water available for participants during a ritual and be sure you are sipping water, whether or not you feel you need it.

Post-Benediction phase: After a ritual, you may find yourself feeling lightheaded or dreamy, still in the Ritual State, or you may have had a profound emotional experience that is still lingering with you. The limbic system of the brain is highly activated during the Ritual State; this creates an altered state of consciousness which can be dangerous when it comes to engaging with physical reality: do not, for example, jump right in a car and drive while in this state.

Instead, do what you can to “ground” or re-orient your body and mind to an ordinary state of consciousness.

Eat something hearty. Touch the soles of your feet or your bare palms flat against the Earth and just breathe for a few minutes, concentrating on your breath going in and out. Then sit quietly and just notice your surroundings: pay particular attention to their details. Soon, you will feel more “normal” and will be able to go about the business of cleaning up from the ritual and moving on with your day or night.

The Ritual State is pleasurable and powerful, but it is also an altered state of consciousness and should not be combined with operating heavy machinery or other dangerous activities. Be sure to take care of yourself as you conduct your ritual work.