Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Are you willing to suffer to learn?"

I was reminded of this question recently during a conversation with a friend and another acquaintance.

"Are you willing to suffer to learn?" is a traditional question in Wicca and Witchcraft, particularly during initiation into a tradition, or to a new level within a tradition.

It's very easy to focus on this as physical suffering, or persecution -- the sorts of things which are imposed externally, by other people, by the world, by circumstance, etc.  Discrimination, financial hardship, physical pain, what have you.

But I see certain kinds of "suffering" as something much deeper, as a natural consequence of some of the deepest mysteries of Witchcraft, those of spiritual growth, self-knowledge, and self-discipline.

The self-discipline (and self-knowledge and spiritual growth) required in Witchcraft is not easy, and while like any other form of self-discipline it has its rewards, it's not always pleasant.

(Awwww, man, you're saying.  And here I thought it was unicorns and rainbows and skittles and purple sparkly hats all the time.)

Learning new skills

Some examples from my own experience spring to mind.  Is practicing scales on a musical instrument always pleasant?  Is step practice in Scottish country dance always fun?  Are vocal warm-ups or other voice exercises exciting and interesting all the time?  Are stretches?  How about learning to read a new pattern, or learning a new stitch, in handwork?  Learning to work with a new yarn?  Learning to paddle a canoe or a kayak, or learning to paddle it with a partner (or a new partner!), or learning to paddle it in a different kind of water?

Hah.  Struggle all the way.

Is it fun, or pleasant, to continue on when one is struggling to learn something, feeling foolish, not doing it well or correctly or gracefully, the whole nine yards?


For me, it's way cool when I've learned it.  I might have to get a step or a figure or a dance broken down into all its pieces, take it from the beginning, and do it over and over and over until I get it right, but ohmigoodness, when I do?  WOW.  Yes, then, I am happy; then, I am having fun; then, when I realise that yes, I'm really learning this, moment by frustrating moment, yes, that's exciting!; when I'm figuring out which things will help me learn this, yes, that's interesting.

None of this prevents me from falling on my face (usually metaphorically) when I am learning something.  Or re-learning something I haven't done in a while, or never learned well.  (Or practicing something I'm just not good at, plain and simple.)

None of this prevents me from frogging an awful lot of crochet before I understand a new pattern, or a new project, and can actually do it.

How does this relate to Witchcraft and to spiritual growth?

Spiritual skills are like any other.  Spiritual growth is like any other kind of growth.  One can't be skilled using the tools of Witchcraft without practice.  And none of us is graceful or skilled the first time we pick up a hammer, either.

None of us can hammer non-stop all day at first, either.

We need to learn to use new tools, and we need to build up our stamina.

So, yes, we need practice.

Letting ourselves be uncomfortable

But we also have to move out of our comfort zones.  We have to be willing to be uncomfortable.  We have to put down the book, the computer, the instructions, and do.

We have to be willing to be unskilled at first, in order to develop skill.  We have to be willing to be not-very-muscular at first, in order to build up muscles.

This is true for spiritual skills and spiritual muscles in the same ways as physical skills and physical muscles.  (In Witchcraft, there's no real separation.)

We have to be willing to be embarrassed.  Definitely at first.  And, at least in my experience, again and again in the future, as well.

Letting go

In addition to learning new skills, and refining already-existing skills, something else comes to mind -- and that's letting go.  Which can also bring loss and grief.

Spiritual growth, self-knowledge, and self-discipline, along with learning new ways of doing things, also mean letting go of old ways of thinking and old ways of doing things.  Even when the new things we're bringing into our lives are positive, that can mean loss, and loss can be both positive and hard.  Even when the things we're letting go aren't good for us, even when we're eager to let them go, we need to give ourselves permission to mourn their absence -- even as we fill that gap with things that are healthier for us, that nurture us and our spiritual lives better.

Witchcraft calls many of us to think very differently than how we were brought up.  Indeed, that's often part of its appeal, part of what speaks to some of us very strongly.

But at the same time, letting go of old patterns can be challenging and painful.

What else?

So, "suffering" -- some of the kinds of suffering I've identified are being bored, being embarrassed, doing repetitive tasks, not doing new things well, being frustrated, grieving and being sad, being spiritually challenged, and sore muscles, both physical and spiritual.  There are others; that's just what came to mind over the weekend.

What else?

We also have to be willing to be thrilled down to our toes.

That's the whole point of this, isn't it?  To be open to the Mysteries?  To be open to the experience of Joy?

Are you willing to suffer in order to learn?

Are you willing to be bored?  Are you willing to be embarrassed?  Are you willing to be unskilled?  Are you willing to be ignorant?

Are you willing to build new skills, new self-knowledge, new knowledge in the world?

Are you willing to be thrilled down to your toes, over and over?

Are you willing to be filled with wonder?  Are you willing to be filled with joy?

Are you willing to learn your own power?

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