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Author Topic: Anxiety, OCD and Practice  (Read 2342 times)

Nymree

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Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« on: February 20, 2020, 05:37:24 pm »
Hi all,

I noticed there was already a thread following this line of thought, but I felt my contribution might take a tangent/be slightly long for a thread response. Also, I wanted to add a personal spin on it, which will involve a bit of story on my part.

For as long as I've been Pagan, (and before then), my practice has been hampered by my anxiety and intrusive thoughts. I didn't have all the terms, at first, to understand that this was the case, however now that I do through the faithful education of counselling I can finally find out more about it in the context of paganism, and others struggling with the same. This search led me to this blog post here, which tackles the topic: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/shekhinahcalling/2015/08/21/dont-listen-to-your-gut-practicing-witchcraft-with-anxiety-and-ocd/

Since early on in my practice, I've avoided spellwork altogether, and ritual more often than not. My introduction to Paganism came through books like Gill Edwards 'Stepping into the Magic', which emphasises the role our thoughts and feelings play into making magic. While inspirational at first, I soon found this new mindset really distressing - some of my thoughts absolutely terrified me, and the thing is, the more terrified I was of them (and pushed them away) the worse they got. This hasn't gone away over the years, though I have gotten better at responding to them. What anxiety brain added to the mix was the fear that, if I thought bad thoughts (which happens to everybody, come find out) they would become real. When combined with enacted ritual, spellcraft and a practice, those thoughts became more and more a threat to me. They're the reason I still, to do this day, have only ever done two spells on my own after 6 years of varying interest in witchcraft, and 3 years in paganism.

That tactical avoidance has not helped me in the long term. While it might work for others (I wouldn't want to assume or pass judgement on lives I haven't lived), it hasn't worked out for me so far. If anything, that avoidance seems to have fed the anxiety, signalling to me that it's something I should run away from, be afraid of. Pushing intrusive thoughts and anxieties away hasn't seemed to help.

I can't say much about how intrusive thoughts or the OCD symptoms I've been able to identify with help from the counsellors work. But from what little I have learned so far, a possible way for me to manage them is through acceptance of them/making some level of mindful peace (if unsteady). Part of that acceptance, it seems, is finding a way to integrate my pre-existing mindfulness practice with my paganism. This, so far, has worked out a bit better. A lot of the advice on the blog post, such as focusing on what my body is doing and believing that the energy is already there/happening also feel right to me. Another coping strategy I've used is to reach out to a spiritual guide I've recently found to be nearby a lot, for help performing the action I need to do. This also works well. It almost feels like that spiritual guide knows what's going on, sometimes, and is there to keep an eye. But maybe that's just me.

One issue I find recurring is the feeling that, because of this sometimes overwhelming fear of messing up badly enough in a spell/ritual to create negative energy due to my mental health, I'm not Pagan enough. This I have mentioned before, but felt worth pointing out again to illustrate the extent to which that anxiety fed into my views on my own practice. I, of course, don't genuinely believe that in principle. But it's another aspect of my mental health I suspect I will have to learn more about, build coping strategies or shift mindsets around going on.

I also struggle to know where to draw the line with my practice, sometimes. I can snowball into more and more, redoing a gesture because I don't know if it was right, and then redoing and redoing. If I decide that something is part of my practice now, that's it, I have to do it. If I stop doing something, I worry a deity, entity or just cosmic blasts I was working with are going to be annoyed. Which in some cases may be true, but given that I've attempted to sever many spiritual connections in order to avoid this possibility, it's unlikely. A 'one attempt' rule might need to be the new something.


These are all new avenues for helping, things I didn't even consider until now. For years, a persistent feeling followed me. Every time I thought of doing a spell, even something like sending energy to someone in need, I was afraid that a bad thought would appear, or I'd mess up, and end up causing more harm than good. I might still think of magic as the genie that's been aggrevated into making all my wishes become nightmares, no matter how innocent the ask. But maybe, with this new information, I could work towards a better relationship with my spiritual as well as my mental wellbeing.

Sorry if any of this seems a bit simplistic or uninformed. I feel very small with my problems, but I hope my tone hasn't trivialised them to others dealing with the same.

Anon100

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Re: Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2020, 06:06:37 pm »
Hi all,

Sorry if any of this seems a bit simplistic or uninformed. I feel very small with my problems, but I hope my tone hasn't trivialised them to others dealing with the same.

Your post comes across very well to me Nymree.

May I ask how you meant you feel small?
If because you feel you're weak due to them I disagree - think of your problems as weights. You are carrying those weights and keeping pace with the rest of us so must be strong.
If you mean you feel your problems may come across as insignificant then I again disagree - you are dealing with fears which root all the way through you and they shape/colour your views and make it harder to see where you're going ( like wearing the wrong glasses and then trying to cycle ).

I hope I don't seem to be downplaying your difficulties by asking this but have you thought of trying really small works and building them up to both gain your confidence and assure yourself of the strengthening of your focus? Bear in mind I don't have OCD so, if there's some fault in my thinking I would accept a rebuttal to explain my mistakes

Anon100

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Re: Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2020, 06:15:35 pm »
I hope I don't seem to be downplaying your difficulties by asking this but have you thought of trying really small works and building them up to both gain your confidence and assure yourself of the strengthening of your focus? Bear in mind I don't have OCD so, if there's some fault in my thinking I would accept a rebuttal to explain my mistakes

Also in that repeating small rituals may reinforce certain aspects as habit ( thus perhaps using part of the nature of your OCD ( the repetative habit ) to combat the fracturing thought aspect ).
Again, I can only offer the thought but accept that I may be missing some important points both because I don't know much about these issues and because I don't use magic. 

Nymree

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Re: Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2020, 03:14:30 pm »
May I ask how you meant you feel small?
If because you feel you're weak due to them I disagree - think of your problems as weights. You are carrying those weights and keeping pace with the rest of us so must be strong.
If you mean you feel your problems may come across as insignificant then I again disagree - you are dealing with fears which root all the way through you and they shape/colour your views and make it harder to see where you're going ( like wearing the wrong glasses and then trying to cycle ).

I hope I don't seem to be downplaying your difficulties by asking this but have you thought of trying really small works and building them up to both gain your confidence and assure yourself of the strengthening of your focus? Bear in mind I don't have OCD so, if there's some fault in my thinking I would accept a rebuttal to explain my mistakes

Thanks Anon, you're not downplaying the issue at all here. To answer the first question, I think it's a bit of both honestly - I come from a family with a lot of mental health problems, and seeing their struggle I sometimes feel a little odd worrying about mine. But you are right, though they look different in comparison, to me they root deep and it's something I should be more proud of, that I cope and even thrive as I do.

As for the second one, it's a good idea I might run with for a while. What always stopped me before was the fear that I didn't know something REALLY important that meant I'd mess up/wasn't good enough - I know to cast a circle, for example, but more often than not it feels weirdly cumbersome and unnatural at times. I think some of this fear likely comes from an offhand comment or two others may have made about knowing how to practice witchcraft properly before trying anything, which I probably blew up in my head and turned into a bigger issue. It may have even been more gatekeeping than good advice, for all I know. It's often difficult to tell between the two for me.

It's not like I don't practice, though. I end up praying and meditating more, to avoid activities too... active? And controlling. But it's often more avoidant than a proactive choice.

PerditaPickle

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Re: Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2020, 05:32:14 pm »
I think some of this fear likely comes from an offhand comment or two others may have made about knowing how to practice witchcraft properly before trying anything, which I probably blew up in my head and turned into a bigger issue. It may have even been more gatekeeping than good advice, for all I know. It's often difficult to tell between the two for me.

It's not like I don't practice, though. I end up praying and meditating more, to avoid activities too... active? And controlling. But it's often more avoidant than a proactive choice.

I can so sympathise!  And I'll try & return to add some more substantial input into this thread when I can, I'm thinking of seeing if I can't expand on your suggested 'one attempt' approach some more in hopefully a helpful way, as that's something I could see being useful for myself (not just in my practice).
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Re: Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2020, 06:49:02 pm »
I'll try & return to add some more substantial input into this thread when I can, I'm thinking of seeing if I can't expand on your suggested 'one attempt' approach

Here it is, for what it's worth.

I also struggle to know where to draw the line with my practice, sometimes. I can snowball into more and more, redoing a gesture because I don't know if it was right, and then redoing and redoing. If I decide that something is part of my practice now, that's it, I have to do it. If I stop doing something, I worry a deity, entity or just cosmic blasts I was working with are going to be annoyed. Which in some cases may be true, but given that I've attempted to sever many spiritual connections in order to avoid this possibility, it's unlikely. A 'one attempt' rule might need to be the new something.

Some background ('spoilered' in case anyone would rather avoid it):
Spoiler:  
I'm not diagnosed with OCD, just anxiety, but there have been times when my anxiety is high during which I can see in myself some tendencies which feel like they could escalate into similar symptoms, if that makes sense.  I don't suffer with the intrusive thoughts, so much, but some of the obsessiveness and compulsiveness.  For example, I'll write a To Do list of the cleaning chores then start in one room and work my way around our home, but I generally don't finish everything in the one day and the following day I'll nonsensically start again from the top of the list (even though those areas are obviously already cleaned, and this obviously means that I'll run out of time (and energy, actually) to clean the outstanding areas).

So, your 'one attempt' approach sounds promising to me.  I envisage taking a long, slow breath to steady and energise oneself (wherever possible) and then performing the action, whatever it is.  And then having acceptance -maybe taking a moment specifically to reflect on that feeling of acceptance, even (if helpful)- that the one attempt is satisfactory, as it was completed using one's will and intent, and therefore it's sufficient.  Letting go of perfectionism, and reflecting that devoting the energy and time to performing the action is enough.  Perhaps even asking any powers to overlook any minor imperfections in the performance of the action, as are inevitable at times for us fallible human beings (either before or after the action, according to the individual practitioner's preference).

Something along those lines, maybe.
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Jenett

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Re: Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2020, 08:13:54 pm »
I also struggle to know where to draw the line with my practice, sometimes. I can snowball into more and more, redoing a gesture because I don't know if it was right, and then redoing and redoing. If I decide that something is part of my practice now, that's it, I have to do it. If I stop doing something, I worry a deity, entity or just cosmic blasts I was working with are going to be annoyed. Which in some cases may be true, but given that I've attempted to sever many spiritual connections in order to avoid this possibility, it's unlikely. A 'one attempt' rule might need to be the new something.

So the first thing I want to say is that there's no single way to be Pagan - yes, there's a question of "what are you doing" but that list of 'doing' can be incredibly broad. Intention isn't the only thing, but it's certainly part of it - and plenty of Pagans have practices that don't involve circles, or spell work, or any other specific activity. (If you feel like you would like to be doing more things, that is certainly a conversation that would make a great thread if you're up for it, but simply doing the things isn't the point, right?)

As a note, I've been doing a weekly blog post summary of what I'm up to magically and ritually (as an established person with a coven with students) and... a lot of that is reading and learning and fairly low-key daily offerings (about which more in a second). Other than the actual coven teachng.

I mostly cast circle and do spell work when I'm doing coven work, and at least a third of the time, the big reason for that is my students can't learn the tradition methods if they don't see them and do them and experience them. Which is fine if that's a thing relevant to someone's life, but in your case, it may very well not be (and there's no particular reason it has to be. I mean, circles do specific thing , and that is sometimes useful, but they are not the only possible method of ritual or magic or connection to the divine or anything else.)

My basic daily offerings are simple, broadly focused, and take under 2 minutes. I do a longer one once a week, where there are physical offerings and I hang out in my living room (where the shrines are) doing magic or ritual related reading and study for an hour or so. Much more detail here.

Quote
I also struggle to know where to draw the line with my practice, sometimes. I can snowball into more and more, redoing a gesture because I don't know if it was right, and then redoing and redoing. If I decide that something is part of my practice now, that's it, I have to do it. If I stop doing something, I worry a deity, entity or just cosmic blasts I was working with are going to be annoyed. Which in some cases may be true, but given that I've attempted to sever many spiritual connections in order to avoid this possibility, it's unlikely. A 'one attempt' rule might need to be the new something.

I don't have the anxiety issues here, but I do have the "I am exhausted and cannot do all the things, or even some of them". What I've started doing is committing to doing a thing for a set period of time. I tend to default to a lunar cycle, because that gives me enough data about how it goes on busy/difficult body days.

Sometimes I've done "I'm trying this thing (meditation, offerings, specific ritual actions) for a month, and seeing how it goes". Sometimes I've done "Hey, Deity, I'd like to get to know more about you, I'll be focusing on that this month." Sometimes it's something else similar. If it goes well, I can continue it. If it doesn't seem to be helping, a month is usually long enough to figure out that it's not working, and either adjust or go try something else.

The trick (and the one I talk to students about, because one of their exercises is to research and learn a bit about six different deities over the course of the year) is to not make long-term commitments here, or even moderate-term ones. Just say hi, make a simple offering of attention and maybe something pleasing to them physically (of the simple/daily culturally appropriate general offering - water, incense, light, etc. Not big fancy things like the good alcohol or the pretty jewellery or the extravagant flowers). See how it goes. Pay attention to what good things seem to flow from that interaction, and if there are any not so good things that crop up.

It usually works pretty well for what we're aiming at with this exercise, which is 'we're in a polytheistic tradition: learning how to learn a bit about and build a low-key relationship with different deities is a handy skill' But that's also a good way to approach a lot of 'try this thing out'. In my experience, most deities are fine with that kind of boundary.
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Re: Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2020, 08:26:37 pm »
I know to cast a circle, for example, but more often than not it feels weirdly cumbersome and unnatural at times. I think some of this fear likely comes from an offhand comment or two others may have made about knowing how to practice witchcraft properly before trying anything, which I probably blew up in my head and turned into a bigger issue. It may have even been more gatekeeping than good advice, for all I know. It's often difficult to tell between the two for me.

It might have been gatekeeping!

The two things that struck me here:

1) The first (few) times we do anything new, particularly things that have very different structure/purpose/skills than we're used to, it feels really awkward. I'm pretty much of the opinion that if you're learning to cast circle, parts of it are probably going to feel awkward for a bit. A couple of months, if you're practicing most weeks, maybe.

Also, you're usually not just doing one skill: you're saying words that may not feel at all natural, doing gestures, moving around the room, focusing and moving energy, not falling over your own feet.... If you don't have a fair amount of practice either in theatre or assisting in other religious services (like as a long-time altar server or the equivalent) a bunch of that is going to be new and weird and awkward.

Practicing the parts separately can help, having a card in your hand so you don't have to worry about blanking on the words, recording the words and reciting them as you play it back and do the actions, all of those can help as supports.

2) So, how much you can mess something up when casting circle (or doing any other ritual action) depends a whole lot on what you're doing. But you have a lot of choice in what you're doing with it.

It's like cooking: if you try to make a three course fancy meal for a dinner party when you can barely boil water, then yeah, a bunch of things can go wrong, and you'll probably end up with burned and undercooked food, and if you get really wrong, maybe the potential for food poisoning.

But if you got "Hey, I'm new to cooking" and make sandwiches, or boil that water you've learned how to make and do a simple pasta dish, or whatever - something with a manageable number of steps, where you can focus on each step at a time - then your chances of messing up go way down. Especially if you've already practiced some of the steps previously, like "I have boiled some water in this pan, let me make some tea."

When I teach it, I teach people to do a step and undo it, and have them practice it, building up until you get to the slightly more complex steps (I'm glad to talk through the specific order if it's relevant, but basically, quarters and deity are the last two big pieces, and we do those once people can do and undo the other things, because those depend a bit more on relationship building and there's more variety in what your options are and what might happen.)

But if you plan a ritual where you do a simple thing, and then another simple thing, and then do a well-focused thing (like "I'm going to cast this circle, then sit in the centre and meditate using a meditation I've found useful in other settings") and then build out from there, trying one new step at a time, and only adding more when you're comfortable with the most recent addition, you can build up your skills and be a lot more sure of how things work for you.
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Re: Anxiety, OCD and Practice
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2020, 12:03:40 pm »
I know to cast a circle, for example, but more often than not it feels weirdly cumbersome and unnatural at times.

I'd like to touch on this in particular.

I am formally in training, with a lineaged teacher, in a religious witchcraft tradition.  I have been her student for over a decade.

I officially "learned" circle last year.  Obviously I wasn't doing any magical/ritual work in circle before that because that was not yet encompassed by my actual training.  I have done plenty of magical/ritual work as part of my training! Just not that piece.

Quote
It may have even been more gatekeeping than good advice, for all I know.

Ayyyyyup.

Here is a thing to keep in mind: the only thing anyone can tell you about How It Must Be Done is within the customs of their tradition.  When I studied with a different teacher (in the same tradition) she did circle much earlier in training, so I did in theory have the tech. I didn't use it, because it was neither necessary nor appropriate, in my studies with my current teacher.

Someone who says "you have to do it X way" needs to specify what you need to do it X way for.  And every single thing someone says is going to have an 'in my tradition' or 'according to my prejudices' attached, and you're better off listening to people who actually acknowledge that when they explain.
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