Last week, a performer I’d seen a few times boarded the 1 train. I don’t mind subway performers. Some of them I like very much. This woman does a fabulous rendition of Donna Summer’s “On the Radio.” She doesn’t look like she has much in the way of material goods to call her own. I suspect she is homeless. Her act is simple. She sits down by the subway doors, pulls out a pink, hand-held c.d. player, and belts out the song in a thick, pleasantly coarse voice. After she sings, shes walked around with a hat to collect money and like most subway performers, moves to a different car at the next stop. Last week was no different, except after another stop or two, she came back and started her routine again. But a few lines in, she stopped, paused her music, and did this:
I don’t know if she had technical problems with the c.d. player, if she realized she’d just sang her song to the same car, if someone glared at her and hurt her feelings, or if maybe she was simply having a bad day on the job. She did not finish her song and at the next stop, quietly walked off the train, sighing dejectedly.
I knew how you felt, Subway Donna.
Many at my day job seemed to have had the same day as Subway Donna, but it seems to have lasted for a month. Those moments where you feel you just can’t “get it right,” whatever that means. You hang your head, you cry, you eat chocolate, you post an angry Facebook status, you call your significant other and demand wine and footrubs be waiting at home. My crew (Coven) lamented that many of us seemed to be having experiencing a Subway Donna month. Maybe there was an Astrological Sh*t Storm, maybe it was the group mind, or maybe (and just as likely), Subway Donna’s day is simply part of our human existence. So much of that despair comes from our own projections and internal frustrations. We may contain them throughout the day only to release them on those we’re closest to. So very often, Subway Donna days are caused by the people we rub elbows with daily. We run screaming from them into the arms of other people in our lives, who eventually will cause us to run screaming as well. Sometimes, we manage a little quiet time to get away from everyone…only to find ourselves lonely and running screaming from our loneliness back to the people who ran us there in the first place. In the end, we’re only trying to outrun our frustrations and from those, there is nowhere to go.
A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook: “The Angry Monk: Zen Practice for Angry People.” I read it during a break from a particularly draining afternoon at the job. I was also having a draining week as a Priestess. I love what I do and I believe I do pretty well at it, but it was one of those weeks where I felt like I was not meeting any of my Coveners spiritual needs, that I didn’t have any answers for those who needed them, that the mundane organizing, cat-herding, and squabble-soothing was putting me into Subway Donna pose. “What am I doing? Why do I bother? I am making everyone miserable! They are making me miserable!” But reading this, I had an “Ah HA!” moment, where I was able to let go. While the article might have been meant more for the 9-5 crowd, I said internally, “Why, this charming Monk is talking about Coven life!”
Read this from page two, in the Context of Coven life!
Zen is a group practice, but the thing about groups is that they’re made up of people, and we all know what people are like. So not only does Zen practice flush your issues out into the open, it does so within a certain context; it flushes them into the “container” of your relationships with fellow monks and nuns. Energies and issues that had no discernible dimension within you are externalized and embodied with the “help” of your peers, one of whom, say, unwittingly takes the form of your stepmother who once bullied and humiliated you.
Oh, and this:
In other words, spiritual work isn’t always “instructive”—it’s transformative, and this kind of transformation can get messy. The Sanskrit term for this is *clusterfuck.*
(Of course, you should read the whole article for little gems–particularly his description of monks and nuns having a knock down, drag-out, b*tch-slapping fest over misplaced laminated chant sheets.)
Even the most mature, seasoned, and functional Covens I know periodically have their clusterfuck moments. Stresses of organizing, travel, conflicting personalities, different lifestyles….Covens bring together individuals who might never otherwise meet, let alone hang out and be friends. This is a gift, but stark differences can provide tense moments. Coven work is tough work. Covens come together in the spirit of Love and Trust, but in the end we try, test, push, and pull one another. I’ve heard so many Witches say they avoid Covens or other types of groups to avoid drama, but what if it’s true that the strife and frustration is the strengthener of soul? Can a clusterfuck really teach us to be more patient, more compassionate, and examine our own blind spots? If we let it, yes. If we don’t get mired in our own bruised egos, yes.
This is not a criticism of those who choose the path of the solitary practitioner. That path has plenty of its own strife-filled moments. Part of the path is discovering where your Spirit truly soars and for many, that path is not fed by Coven, Temple, monastery or the like work. But what this is meant to point is that avoiding communal practice not because it’s not where your path belongs, but solely out of fears of drama is like avoiding the practice of magick because of fears of energy. Periodic conflict is inevitable. But just like energy in magick, if used correctly and with the best intention one can muster, it can be a tool of powerful change.
Shozan Jack Haubner hilariously and shamelessly describes his personal experience in coming to terms with his own “seeds:” the kernels of pain long repressed that can erupt in ugly ways, the frequent catalyst being those closest to us in moments brought on my nothing more than these people simply getting on our nerves. In the magickal setting, we are taught to be open and drop the masks we wear everyday that might otherwise keep us from verbally or physically letting loose on co-workers. Without understanding that this is the process, Covens are often quick to embrace the “low-vibration” (as my earliest teacher called it) of hateful words and talking behind the backs of others. The Drama Dragon, as I call it, feeds on these sorts of things and it is the quickest killer of Covens.
Awhile ago, I was preparing a large function for our crew. I was tired. There had been immense work and I felt things just weren’t organized to my liking. But I wasn’t focusing on my fatigue, or the fact that I could have delegated better, or asking for help, or any productive means to addressing my stress. Instead, I was harping repeatedly on one thing: “If I hear ANY whining about xyz or 123 or yql, I swear to GODS I will smash my head through that wall….” A Covener who was assisting me innocently asked, “Did someone complain?” BAM. Hello??? No one had complained at all! In fact, everyone seemed very excited about the function. My email had been flooded with “I can’t wait!” and “Ooh! I have this idea! Will it work?” Yet in my head, I’d worried so about addressing potential complaints that I was already fighting invisible Drama Dragons with nothing but my own toxic thoughts. Once I realized that, I let it go. Our function was a remarkable success and I had a marvelous time.
Problem solving is part of the job of a Coven leader. Unfortunately, I don’t do well with complaints or whining. Fortunately, our crew has an effective system in place for addressing concerns: “If you see a problem, suggest a solution.” It’s a productive system which allows us on to address things that aren’t working properly on a holistic level and keeps us all in the practice of creating positive change instead of waiting for someone else to change things for us. Best of all, it keeps their HPS from going to her Low Vibration Place of “LEAVE ME THE F*CK ALONE!!!” Some might say “Courtney just has a low threshold for bullshit.” Truth be told, it’s my own kernel–or Shadow–peeking its head.
I don’t like it when people are unhappy. I take it personally. My own thwarted perceptions hear complaints, e.g., being cold in an outdoor Circle or not liking the chants, as a personal failing on my part for not being able to increase the afternoon’s temperature by five degrees or design a perfect chant that is thrilling and invigorating to all. Dig a little deeper, it’s fear that people will be so unhappy in chilly weather that they’ll all go home and never want to play with me again. I’ll be thirteen years old once more…alone in a new school….face covered in zits….teeth full of braces….no one to talk to….the butt of all the boys’ jokes…..cue Tori…..ACK!!!!! Hey, look! I’m hiding behind my humor again, just like my teacher says I do!!!! cha-CHING!!!! boing…boing…boing…..
Taking the time to get past one’s own frustrations and say, “Why does this make me angry?” is vital. I could stop and get frustrated and lash out to stop the problem or I can step back and examine what part of me is being so irritated by a particular thing. How often do I look at a situation and say, “Is this about them, or me?” Quite often, it’s about me–the spiritual rough spots of my soul worn to smoothness by bumping up against the rough spots of others, uncoiling the issue like a tangled, rusted slinky. No, Coven life is not a therapist’s office. But if it didn’t create the space for us to take a hard look at ourselves and give us the opportunity to transform our Spirits, it’s not fully doing its job. It’s certainly more work. But it allows us to address the kernel–the Shadow–and also pushes us to explore creative ways to problem solve. Understanding this component to group spiritual work is important to an individual’s success not only in the group, but in work life or other situations as well. When magick is involved, this understanding is doubly important, but that is a whole other topic for another blog or article.
I passed the article around to my own Coven and wish I could pass it around to all Covens. Conflict can be productive. Frustrations can lead to healing. Not everything has to be fodder for the Drama Dragon. Looking at conflict as a way to improve ourselves is liberating. I am a believer.
I also wish Subway Donna had read Shozan Haubner’s article. I wish she’d known that the 1 train was not her enemy that day. I wish she’d known her song was most welcome in the car, but that she was the only one holding herself back. I also wish I’d spoken up as she walked away and said, “Please sing! I love it when you do!” I guess I’m going to file that under the Woulda/Shoulda/Coulda file, along with all the other things I’ve berated myself for not doing as well as I’d like, and just like those other things, let them go the way of the kernel.