Archive for the ‘The Hermitage’ Category

Meme: I stand with #HavamalWitches   Leave a comment

#HavamalWitches meme

Feel free to share!

“I am one of the witches the Hávamál warns you about.”

This is the rallying cry of an international movement to address sexism in Heathen communities that is spreading like wildfire. It was started last week by Jade Pichette, a respected gythia in Canada, who writes:

“So a hashtag #HavamalWitches has started to critique sexism in the Heathen community. Overall the women and femmes in the Heathen community have put up with a lot of sexism and this is basically us letting off steam and making transparent what we experience. It references the fact in the  Hávamál there are some really sexist stanzas so we are the Witches the  Hávamál warns you about. If you have posts to make please do, and if you are comfortable feel free to do so publicly.”

Continued on my latest Patreon post here.

Dearest #HavamalWitches supporters: Thank you. What you are doing gives me hope for the future of our religion. I would be honored to host you at the Hermitage. Solidarity!

The Hermitage will soon be on the new Pagan Bloggers portal   Leave a comment

The Hermitage at Pagan Bloggers dot com

I’m pleased to announce that I’m one of the authors who will be writing on the new Pagan-owned-and-operated paganbloggers.com portal.  I’ll be releasing at least one new article every month.  My writings will focus on sacred endarkenment, polytheist monasticism, sacred dance, and dark ambient music.  (No surprise there, eh?)

The site launches on March 21 – just a couple of weeks away!

So you’ll soon be able to follow my writings for the Hermitage at paganbloggers.com, on my Patreon, and on Medium.  Patrons – even at the $1/month level – will always be notified first whenever I release new work, or when I have announcements to make about the Hermitage.

There’s also a possibility that the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism discussion group, which has been on Facebook since its inception in September 2016, will be moving its headquarters over to a web forum that will be hosted on the new Pagan Bloggers site.  The prospect of that appeals to me for several reasons:

1. The forum would be Pagan-owned and operated, not owned by Facebook.

2. Non-participants could read it, and thereby discover that Pagan & Polytheist monasticism is A Thing.  (That’s how I discovered it, after all!  I found the Order of the Horae Pagan Monasticism FAQ back in 2006-ish, and the Maetreum of Cybele site around that time as well, and that got me wondering if there might be a place in a Pagan monastery for me one day.)

3. Even older discussion threads would be easily readable for newcomers. On Facebook, new folks have to scroll back a long way to read the early discussions, and few people bother to do this, so a lot of valuable material is being overlooked.

4. It would permit the group to organize photos and files in ways that suit us, rather than remain constrained by Facebook’s methods of organization and file storage.

(I’m particularly frustrated about the way photos are handled on Facebook. We have so many beautiful shrine photos in the group, but they’re rarely seen because they’re hidden away behind a nondescript tab in the sidebar, and when someone adds a new photo to an album, it does not even show up in members’ feeds unless someone comments on it.  But if they don’t even see it, they don’t know it’s there to comment on!)

I won’t have details for awhile, as I need to discuss it with the other admins after the Pagan Bloggers launch.  But if you’re one of the folks who has been interested in joining or following the monasticism discussion group outside of Facebook, keep an eye out, for you may soon get your wish.

Announcing: NEW website and Patreon for the Hermitage!   Leave a comment

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I’m delighted to announce that I have a brand new website and Patreon campaign for the Hermitage!  Please give them a look, and if you enjoy my writings on dark ambient music, playlists, shrine photos, Black Tent Temple design, devotional dance, etc., please consider becoming a patron!  I have many exciting plans in store for the future of the Hermitage, and I’d love to devote more time to writing and community service work.

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The resident hermit.  Photo by J. Buffington.


Queries I’ve answered in depth on the new site include:

* What is sacred endarkenment?
* What do I need to know if I want to visit the Hermitage in Portland?
* Could you put together a dark ambient playlist for my yoga class/ritual/event?
* You do lamentation dance for ecological and ancestral grief?
* You’re writing a boook about dark ambient music?
* You interviewed a bunch of dark ambient musicians? Where can I read more?
* When will your new (book, essay, article on underrated dark ambient albums) be published?
* Where’s your bio/photo/background information?

…and of course there are devotional pages for Skaði, Móðguðr (Mordgud), and the conifers I love so much.


 

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Tea table and shrine space at the Hermitage. Photo by Ilana Hamilton of Blackthorn Photography.

If you are interested in visiting the Hermitage in person, I am making new offerings available to you: Paths of Sacred Endarkenment retreats, a monthly geomancy study group, and access to the in-house library of over 900 books by appointment.

I offer several pay-what-you-want and gift services (custom themed dark ambient music playlists, Black Tent Temple design, and hospitality) as well as hourly rate services (house cleaning and proofreading.)


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And if you are a polytheist/animist who is also on Patreon, take a look at the BIG (basic income guarantee) Polytheist Patreon Creator Pledge Network.  If you’d like to take the pledge to limit your own final patronage goal in support of basic income for everyone, contact me and I will add your name to the list.  Here’s to building strong and resilient mutual aid networks for polytheists, and increased visibility for the basic income movement!

My new site is not a blog, but a landing page with info on all of my current projects.  You can find links to almost everything I’ve published online in the past 20 years, including my book manuscript for Rethinking the Job Culture.  It was put together by divine mandate…and working on it consumed nearly all my free time for the last four months of 2016, so I’m pleased that it is finally finished and I can get back to focusing on writing again.


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I have ambitious writing plans for 2017, and will be posting updates on published work here, as well as on Patreon and on social media.  Patrons will always hear the latest news first!


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From my new Patreon page:

“I have a religious mission of service: to help make inroads toward organized monastic life for would-be polytheist nuns and monks through creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.

“The Black Stone Hermitage is my home, where I live, work, and serve. It’s also a concept that I am developing and extending to others through artistic and devotional use of my living space as a host. With time, I hope the Hermitage will become a retreat space and house of worship that will outlive me, and continue on to serve future polytheists who feel called to monastic life and seek solitude and endarkenment for contemplative reasons.

“After 20+ years as a Pagan, and 13 years of dedicated solitary service to Skaði, it’s time for me to reach out and expand my community service offerings – and to do that, I need your help!  The need for polytheist monastic hospitality and fellowship is growing.  2016 saw the founding of Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism, a new discussion group on Facebook which has attracted more than 125 people, and a new entity called LANMIPP (Loosely Affiliated Network of Monastically Inclined Polytheist Pagans).  I am closely involved with both, in administrative roles.

“As things currently stand, there are few options for polytheist Heathens and Pagans called to monastic life. The need for them is there, but it remains unmet. With your support, I hope to use my creative work, centered around the concept of sacred endarkenment, to help build a foundation for future contemplative monastic endeavors in our communities – and eventually, when the right space is found, to relocate the Hermitage to a permaculture co-housing community or ecovillage with a religious mission.”

This blog you are now reading (at blackstonemonastery) will remain online indefinitely as an archive – a chronicle of the development of the first five years of the Hermitage vision.  It is now mostly retired, however.  All of my future blog posts will appear at my blog home on Medium.

I would greatly appreciate your help in publicizing the new website and Patreon.  If you appreciate my work, please share these links widely.

Thank you so much, and I wish you many blessings in 2017!

My Polytheism: Contemplative Solitary Monastic Practice   2 comments

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My meditation and lectio divina corner at the Hermitage. Photo by Ilana Hamilton.

My new post on Medium is now published!  It started out as a list of my contemplative practices, but then it expanded into a contribution to the My Polytheism project, which was recently launched by Jolene Dawe to celebrate diversity in polytheism.  Yay!  If you haven’t seen the blog yet, I recommend you go check it out!  I love this whole project, but especially this:

Sacred Hospitality. This is the common ground our communities need to be built around. Not same-ness. Not dogma. Not gate-keeping. Hospitality. What good is the hospitality we extend to our Spirits, Gods, and assorted Powers, if we are utter shit to our fellow humans? We have to build up. We have to be approachable. At least, I want us to be approachable. And, if you’re here, I’m assuming you do, as well.”

YES YES YES.

The Hermitage is Now on Medium!   Leave a comment

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I’m happy to announce that the Hermitage can now be found over on Medium.  I’m pleased with the new layout.  Please go give it a look!  Feedback is welcome.

It was Medium’s recent announcement of some simple but powerful custom design options for publications that finally convinced me to migrate both of my blogs over there.  Well, that and the fact that traffic to this blog has dropped like a rock this year, while Medium is attracting lots of readers for good reason.

Recently I was lamenting the fact that both of my WordPress blogs look so dated and are not really readable on mobile devices, and was wondering when I’d manage to scare up the time to sit down and redesign them according to responsive design principles.  Medium to the rescue!

Most of my blog entries have now been migrated over to Medium, including the writings on my Shrine of Skaði dance project site.  I made some minor edits to adapt them to the new format.

This blog – which is just over five years old now – will remain online indefinitely.  For now, I expect I will be posting both here and on Medium.  When my new Patreon campaign for the Hermitage launches in October, I will start focusing more of my effort on Patreon and Medium.

If you’re on Medium, please follow The Black Stone Hermitage there so you will receive all my new posts. If you like the entries I’ve already posted, would you kindly take time to click the little heart at the bottom to recommend them to others?  It helps them get seen by new readers, and lets me know that people are reading and enjoying them.  Thank you so much!

Posted 2016/07/23 by The Black Stone Hermitage in The Hermitage, Writing

Tagged with ,

My Vision for the Future of the Hermitage   Leave a comment

Skadi print from Bifrost & Beyond

Skaði devotional art print by Chris of Bifrost & Beyond (UK)

Five years have now passed since I received the original vision of the Hermitage in 2011 and started this blog to chronicle the development of the vision.  Now, the time has come to take the leap of faith.   I’ve committed myself to a full-time path of creative self-employment, contemplative solitude, and service work as a polytheist anchoress – a.k.a. Pagan monastic – in service of Skaði.

Sources of support and affirmation that this is the right path for me seem to be arising just as they’re needed.  In recent weeks, the Hermitage received its first book donation to kick-start the in-house library project (thank you to Priestess Gerrie Ordaz!), and its first donation-supported shrine room art (see photo.)

The beautiful Skaði art is by Chris of Bifrost And Beyond.  The acquisition of this devotional art marks the start of a new stage in bringing the Hermitage vision to full fruition.  It’s now framed and integrated into Her ever-expanding shrine space.  Later this year, the Hermitage will be commissioning a custom devotional woodcarving of Skaði – through Chris’s Gungnir Godposts project – to grace Her shrine space.

In October I will be launching a Patreon campaign for the Hermitage.  Any support I receive beyond what’s needed to support the current space will go toward saving for a down payment on a home with a subterranean space, where I will be able to expand the services I offer.

This means that, as of October, I will have two Patreon campaigns.  On the blog for my other main project, Rethinking the Job Culture, I recently posted a personal essay, “Why I Love Patreon,” which was made possible by the support of my patrons for that project.  It’s received wonderful and encouraging feedback.  My in-person visitors have been expressing interest in supporting the development of the Hermitage in an ongoing way, and Patreon is the best platform for me to do that.  (Most of my readers follow either RJC or the Hermitage, but not both.  I write and publish under two different variations of my name, so most of my RJC readers only know me as D. JoAnne Swanson, while most who follow my dark ambient writings and the Hermitage only know me as Danica Swanson.)

As part of my preparation for the upcoming launch of my Patreon campaign for the Hermitage, I’ve put together a detailed list of all the elements of the Hermitage vision.  I’ve also done a recent interview – if you haven’t read that yet, and are interested in visiting the Hermitage sometime, please start there.  It’s the best introduction to my work that has been published thus far.

And for a visual glimpse into some of the elements of the Hermitage vision, my Pinterest boards are a good place to start.

Service Projects

1.  Non-Fiction Writing – books and essays

My primary form of sacred service is writing.  Words are magical; many doors have opened in my life solely due to my ability to arrange words in ways that move people.  As Alley Valkyrie has written:  “Words are magic.  They can hex, they can heal, they can change lives for the better and also destroy them.  They are never ‘just words.'”

Three non-fiction book manuscripts, plus many essays and blog posts on the themes of leisure and sacred endarkenment, have been assigned to me to write.

These books are Beings, and I have been told in no uncertain terms that whatever else may happen in my life, it is my responsibility to work with Those I serve to ensure that these books get written and published before my time on this Earth comes to an end.  They are:

* On The Leisure Track: Rethinking the Job Culture
* Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture
* Sacred Endarkenment

Because most of my free time since my divorce has been consumed with my business, job-hunting, and job-readiness prep work, I haven’t made anywhere near as much progress on these books as I’d like.  Now that I’ve given up job-hunting entirely, though, and am focusing all my energies on Black Stone Home Service, Rethinking the Job Culture, and the Black Stone Hermitage, I am happy that I will finally be able to make more steady progress on writing these books.

2.  Chthonic Cathedral Music Consultancy Project

Over the past few years, as word has gotten around about my passion for dark ambient music, I’ve become known as the “village dark ambient nerd.”  I provide custom themed dark ambient music playlists for events, classes, and rituals.  I can tailor these playlists around a theme, an emotional state, and/or as a devotional for a deity or spirit.  I can also suggest single tracks to help facilitate a mindset conducive to specific projects.  One attendee at a ritual for which I provided the musical playlist found out about this service I provide, and called me “Portland’s best kept secret.”

There are few things I love more than introducing people to great dark ambient music, and it seems to please Those I serve as well as my community, so this project will continue at the Hermitage indefinitely.

3.  Black Tent Temple Project

I design and create what I call endarkened meditative spaces at the Hermitage, and for others in the community by arrangement.  These spaces are designed to facilitate leisure, contemplation, and retreat…within the context of a dramatic, emotionally evocative gothic style.  The intent is to construct the space in aesthetically pleasing, inviting ways, in order to facilitate engaged religious experiences.

One element of this space at the Hermitage is the working altar upon which The Black Stone (a 50 mm black obsidian sphere) rests.  I use this altar daily for veiled meditations.  The Black Stone is the namesake of the Hermitage, and I often make offerings and prayers to it, or use it for scrying.

The first Black Tent Temple outside the Hermitage was created at a Pagan event in 2015.  In the autumn, I will be designing a custom endarkened space for a grief ritual.  This project, too, is one that I expect to continue at the Hermitage indefinitely.

4.  In-house Library

Over 900 well-loved books – many of which are long out of print and hard to find – live at the Hermitage, and thanks to the encouragement of my guests who have expressed enthusiastic interest in this service after perusing my bookshelves, I will be opening my library for community use.  Beginning in the darkening days of October, I’ll be hosting special open house reading-and-contemplation days by appointment, so that visitors can come and browse the library at leisure, relax with books and tea, and enjoy the dark ambient music, the Black Tent Temple space, and the contemplative atmosphere.  I also have a post in the works about the contemplative practice of lectio divina for polytheists, and I will be making more Sunday Shelfie and “book of the week” posts (with quoted excerpts!) to provide a glimpse of what’s available for those who can visit the Hermitage in person.

(Potential visitors should note that the space is small – it’s a 550-square-foot live/work studio.  Because of space arrangements, I will only be able to host a maximum of three people at a time; most often I have one or two.  I will not be offering lending at this time; in-house reading only.)

5. A shrine room for Skaði, and a monthly worship service

Over the 12 years I’ve worked in Skaði’s service, my shrine space for Her has grown to the point where it now occupies a large four-shelf bookcase, is spilling over, and would certainly grow to fill a full room if I had sufficient space.  I also have a box full of shrine supplies for Her that I am keeping in storage but cannot currently use due to lack of proper space.  (I did use them to build a shrine room for Her at Many Gods West in 2015, however, and plan to use them to build a shrine room for Her once again at MGW in 2017.)

I have vowed to Her that when a permanent home for the Hermitage is found – hopefully through some kind of community land trust – that allows me to build in a subterranean space, I will construct a shrine room for Her there.  The shrine space will be as magnificent and awe-inspiring as I can possibly make it.  (A friend once called me “Skaði’s PR department.”  Not far off the mark.)

As I envision it, this future shrine room will involve:

* A large statue of Her as the shrine’s centerpiece – I will be commissioning an artist for this.
* Several devotional playlists of dark ambient music (including a track called “The Hermit” by the brilliant German musician whose project is named after Her; this track was composed in 2012, exclusively for the Hermitage).
* A subterranean cave-like shrine space that can easily be kept cool, so the wintry feel can be enjoyed year-round.
* Little wall alcoves featuring miniatures arranged to depict Skaði’s myths and stories, complete with recessed LED lighting to create targeted pools of light over the scenes. (Christians do this sort of thing with nativity scenes; my idea is to do a Heathen version!  And yes, this includes the tale in which Loki makes Her laugh by tying His testicles to a goat.  Hey, it’s been illustrated before – why not?)
* Shrine supplies with themes sacred to Her – winter, snow, ice, mountains, bow-hunting, wolves, deer hide, snowshoes, etc.
* Silver thuribles (incense burners) in which conifer-based resins and incenses are burned – especially spruce resin, as spruce trees are sacred to Her.
* A mini-‘stage’ alongside or around the shrine – a slightly elevated section of flooring which can be used for devotional dance practice.
* Sheer black curtains, and  some kind of narrow hall or enclosed entryway – a transitional space through which visitors must pass before entering the shrine room.
* Comfortable spaces for washing hands, leaving coats and shoes at the door, and kneeling before the shrine.
* Regularly scheduled open house  times for visitors to make in-person offerings and prayers in Her shrine room.
* Regularly scheduled worship and offering services for Her.  For these services, which I will conduct privately (or with one or two in-person guests), I will accept petition requests from the community in advance.  I will perform candle blessings with specially anointed and dressed candles and/or make offerings to Skaði for each petitioner.

As I do in all of my work creating atmospheres of scared endarkenment, I combine visual, architectural, auditory, spatial, and olfactory elements – and sometimes kinesthetic ones, too, when devotional or ritual dance is involved – to construct inspiring and emotionally engaging religious spaces.  Skaði’s shrine room will involve all of these elements, and more.  (Maybe even tactile and gustatory elements, if it pleases Her!)

6.  Shrine spaces for Móðguðr and Santa Muerte

Though Skaði is the main deity in my devotional practice, I also have a relationship with Móðguðr, and a newer but very inspiring relationship with La Santisima, a.k.a. Santa Muerte.  Móðguðr’s shrine has been in place since 2011, and is lovingly tended year-round, though She only visits occasionally – October seems to be Her favorite month for visits.

I met Santa Muerte in early 2015, and like many devotees I was stunned by how quickly and effectively she responded to my petition.  Later that year I expanded her shrine space, and began asking her to help me attract the right sources of support for the work I do.  When the Hermitage finds its subterranean home, I have promised her that she will have a larger and even more beautiful space.

All guests at the Hermitage may make offerings to Skaði, Móðguðr, and Santa Muerte, and/or arrange for meditation time in front of Their shrines.

7. Geomancy – divination study and practice group

I’ve been studying and practicing geomancy since late 2014, and still consider myself a beginner.  If and when the time comes that I become ready to read for others, I will offer geomantic divination readings as a community service.  For now, I will be hosting a geomancy study and practice group, starting in the autumn along with my new Patreon launch.

For the future subterranean Hermitage space, I envision a cozy covered booth seating area with a table for this purpose – some kind of draped cozy alcove with padded booth seats, or perhaps a breakfast nook that will seat two or three people comfortably.  This divination space would be used not just for casting geomantic charts, of course, but also for things like contemplative practices with books, scrying, or tea meditations.

I also study and practice the other kind of geomancy – dowsing with rods and pendulums, and working to harmonize earth energies.  Inspired by the work of Alanna Moore and the book Earth Alchemy by Anne Parker and Dominique Susani, I intend to use the geomantic skills I am studying to select a geoprosperous location for the Hermitage, and for any stones that may be placed in and around it.

8. Conifer-based forest scented items – sacred smoke and aromatherapy

My long-standing adoration of conifers and their intoxicating scents is well known.  I already drink Douglas Fir and spruce tip tea, and make “deep forest aromatherapy” spritzers at the Hermitage for daily use in my home and my house cleaning business.  (My all-time favorite is a mix of cedarwood from Uncle Harry’s, and black pine from Liberty Naturals.)  I can’t stand synthetic perfumes, and in fact am allergic to many of the petrochemical ingredients.  But put me in range of a forest filled with cedar or spruce trees, and I perk up immediately.

I’d love to expand this conifer-based work.  In the right space, and with the approval of the spirits of these magnificent trees that inspire me, I envision making small batches of wildcrafted conifer goods for use at the Hermitage.  Cedar smudge sticks, spruce resin incense, pine tar salve, grand fir bath salts, sachets made with Western Redcedar shavings…I have lots and lots of ideas.  I would definitely like to make conifer-based incense myself to fill the thuribles I use for worship services, using wildcrafted and locally sourced ingredients.

I also envision the future home of the Hermitage having a conifer of some sort as Vårdträd – the  Swedish word for “guardian tree.”  I’ve been very inspired by the Swedish tradition in which a home’s sacred Vårdträd is honored, cared for, protected, and given offerings.

9. Tea meditations

The Hermitage is fortunate to have an official tea consultant who is not only knowledgeable, but is also one of the nicest, most kind-hearted people on Earth!  My dear friend David Galli, who is Head Cheerleader at the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance and Director of Tea Education at The Jasmine Pearl, has been advising me about sourcing affordable pu-erh teas for future tea meditations at the Hermitage.  I am also discussing the possibility of digitally recording some guided meditations in David’s beautiful and mesmerizing voice, to accompany future tea sessions at the Hermitage.

This project is in the early planning stages – it’s a “stretch goal” of sorts.  Currently, I have equipment for tea service Western-style, but do not yet have proper equipment to serve tea gongfu style.  One day I hope to expand the tea offerings at the Hermitage.

10. Videos and photo shoots – shrines, tours of the Hermitage, ritual dance

Another future project that is part of the Hermitage vision involves making videos of the spaces I design.  I’ve been inspired by Silence Maestas’ Virtual Temple Project; he built a lovely shrine space for Loki, and recorded it on video for worshipers to enjoy.  If Skaði approves, I would like to make recordings of Her shrine space, complete with incense, candles, dark ambient music, and perhaps recited prayers or poetry for Her as well.

I’m also planning some devotional and themed photo shoots – a ritual for Skaði in a snowy forest, donning a cloak and lantern and embodying The Hermit from the tarot, or simply wearing modest Pagan monastic garb – robes, prayer beads, head coverings, and all.

For  quite some time I’ve been planning to make ritual dance videos for my Shrine of Skaði (devotional) and Drinking the Tears of the Earth (grief ritual) dance projects, but I haven’t been able to get far with this due to lack of time, assistance, and suitable equipment.  (I did manage to get a couple of practice videos made, but that was in 2012!)

Then, in March of this year, I was diagnosed with tarsal tunnel syndrome – a musculoskeletal injury that forced me to give up dancing for several months.  After some rehabilitative work I’m doing much better now, and have recently been given the go-ahead by my doctor to start dancing again, as long as I take it slow and ease my way back in.  My first task is to find some flexible black shoes appropriate for belly dance that will support insoles.  I’m looking at sturdy ballet flats or ghillies of the sort that are used in Irish dance.  Once I have those, I will get back on track to regular dancing.  However, it will probably be awhile before I’m able to make videos.  So I’m holding this out as another “stretch goal” project.

I am also retreating from offering any services directly related to grief work.  Recent experiences have taught me that I have a great deal of learning to do before I will be properly prepared to take on this type of work.  As always, I will take my cues from Those I serve and the feedback of my community, and it’s clear that this is not my specialty.  My specialty is in designing atmospheres and physical spaces – safe containers that can support and facilitate the grief work.  So that is where I will direct my focus.

11. Pilgrimage to Sweden – possible artist residency?

Though I was born and raised in the USA, my maternal ancestral line originally hails from rural Småland and Östergötland in Sweden.  I am planning a spiritual pilgrimage to Sweden to do genealogical research, explore the lands of my indigenous ancestors, and make offerings to the land spirits. I have musician friends to visit in Umeå and Linköping – one with whom I have a magical friendship.  I’d like to visit runestones, labyrinths, and sacred sites linked to Pagan gods, especially Skaði.  I’m looking into the possibility of doing some kind of artist residency in Sweden – perhaps linked to a Swedish Heathen group that has members interested in monastic life and contemplative practice.  And I have promised Skaði that I will model Her shrines at the Hermitage based on what I learn about Her sacred spaces in Sweden.

And that, dear ones, is my vision for the future of the Hermitage.

I also want to note that I hold this vision, and put it forth in words, with full awareness that it is the gods and the spirits of the home and the land Who direct the work I do at the Hermitage.  These visions I’ve been given are gifts – things that “want” to happen – and while I as Creative Endarkenment Overseer can help steer the process of helping them to manifest, I can’t ever be in complete control of this process, and that is as it should be.  So I approach all the work I do at the Hermitage with an attitude of trust and sacred service.  That means I accept that, while I’ve done the best I can to put the vision into words, the results may deviate from what I’ve described here.  It also means I trust that eventually the means for the Hermitage to come to full fruition will be found, even though I have been very poor ever since my divorce.

I am serving an “end” – laying the groundwork for the Hermitage to find its subterranean home for the long term – but I can’t know how that end will be attained.  It’s always possible that there will be an even better outcome than the one I’ve outlined here, and I remain open to that, even as I delve into the details of my vision.

Ultimately, the Hermitage should be a place of leisure, meditation, and sacred endarkenment – a place where visitors can truly relax, deepen their contemplative practice, and feel embraced by the divine.

Creating Space for Leisure and Sacred Endarkenment (Or, How I Quit Job-Hunting, Revamped My House Cleaning Business, and Realized My Life Purpose)   5 comments

A few weeks ago, I received a lovely postcard with an appreciative personal note from one of my house cleaning clients.  She wrote that “a single mom’s most precious resource is rest,” and thanked me for the work I’ve been doing in cleaning her home every two weeks for the past several years, as it has given her some much-needed rest and leisure time.

I thought: By cleaning houses, I am creating space for others to enjoy leisure.  I love that.  I mean, that seems obvious enough, right?  Yet I have somehow failed to appreciate the full significance of this until now.

As I pondered this, it dawned on me anew that running a solo house cleaning business as my “day job” while I write and lay the groundwork for the future Hermitage is perfectly aligned with my path of monastic service.  I’ve written before about house cleaning as an appropriate job for a Pagan nun; monastics in many religions do manual labor.  Yet there are some deeper forces in play here, too.

My client’s kind words catalyzed a flash of insight.  I think I now finally understand one of the deepest metaphysical reasons why doors have effortlessly been opening for me to keep on doing house cleaning work, while all of the doors I’ve been knocking on in my search for an office job have remained closed to me despite many years of diligent study, effort, networking, and struggling to get a ‘foot in the door’ with employers.  It’s my version of the kind of life purpose James Hillman describes in his book The Soul’s Code:

I create space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.

This is what I am here to bring forth in the world.  There’s a sense of destiny in it – a sense that “This is what I must do.”  This is my service work.  I do it for the gods and spirits, for my community, and for myself.  House cleaning work provides regular opportunities to do this – which is, I think, why Those I serve approve.  In fact, making space for leisure and sacred endarkenment are the two intertwined themes that are threaded throughout all of my endeavors – work and play, paid and unpaid, religious and mundane.  By physically getting down to the earth on my hands and knees to clear out dust and clutter, I am embracing the dark – i.e., practicing one among many forms of what I call sacred endarkenment.  (I’ll have a lot more to say about sacred endarkenment in future writings.)  In terms of devotion, I consider my house cleaning work to be an offering to Níðhöggr, a being Who eats and removes rot from the roots of the World Tree.  And at the end of the work day, I have made a tangible difference: my clients have more space and time for leisure.

I serve this way through my house cleaning business, through my contemplative and devotional religious practice, through my writing, and through my Rethinking the Job Culture project.  I do this even when I’m not thinking about it consciously.  I live this.  I embody these themes, literally and metaphorically.  Accordingly, I am drawn away from things that interfere with leisure and sacred endarkenment, and toward things that further them.

No wonder I’ve had so gods-damned much trouble finding a conventional job for the past six or seven years (in addition to systemic factors, which surely play a part as well).  I feel like I’ve been walking around with some kind of metaphysical “stamp” on my forehead that subconsciously broadcasts a message to employers: “No.  Sorry.  This one, she’s not for you.  She’s marked.  Her skills are needed elsewhere, to serve different purposes.”  I mean, how many employers do you know whose mission involves creating space for leisure?  And how many do you know that would know or even care what “sacred endarkenment” might be, for that matter?

I’ve sensed intuitively for quite some time that something like this was going on underneath the surface of my life, although I couldn’t explain it to myself or anyone else in ways that made sense.   I was often accused of just being lazy and not wanting to work.  I knew I wanted to work; I knew I was a writer…but I also knew that the work I needed to do most wouldn’t be done through a wage labor job.

I think my difficulties in finding an office job are just the most recent manifestation of this enduring undercurrent in my life.

A few months back, I wrote that for years, everything I’ve tried to improve my financial situation and earn more money has backfired somehow.  I’ve had trouble even meeting my own financial needs, let alone laying the groundwork for the future home of the Hermitage.  And in March, I saw a doctor after experiencing debilitating foot pain and numbness.  I was diagnosed with tarsal tunnel syndrome.  I feared I might have to give up any kind of work that required me to be on my feet.

So I kept on looking for office jobs, even in the face of my long-standing awareness that getting an office job wasn’t the right path for me, and would never be the right path for me.  Since we don’t yet have unconditional basic income, and I have no savings or spouse or trust fund to fall back on, I figured I didn’t really have any viable choice but to job-hunt.  I certainly don’t believe financial struggles are what the gods “want” for me.  Yet here I am, with no end in sight to the financial struggles – despite years of prayers, petitions, job-hunting efforts, networking, study, responsible spending and saving habits, cutting my expenses as much as possible, and money-conjuring magic.

Ah, but wait a minute.  There’s more to the story than that.  Strictly speaking, it isn’t true that EVERYTHING I’ve done to improve my financial situation has backfired. I do, after all, have some wonderful supporters on Patreon right this very minute, and several other people who have told me they would pledge their support if their own situations permitted it.  And my frugality and lack of debt has certainly prevented my financial situation from worsening.

Still, I’ve often wondered: might Someone be interfering with me getting a job? After all, it was only six months ago that I was told, in the clearest communication I’ve ever received from Those I serve:

“You must resist the conscription of your time into the service of capital. You must resist getting a full-time job so you can do your WORK.”

And there have been all kinds of uncanny things interfering whenever I try to get jobs – web application forms crashing three times in a row just as I clicked send, job requisitions being pulled immediately after I sent in my application, and so on.  So I started to get suspicious that there was more going on than bad luck, a terrible economy, or a competitive job market.  And what about the timing of my tarsal tunnel syndrome diagnosis?  It arrived just as I was intensifying another round of job searching, after all.  Was that also a not-coincidence – an effort from Those I serve to steer me in another direction?  Or was it simply a medical diagnosis, with no further significance beyond that?

Finally, confused and not knowing where to turn next, I asked a fellow polytheist: “If you were me, and you suspected that your gods and spirits might be interfering with your ability to get a job, but you really needed to bring in more money, what would you do?”

Her suggestion: “Ask Them if They’re interfering.  And if the answer is yes, ask Them why.”

Good advice, I thought.  So I did.  (Seems obvious enough, right?  So why didn’t it occur to me to try that?  I have no idea!)

The answer I received, as best as I can translate it, is something like this:

“You are an anchoress-in-training – a nun on a path of service to the divine and the land. The way you support yourself must be aligned with this service.”

I interpreted this answer as vagueness – in other words, “maybe We are interfering, maybe not.”  But now that I better understand my life purpose as one of  creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment, that answer makes more sense.  Why?  Because there are few, if any, wage labor jobs in which I can do that.  So  perhaps They aren’t directly interfering with me getting a job, but not-getting-jobs is happening indirectly because They are guiding me toward things that further those goals, and away from things that interfere with them.

But They haven’t guided me away from house cleaning, and in fact They seem to be opening paths for me to do more of it.  (More on this below.)  And my foot pain from tarsal tunnel syndrome is now gone!  It has improved greatly through my unfailing use of corrective shoe insoles, special foot exercises, application of Datura ointment, and Earthing – regular contact of the soles of my bare feet with the Earth.

I conclude that the financial lack I’m experiencing is not the gods’ intent.  It’s a side effect of the interaction between these two things:

1) living in a culture where wage labor is pretty much the only viable way to survive for most of us, and
2) having a life purpose that is in active opposition to compulsory wage labor for survival.

This is a huge realization for me.  Huge!

I mean, I always had a kernel of awareness, deep down inside, that this was a driving force in my life…and yet I’ve still struggled with the implications of this truth, in one form or another, for all of my adult life.  I knew when I was very young that I was a writer, and that the seeds of what I needed to write were already living inside me, and that what I needed and wanted most was time and space to read, think, and develop my craft.  There was a rebellious spirit living inside me that didn’t want me to ever take a 9-to-5 job that interfered with my writing.  I have called this spirit my inner two-year-old, or my “Feral Imp.”  I figured out quickly that the game in our culture was rigged, and not in favor of people like me who were called to do creative and spiritual work on their own terms.  But not until now did this enormous piece of the larger puzzle finally fall into place.

I’ve now given up job-hunting so I can do my work.  I’ve surrendered to the tides.

When I think of all the energy I’ve expended on job-hunting in recent years – energy that will now be freed up to serve other purposes than “the conscription of my time into the service of capital” – I can’t help but be excited.  I spent 1.5 years studying web development, for example, and then failed to get a job in the field, despite my best efforts.  That was a huge blow at the time.  But now all that freed-up energy can be applied toward ramping up my business, writing, and working on projects for the Hermitage.

The very same day I surrendered and gave up my job hunt, I received a good omen.

While cleaning my client’s home that day – an artfully arranged and spiritually peaceful home that I feel privileged to spend time in – I stepped outside briefly to take out the recycling, and “just happened” to run into the neighbor, who saw what I was doing, and said excitedly: “You do house cleaning for my neighbor?  Great!  My cleaner is on the way out, and I’ll be needing a new one soon.  Are you available?”

I’ve never before crossed paths with this neighbor in three years of working in that client’s home.  And she happened to be right there at the same moment I was, and happened to be looking for a new house cleaner, the very same day I surrendered.  This was not a coincidence.  To an outsider, it might look like mere happenstance; and from that perspective, it would be.  But for me, this experience had an additional dimension of meaning.  I “heard” it as an affirmation that there would be more house cleaning clients for me if I committed to expanding my business, whether or not this particular client panned out.

That’s a door opening if I’ve ever seen one.  And here’s the key: it required no effort.

Well, let me clarify that.  It required me to show up in the right place at the right time, make a good impression when addressed, and follow through on the lead.  But it didn’t require effort in the sense of struggle.  I didn’t have the sense that I was swimming upstream against the tide, the way I always had with job hunting.  This client came to me; I didn’t even have to advertise!

That day, I decided to re-vamp and expand my business.  I recognized that it was time for me to stop knocking on doors that were closed to me (applying for office jobs), and start walking through the ones that were opening for me (accepting new house cleaning clients).  Best of all, I am now expanding my business with full recognition that house cleaning is one of few ways of earning income that are perfectly aligned with the mission of my monastic path of service: creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.  That makes the work more meaningful to me than it was before.

I’ll admit there were times – especially in the early days of my business – where I wallowed in self-pity often, because I started my house cleaning business largely due to financial desperation, and because people treated me differently than they did when I worked in an office.  Our culture doesn’t give much respect to people who do manual labor.  In any case, I had been delivered a one-two punch by 1) the aftermath of a devastating divorce, and 2) my inability to get hired elsewhere in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008.  So I sometimes thought to myself: “Oh, come on now, cut it out with all this metaphysical talk.  You’re some kind of meaning-junkie, making a virtue out of necessity.”

But I have found meaning in the house cleaning work I do.  For the sake of finding meaning, I’ve learned, it doesn’t really matter whether the doors to conventional wage labor remain closed by my own choice, or by forces outside of my control.  House cleaning is honest and unpretentious work, for one thing, which is more than I can say for many office jobs.  And since my clients have all been found through the arts and esoteric communities, I have often thought of cleaning their homes as an indirect way of supporting the arts.  Which it is!  But I’ve now found another layer of meaning: it’s actually an integral part of my monastic path.

I believe my experience is an example of the way the world can work when we learn to get out of our own way and fully surrender to our callings.  There is support available, through mysterious means of not-coincidences and omens, for those who can find the courage to let go of the reins of control and allow the gods and spirits to guide their paths.  But you cannot dictate in advance how, or from what sources, this support will arrive.  You must find the courage to do what you are called to do in the world, listen for inner guidance, and follow the promptings you receive, even when they sound crazy.  Which they almost certainly will, to people who are not you.  And sometimes they’ll sound crazy even to you!  But you must follow them anyway, if this kind of path is yours to walk.

I am reminded of a quote I love from yoga teacher Vanda Scaravelli:

“You have to allow things to happen and to learn how to stop preventing things from happening. For example, you don’t do anything special to feel gravity: you let gravity affect you.  And if you don’t have a clue what that means, then you become curious about what it might mean and look forward to a time when the words might resonate with you.”

You have to learn to allow things to happen.  And stop preventing things from happening.  That is what I mean by “surrendering to the tides.”  It doesn’t mean just passively accepting whatever comes my way; it means actively using my powers of discernment to detect what “wants” to happen,  getting myself aligned with that, and allowing it.  I will simply find ways to do the work I’m called to, and allow that to lead me where it will.  And I will stop job-hunting.  That fruitless effort has wasted a great deal of my time.

“There is a way of doing the yoga poses that we call ‘asanas’ without the slightest effort,” says Vanda.  Yes.  And I know there is a way that I can do my work without engaging in effortful struggle, too – but that seemingly paradoxical path of “not-doing” or “un-doing” can only be found through being true to the callings that live in my heart and bones and flesh, and by trusting my intuition and Those I serve to lead me in the right direction for this co-creative process to unfold.

Scaravelli’s yoga-based wisdom has helped me to remember that one of the ways this path is given, or revealed to me, is in response to a deepening of my connection with the Earth.  It is found through cultivating conditions – including leisure and sacred endarkenment – that allow the intelligence that lives in my body to fully awaken, through grounding in the Earth.  This path can’t be found through imposing a formal, culturally approved plan to “earn a living” on top of pre-existing patterns of holding tension in my body.  My path toward working with a sense of ease, rather than a sense of struggle, involves abandoning the effort to “earn a living” through wage labor, doing the work I am called to do instead, and allowing support to come to me in response.  I must listen attentively for what lies underneath the surface and “wants” to come forth and be made manifest through me.  Then I must do it.

That’s very difficult in a culture that makes no provisions for this way of living and working, and in fact leads us away from it.  It involves learning to receive without shame when support comes to me, even if I’m not meeting cultural standards for “productivity.”  It also means learning to say “no” a lot, because every day I face pressures to abandon my callings, the most pressing of which is being poor.  (Not to mention the unrelenting shame our cruel culture heaps on people who don’t have paid jobs, or who don’t get paid enough to meet their survival needs, and therefore need financial support from others.  This shame is one of the ways people are coerced in directions that lead away from following their inner callings.  But that’s a topic I’ll delve into in much greater depth elsewhere.)

So there’s a paradoxical truth here too: namely, that there are things that must be actively resisted – such as shame about receiving, and cultural pressures to “get a job, any job” – in order to walk the path of working through trusting the wisdom of “not-doing.”  I also find that resisting unpaid and unreciprocated emotional labor as much as possible is very useful in keeping me focused on the right path.  (Thank you once again, dear feminist foremothers, for introducing me to this concept…and thank you to the folks at MetaFilter for the monster thread that catalyzed even deeper realization of the importance of this for me.)

In surrendering to the tides instead of fighting them, I must trust that I am also laying the groundwork for the future home of the Hermitage, even if I can’t see how yet.

I have many things to be grateful for in my current situation, and these feelings of gratitude live right alongside the money fears in a kind of ongoing creative tension.  I’m grateful that I’ve even managed to come to the realizations I’m writing about here – all my life I have “known” the truth of this, in a sense, but not until now have I had sufficient skill, insight, experience, and time to put it into words this clearly.

And in that spirit of gratitude: there are many things I appreciate about being a self-employed, solo house cleaner with an established business, rather than an employee in an office job.  I’ve written about this before, but here are a few things I didn’t cover in earlier posts:

* I can choose the clients I work for.
Since I’m asthmatic and allergic to fragrances and animal dander, this ability to choose clients is very important.  In office jobs, my health limitations are often a liability.  Through my business, though, I have been able to turn the knowledge I’ve gained about how to clean homes for allergic people into an asset that attracts the right clientele for the type of services I provide.

* I have an established reputation in my community for good service.
Never underestimate the power of a good reputation.  My clients know that I am reliable, trustworthy, and do quality work.  They tell others about it, and this is how I have grown my business.  After I found my first client, I have never had to advertise.  Word of mouth and a good reputation have done it all.  I love this so much!  It’s the best way to build a loyal clientele.

* I can dress as I please when I’m at work.
In this line of work, there’s no need to spend money on uniforms or a business wardrobe.  I wear a t-shirt with jeans and Doc Martens.  I love having that freedom.

* I don’t need to own a car.
I am fortunate to live in a location (downtown Portland) that permits me to run a house cleaning business without driving.  I travel to all my clients on public transit, and haul my supplies in a wheeled backpack.  Since I hate driving, and don’t want the expense and responsibility of owning a car, I see this as a boon, not a burden.  It also ensures that physical exercise is built into my work day.

* House cleaning is a great job for someone who savors solitude.
I usually clean when my clients aren’t home, which is wonderful for this introverted soul.  I can listen to dark ambient music or Swedish language learning recordings on my headphones while I work, and even slip into a light meditative state.  This pays off handsomely later, when I get home and sit down to write.  On really good days, house cleaning helps me cultivate patience, and even becomes a part of my contemplative practice!  What office job can offer that?

* My business is literally founded on trust.
“My business is founded on trust” isn’t just a slogan for me.  I got my start in this business because someone in my community liked what I wrote on my website, met me in person, and trusted me enough to give me a chance.  She then recommended me to others, and they recommended me to others, and eventually I had a clientele…all of whom have entrusted me with keys to their homes.  Quite a far cry from job applications that require applicants to jump through hoops such as drug testing.

* I am doing ecologically responsible work.
This is true not just because I use only biodegradable cleaning supplies, or because I travel to clients’ homes on public transit instead of driving, though that’s part of it.  It’s also true because being self-employed keeps me out of jobs that are ecologically irresponsible but must be done anyway for the sake of economic survival.  (Even doing nothing at all would be far more ecologically responsible than many of the jobs on offer, which is a point I am also writing about in my book On The Leisure Track.)

I could go on, but I’ll stop there for now.

Charles Eisenstein, one of my favorite writers, speaks beautifully about the power that you can step into when you enter into service to something that wants to happen, and allow yourself to be guided by your inner compass.  In a recent interview, he said:

“…if it’s something that wants to happen…and you enter into service to that thing…then miracles start happening.  Things fall into place.  The right person shows up at the right time with the right resource; synchronicities converge; and you find yourself at the center of a creative process that is far beyond you.  The money comes in when it’s needed; you don’t have to worry about that part.  All you have to do is devote yourself.  That is the secret to expanded creativity.”

This is what I believe, too.  Wholeheartedly so.  And I believe I am now being given more opportunities for things to fall into place, and for the money to come in when it’s needed to support me and the future Hermitage.  Why wasn’t enough money coming in before, despite the fact that my original vision of the Hermitage occurred in 2011?  Well, some of it was…but a major portion of my focus was also being diverted toward looking for a job (a.k.a. “conscription of my time into the service of capital”), and I think that was interfering with the path that is right for me.  (And of course there are really important systemic and political reasons why money is scarce for people in the USA, too – I haven’t lost sight of that!  I am writing about those reasons elsewhere, most notably through my Rethinking the Job Culture project.  Here, though, I am keeping my focus on the metaphysical reasons that apply to my situation specifically).

In order for this right path to open to me fully, I had to first find the courage to leave behind the hunt for a job.  That’s a particularly difficult task when I’m under such intense pressure to find one from so many corners, and many people think I’m “crazy” for abandoning the job hunt.  Our entire culture seems to believe that the proper way to money is through jobs.  And for many people, it is!  But for whatever reason, I am not one of those people.  I must find my support in other ways, and through other sources…such as self-employment, for starters.  And while I need money to survive, it’s also true that support comes in many other forms, and I have a lot of those other forms of support right now.  I have a strong sense that I am headed in the right direction one way or another.  So I’m going to trust that.  That self-trust is my only guide to navigating the uncharted path in front of me.

I am now walking through doors that are opening along my path, even as I type this.  I am re-vamping my eco-friendly house cleaning business, and putting more of who I am into my promotional materials by emphasizing the earthy hearth-witch magic I do.  My existing clients are all involved in the arts or esoteric communities anyway, and they all know I am Pagan.  And why shouldn’t they?  I live in Portland!  “Have broom, will travel…to banish dust and clutter!” is my new tag line.

Black Stone Home Service - digital business card

I think one of the reasons my clients like me is that, consciously or not, they sense the difference I make in their homes in subtle ways as well as in obvious ones.  I clean with intent to improve the flow of subtle energies.  I might do a mini spot cleanse using herbs or salt, for example, or a cedar smudge, or use a homemade aromatherapy spritzer (made with purified water and conifer-based essential oils such as pine and fir) to freshen stale air.  And I make all my cleaning mixes in small batches by hand, using only biodegradable ingredients – baking soda, distilled white vinegar, tea tree oil, pure essential oils, and botanicals.

I also bring prayer and devotion into my house cleaning work.  Whenever I clean a client’s home, I always pause to say a short prayer of thanks and blessing at the end of my service day, just before I leave and lock the door behind me.  Usually it’s something like “May this home be blessed with peace, love, good health, and prosperity.”

At the end of the day, when I return to my beloved Hermitage with pay that I’ve earned, one of the first things I do is kneel before the altar on which The Black Stone sits, place my pay on the altar, and thank the gods and spirits for today’s opportunity to earn money for the Hermitage and serve my community.

Then, after I rest and replenish, I write, meditate, pray, make offerings, and work on other creative projects for the Hermitage.

I think this life I live is about as close to a Pagan nun life as it’s possible to get without more formalized religious support.

I don’t yet know where my next client or source of support is going to come from, but I trust that it will happen, as long as I continue to do my part and listen for guidance.  And I am grateful to everyone whose support and belief in me has made this humble and meaningful way of life possible for me so far.  Thank you.

My other freelance business venture – which will also be included under the Black Stone Home Service moniker – will involve accepting new clients for the proofreading and copy editing work I’ve been doing.  I’m very excited about this, and will be making a more formal announcement about it in the not-too-distant future.  My very first semi-official job – even before I worked in restaurants – was given to me at the tender age of 13, when my seventh-grade English teacher hired me for a few hours a week to help him correct other students’ spelling exams.  And then I got my first proofreading job at a news office at age 19!  How I wish I had been able to fully appreciate, at that time, how incredibly fortunate I was to have paid jobs like that when I was so young.

So it looks like I’ve come full circle.  As an adolescent, I was hired to clean out neighbors’ garages and organize their closets.  I was also hired to find and correct errors in people’s writing.  And now, as I’ve been cut adrift from wage labor jobs in middle age, I am building a solo business in which I do both of those things once again!

I’m sure it will surprise no one who knows me that I specialize in editing and proofreading promotional copy for dark ambient musicians.  My hope is that I will be able to grow the copy editing and proofreading side of Black Stone Home Service in the coming years, such that I will be able to transition into it as I age and become less physically capable of doing house cleaning for a living.

I am thrilled to be giving up job-hunting and committing myself to full-time self-employment now.  Conventional employment arrangements are insecure at best (and are structured in ways that strongly favor employers),  and our social safety net in the USA is woefully inadequate.  With self-employment, and diversification of income streams, I have more stability.  If I should lose a client or two, or if some of my Patreon supporters decide to opt out, I won’t be left completely out in the cold.

Finally, in closing, a bit of inspiration:

“Grounding is the operative word.  When we clean, we connect with the ground, we take ourselves literally down to its level.  The same process happens when we are gardening, when we plunge our hands into the soil of the earth.  We are getting in touch with our base, our origin, our ultimate home.  We are saved from the flights of fancy of the ego; we are put back in touch with the base chakra, the grounding earth beneath our feet.”

~ Jane Alexander, Spirit of the Home: How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary

“Life is composed of primarily mundane moments…If we don’t learn to love these moments, we live a life of frustration and avoidance, always seeking ways to escape the mundane. Washing the dishes with patience and attention is a perfect opportunity to develop a love affair with simply existing. You might say it is the perfect mindfulness practice.”

~ David Cain, “Mindfulness Lives In The Sink