Keeping the Vein Open: Healing Community the Hard Way

Ministerial Work In Action
(copyright: sylverlightphotography.com, Madolyn Locke)

And it’s draining all of me.  Oh they find it hard to believe, I’ll be wearing these scars
for everyone to see . . .

My heart’s crippled by the vein that I keep on closing, you cut me open and I keep bleeding, keep, keep bleeding love.  Leona Lewis, “Keep Bleeding Love”

Seems to me that lately our community has been talking about itself.  As in: wishing it were more cohesive, wishing there was less drama, hoping on some sort of healing for the gaping wound that a lack of healthy interaction and a batch of over-healthy, ego-driven triangulation has left us.  Looks like it’s time for a little deep-fried common sense, folks.  Get the hot sauce and kick off for’ shoes for a spell.

At the present time, I am nourishing friendships with at least three or four “ex-pats” of Pagan traditions within our own little neck of the woods.  These folks have founded, fed, sustained and ultimately walked away from (in one form or another) teaching or leading.  Now, in no small manner am I insinuating that such a move is not, in fact, the right thing to do.  Leading, founding and teaching are exhausting, often unappreciated roles to take in our community.  Some of the righteous folks of whom I speak have put forth decades of their time and money, their hearts and homes, and they have every right to retire.  The questions I am posing are:

Why do our leaders often feel so burnt out?  So undervalued?  So disillusioned with the whole damn thing?  And why, oh why, do they end up so solitary?

I mean, just try to get one of them to get involved again.  Eye rolls, deep sighs . . . but . . . can we blame them?  When groups faction off to the point of neglect to the community as a whole, when antagonists burr up against their proverbial bums, when our own local regions and states refuse to recognize or honor their religions/tribes/clans and at a time of such infectious fracture within our own fellowship?

Sokay.  I get it.  And I know there are moments of “excommunication” in which we, most regretfully, must ask a brother or sister to “go in peace.”  This is an especially difficult moment within a tight-knit community–but as someone recently pointed out to me: isn’t that better than allowing for further fracture?  Do not all functioning systems have in place policies for such a move in order to further the greater good?  And even, are there not (often) justifiable measures to take in order to be accepted back within such a circle?

Now, momma didn’t raise no fool.  I certainly am not suggesting that we postulate ourselves prone to abuse or tomfoolery.  My Christian sister, RB, likes to point out that “the whole offer of the other cheek ethic assumes that one has not been knocked down yet. After that, all bets are off.”  In fact, I highly suggest that if we, as Pagans, accept that moment (over and over and over) we are subjugating ourselves and our community to undue discord.  And that, my friends, is just . . . redundancy in its purest form.  We know when enough is enough.  But let me suggest, as another new friend of mine suggests, another method other than blood: don’t feed the monster.  As much as some of us (particularly warrior women and men) would like to take up a stick and bludgeon (hypothetically?) such an entity, such a move ends up leaving one hell of a mess in its wake.  Let’s try it like this:

My father was a police officer (one of the few good men) and stunned me one evening by telling me that, in most states, the county/state/whatever DOES NOT clean up the blood and goo of a murder or suicide.  Holy batballs.  I pondered this scenario, even in its most justifiable form, and was left breathless.  That’s right.  Even in self-defense, all that DNA is all yorn’ to contend with and no tears or heartbreak or rationalization can get a soul out of it–lessen’ they don’t mind the mess when the neighbors come over for coffee.

Now.  I can imagine that, in the case of self-defense or that of my loved ones, my .38 (Thelma) or my shotgun (Louise) would have a little something to say about the whole shebang.  But, as Stephen King always says, if there’s a gun leaning in a corner at the beginning of the book, the damn thing better go off before the end.  Or, as dad said: pointing a gun at someone necessarily means that you intend to kill them.  Not maim, not injure, kill.  I reckon we need to get that square before we go off half-cocked (pun intended) and save that moment to save a life, amen?

The balance for a warrior spirit is not an easy one, but there it is, y’all.

So what does all of this have to do with the current state of our community?  Hmmmm.  Upon reflection, the most cited claim for disinvolvement is: asshattery.  We are so entrenched in the whole “love and light” motto that we are left utterly disarmed when a beloved wolf starts gnawing on our altars.  Guilt ensues, gandhi-ism takes hold and by the time our kitchen is covered in DNA (sometimes, our own), it’s too late to do anything but pick up a mop and cry.  And riddle me this, Batchildren: who ever said you should lie in your own blood for the sake of love and light?  Where is the balance in a defenseless home/church/community?

Krimminy Crockett on a pogo stick, where is the love and light in victimhood?  Who are you helping moaning on the floor?  The cats think you look silly as hell.

I propose that, just mayhap, we have been too slow to decision and action in the following measures:

1. Relieving an asshat of duties.  (Remember: these folks represent us on a larger scale.  Do we want them wearing our tribe/coven/church t-shirt as they run through town with a torch and a grudge?)

2.  Walking away from toxic situations.  (Why do we stay?  Why do we engage in arguments past the point of any compromise?  What kind of example are we setting forth for our youth?)

3.  Staying/remaining complicit in the face of hate language or insidious negativity of any kind.  (This includes snide comments about folk’s hair, tattoos, piercings, body weight, personal paths, economic status, gender, sexuality, politics, choice of life mate and more.)

4.  Granting, if only in spirit, support to other paths within our Pagan Community as a whole.  (Don’t we have enough disdain slung in our way without adding to the proverbial pile?)

5.  Reaching out to others when we are in psychic, physical or emotional crisis.  (How do folks know that we, as leaders and teachers, are in need if we do not let them know?  Even as magic children, we know that we hide our pain behind the curtain.  Not even Harry Potter can get behind that.)

And finally, a story.

A few weeks ago, my tribe and I were pounding on drums, sharing fried this and that and variously howling under the moon with some new folks.  One of these delightful souls described a physical wound that had gone so deep, there were no sutures to place over its entry.  Rather, it had to be left open–it had gone to the bone–in order to heal from the inside out.  Covering it up could have left it susceptible to infection, therefore, slow goings were in order.  The story hit home for me as a rape victim: holding in the pain and the blind fury like so much dirt and dried blood would have eaten my soul from the inside out.  I had taken the other route, left  my heart open–all torn and fleshy–to the universe.  And I healed.  This, I contend, could be one way for our Pagan community to resist infection, or worse, amputation of our extremities.

Dig out the rot.  Cleanse with the antiseptic of lessons learned.  Safeguard with antibiotics against nasty squiggles, dose up with the opiate of friendship and self-reflection.  Keep open for the healing properties of oxygen and energy.  And one day . . .

Enjoy the scar.  No one gets out of this realm without them.  They are the markers of living, laughing, trusting, crying, risking, running and the whole beautiful-fucked-up thing.  Everything else is chicken shit.

And we know damn well, that’s only good for the maters.

I hope, for all of our sakes we learn a little Kenny Rogers one day and hang on when we should, throw down when we need, and bust ass out of there when there’s nothing left to do.  But more, I hope for a day that we honor our retired, burnt-out leaders with a respect to our community.  All that work they did, all that mud they dug, all that sweat should add up to at least a position of honor and remembrance.

And it’s our turn to pick up the stick.

To the healing our of our community, in the name of our children who will inherit our legacy:

Aho.

Seba

15 Comments on “Keeping the Vein Open: Healing Community the Hard Way

  1. That is a wonderful way of writing about it, so others can understand

  2. Great insights very well stated. Thanks for being a stabilizing influence in the community. Keep up the Great Work!

  3. I very often think about that whole, why do Pagan leaders burn out so fast. Being a Pagan leader myself and having danced close to the burnout edge a few times, I’m still kicking, but I also often ask myself, why do I do this? I trained at Diana’s Grove in Missouri to learn the leadership skills to try and bring those out to the Pagan community, but what I’ve found over and over is, people are who they are. And, in the Pagan community (as in many subcultures) we have “small world” syndrome and an incredibly small population. We have a lot of leaders who are, quite frankly, psychologically damaged asshats. And we have a lot of leaders who are genuinely out there trying to do good work who get fed up with asshats, whether those are leaders of other groups or participants in their groups. And then there’s everyone else in between.

    What I teach in my community building classes is, yes, I’m a human. I have not perfected myself, I have issues and baggage too. And, I can be better. Me, as a leader, I have all sorts of issues, and over the years, I’ve worked on a lot of them. I could have easily become a total asshat.

    But I guess that’s one of the problems is, there will always be asshats, and in smaller communities, the asshats have more of an impact. I think that we (Pagans) who are thinking about these things, talking about them, trying to find solutions to the problems, I feel like we are generating some good material, but it’ll take a long time to make real headway, and the sensation I have, as a Pagan leader, is the head vs. brick wall approach. There’s only so long someone can take that, and that’s I think when the burnout ensues.

    Thanks for a great post, keep it up! 😀

  4. I very often think about that whole, why do Pagan leaders burn out so fast. Being a Pagan leader myself and having danced close to the burnout edge a few times, I\’m still kicking, but I also often ask myself, why do I do this? I trained at Diana\’s Grove in Missouri to learn the leadership skills to try and bring those out to the Pagan community, but what I\’ve found over and over is, people are who they are. And, in the Pagan community (as in many subcultures) we have \”small world\” syndrome and an incredibly small population. We have a lot of leaders who are, quite frankly, psychologically damaged asshats. And we have a lot of leaders who are genuinely out there trying to do good work who get fed up with asshats, whether those are leaders of other groups or participants in their groups. And then there\’s everyone else in between.

    What I teach in my community building classes is, yes, I\’m a human. I have not perfected myself, I have issues and baggage too. And, I can be better. Me, as a leader, I have all sorts of issues, and over the years, I\’ve worked on a lot of them. I could have easily become a total asshat.

    But I guess that\’s one of the problems is, there will always be asshats, and in smaller communities, the asshats have more of an impact. I think that we (Pagans) who are thinking about these things, talking about them, trying to find solutions to the problems, I feel like we are generating some good material, but it\’ll take a long time to make real headway, and the sensation I have, as a Pagan leader, is the head vs. brick wall approach. There\’s only so long someone can take that, and that\’s I think when the burnout ensues.

    Thanks for a great post, keep it up!

    • I loved this comment. Especially “the asshats have more of an impact,” exactly! And the frustration you feel I have felt myself, but from one leader to another: you are doing such an important service to your community. I think that when burnout becomes immanent (or before) we should let ourselves have “breaks” or sabbaticals. I wish we would all ask for help more often. An exhausted leader is no good to anyone.

      You are a the kind of leader we all need to see more often: self-reflective, introspective while considering the greater community as a whole.

      Blessings, my sister!

  5. Effective leadership does not start or stop with craft knowledge. In our community we have a hard time just lumping all leaders together when we are all skilled in different areas. This contributes to the asshat issues we do have among leaders and those who are looking to be led. In addition we need more effective leaders to take some of the pressure from those who are working hard within their community. Often leadership is a lonely process that has a lot of personal sacrifice and this alone contributes to burn out when we are not feeding our leaders and supporting leaders by leading with them. It is a vicious cycle that has no beginning or ending yet we have to work to find solutions that sustain our leaders and community.

    Thanks for the post!!!

    • Crystal, I fully agree. Not only do our leaders need to find it within themselves to take breaks and rest, but others need to pay more attention to the signs of exhaustion and early burnout and reach out to help. We need a forum of some kind on this! Love you!

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