I walked out of my house this morning to go to work, took a deep breath, and thought to myself, “I have a pretty good life. I am grateful for this.” After all, the heat of the summer seemed to be dissipating, and although the sky was overcast, all the flowers in the garden are out, and I am on my way to a job I really love. I have a roof over my head and all the bills that need to be paid have been paid. I’m reasonably healthy for someone my age, and I have a wonderful family who I love and who loves me. In the grand scheme of things, I have a really comfortable life.
I realize that it has not always been like this for me, nor will it stay like this for very long. I realize that I am, in this moment, deeply privileged to have even this moment of relative peace and (dare I say it) joy.
I know this because it wasn’t so long ago that I sat in the midst of the rubble of my life, having just taken a wrecking ball to everything I knew and had built, from my marriage to my career to my core belief systems. I was covered in the dust of what I’d shattered, and everyone around me was questioning the wisdom of what I’d done. Hell, *I* was questioning it. I was about to make myself a divorced single mom. I had no job and didn’t want anything to do with the career path I’d been on, despite the promise of its six-figure salary. I wasn’t sure if I still believed in my god or myself.
I would remake it all, stone by stone, into something that I am now proud of and very happy with. And yet, even now, there are moments when I see something in my life — an attitude, a commitment, a relationship, and ask, “where the hell did *that* come from?! That’s not how I want this….. I don’t want that here!” And I’m back at it, demolishing things, sometimes things that have been growing in my life a long time. Sometimes things I have tended with loving care for years — right up until the moment I rip it out by the roots.
Over the course of my life, one of the greatest gifts being a pagan and witch has given me is that I have developed a very low tolerance for keeping things in my life that do not serve me. Walking a pagan path is a commitment to growth and accountability. As I have said before, our gods do not suffer fools gladly. If you’re serious about your Craft and your path, you’ll have to authentically show up and be an honest broker of your feelings, your actions, your needs, your habits, your attitudes, your relationships and just about everything else in your life. That which doesn’t pass muster will eventually and almost certainly implode.
Since one of the guiding principles of my life is “I can drive the bus or get run over by it (and I much prefer driving),” I tend to opt for facing my issues head on as opposed to waiting for the Universe to fix them for me. The Universe has a nasty habit of fixing your problems to its satisfaction, which may or may not work out so well for you.
Most seekers who are new to the path don’t realize this. Many come to their path with only the knowledge they gleaned from television shows or from hanging out a festival or reading “The Secret.” Their minds are brimming with ideas that have a kernel of truth, but were transmogrified by new-agey spiritual bypassing and “love and light” into less potent parodies of themselves. They sense the power and the gravitas of the Craft, and they want to see what it’s about. But they don’t quite know what they are getting into. I know of at least one leader in our local community who makes a habit of telling seekers eager to start their journey, “Sounds like you have a pretty good life there. Why do you wanna go and fuck it up?”
He’s not wrong. Sooner or later if you walk the path of the witch you will become deeply uncomfortable with yourself and your life. In fact, you’ll find yourself in that state repeatedly. You will get to know the darker corners of your soul and learn to either embrace them or excise them. You will not be able to live in denial of things that need to be addressed in your life. If you hold problematic ideas or behaviors that cause others harm, you’ll be confronted with them. You will chafe under the strain of relationships that you used to tolerate. If there is a truth that you have been avoiding, it will run you down, corner you, and stick itself right up in your face until you acknowledge it. These are not easy things to experience.
Most people spend their time avoiding discomfort in their lives. Physical discomfort but more importantly, emotional discomfort. It’s why we build bubbles around ourselves in social media, surrounding ourselves with like-minded people. It’s why we are discouraged from talking about politics or religion at the dinner table. It’s why people are so heavily influenced by peer pressure, or what they think that the people around them think about things. It’s why “white fragility” and “male fragility” are real things. We want to believe we are good people who think, say and do only good things, have the best intentions, and who live enviable lives. We don’t like to have that image of ourselves challenged. It makes us uncomfortable. And when we get uncomfortable, we get defensive.
Sometimes what’s going is that we are actually in a situation or frame of mind that is harming us, but we are so used to the situation, or so fearful of what changing it might demand of us, that we make ourselves comfortable in places where we have no business being at ease. Abusers are really good at making their victims afraid of what will happen if they step out of the carefully constructed role they have been given to play. They are good at lulling their victims into the false belief that this is all they should expect and no less than they deserve. People trapped in toxic or abusive situations paper over their discomfort, telling everyone that it’s really okay, when it most certainly is not. Sometimes becoming uncomfortable isn’t about punishing yourself. Sometimes it’s about liberating yourself.
I don’t know where we got this idea as modern humans that the goal of one’s life is to experience continuous, uninterrupted comfort. Maybe I’m imagining that this is a modern thing, and this is something we as humans have always struggled against. Perhaps this is a “first world” problem, because there are certainly parts of the world where privation is a fact of life, and comfort is a distant dream. And certainly, marginalized people here in America experience discomfort daily as they navigate spaces that work to exclude them. The privilege of being able to achieve comfort is a rabbit hole that certainly I could crawl down into, but not today.
At least part of the problem is that none of us, no matter where we come from or what our status in society is, likes to admit they were wrong about something. Some people have a harder time of this than others. (One need only look at the most recent kerfuffle over the use of a Sharpie to imply that Hurricane Dorian was in fact going to hit Alabama when it wasn’t to see that principle in action.) It’s embarrassing. Once we’ve settled on something being right — an idea, a relationship, a choice, whatever — we are reluctant to reopen that decision for reconsideration, because to do so means we might have to admit that we didn’t do the right thing the first time. The part of us that supports our understanding of ourselves as the protagonist of our lives, and a noble one at that, our ego, does not take kindly to having to admit to imperfection.
Here’s the thing — all that self-protection and coddling of your ego is what’s preventing you from really living as big and authentic a life as you are capable of. Getting uncomfortable is really the only way we grow into our best selves, and we need to do it regularly.
Yes, I have a nice life, but I’m not afraid to fuck it up if it means I grow from the experience into a better version of myself. What I love about my path and my Craft is that it provides regular, substantive opportunities to question what I think I know about myself, what I think is possible, and what I think is right, and it gives me tools to navigate that space of discomfort without falling apart. It gives me a place where I can grow that is not quite safe, but (because I have tools and knowledge) isn’t likely to destroy me, either.
Getting uncomfortable is certainly not the safest choice, but it’s the one that leads to bigger and better things. The thing is, you don’t have to be a witch to do this, either. It’s one path among many that offer the opportunity to get uncomfortable and maybe become a better person. How you do it is probably less important than the fact that you do it in the first place. As Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, one of the pioneers of computer programming used to say, “A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.”