Standing Your Ground
I went on a walk with my dog today (4/15/12). Well over a mile from home, I encountered a 10-year-old boy walking two very large German shepherds on a single lead. The larger of the two dogs, and the more aggressive, was well over 100 pounds. The dogs were barking aggressively at us. It became apparent that the boy would not be able to hold the dogs, and that they would charge. I stopped, found a calm center, and prepared. The dogs freed themselves from the boy and bolted in our direction, feeling free to engage their aggressive impulse. I waited, and when they got to the “designated perimeter of my boundary,” I stood my ground. I held up my hand and yelled, “stop.” The dogs stopped. I maintained my stance. The dogs were caught in a confusion between aborted attack and how they should proceed. The boy caught up and gained control of the lead. I can’t fully explain my methodology. Standing your ground may be an act of will. Some knowledge of my “adversary” (in this case, very aggressive dogs) and an ongoing spiritual practice were both probably helpful.
It’s important to know when to stand your ground. Not belligerently, and sometimes even invisibly. Standing your ground is a boundary with the antagonistic aspects of the world. There are times when your integrity may depend on your ability to stand your ground. The practice of standing your ground may begin with establishing boundaries and acquiring some knowledge of the spirits of protection.
We can practice setting boundaries with our engaged reality on a daily basis. We should understand the difference between self and other, and how outside influences may seek to control us. This is particularly important when enmeshment begins to erode individuality.
One common drain on our resources may be our daily employment. I had a variety of practices that I employed when I got off work to make a boundary with my job at the end of my workday (by the way, I liked my job). One could employ similar methodologies with any stressful situation or intrusion. The first step is to remove oneself physically – to go home. Sometimes returning home and engaging a heathly lifestyle was boundary enough. Sometimes I ritually used protective power objects – removing them at the end of the day, renewing their connection, and returning them to their hold or altar. Removing them was also a symbolic gesture, removing my workday at the same time. Sometimes I’d use a trusted shield – finding healthy allies such as friends, pets, healing music, meditation, or strategic/healthy distraction. Sometimes I would go on a walk, or visit a place of personal power in nature (either in reality or in shamanic journey).
Carl Jung played solitaire as a part of his daily transition away from work with clients or academics (source: Meetings with Jung by E. Bennet). He said it gave him an opportunity for unfinished business to settle or intuitions to surface. How we transition may be a function of setting boundaries with what came before. It is useful to understand the value of transitioning. When I was directing residential human service facilities, I instructed the staff to allow clients to go through transition when returning to the residence from their work. Staff may have preferred to engage their work agenda with the clients, but I made it part of the staff’s work agenda to greet clients and welcome them home and ask them about their day with genuine interest. I instructed staff to give clients the space to decompress if necessary. This advice works equally well with partners sharing a living space. The moment someone walks through the door, home from a stressful day, is not the moment to communicate difficult news or personal concerns. Having a boundary with a personal impulse to unload – whatever is on your mind – is good practice. Honor transition.
Sometimes, despite a healthy transition, negativity or worries persist. If a ritual cleansing does not do the job it may be time to check in with Power or Soul. It may be time to engage with standing your ground or with shamanic/spiritual protection.
In the 1980s I attended a Michael Harner workshop. He opened the floor to questions. Someone asked him to discuss protection and methods for protection. Harner asked why they needed protection. The individual began discussing vague anxieties, and ended up speaking specific concerns that seemed, perhaps, fantastical. Harner was quick to respond (paraphrase):
“I get this sort of question a lot lately. It seems to me that protection has become the newest psychic attachment. The concerns and focus on the need for protection seems exaggerated to me. I’m going to suggest that rather than focus on the need for protection, focus on your connection to Power. If you have a genuine connection to Power, that is all the protection you need.”
Harner later said that he felt there may be specific times when one might need shamanic protection, and reminded us that working in a circle is protection. He felt the problem comes when people begin to focus, rely, or constellate their thinking around the need for protection.
Harner is not a psychologist, so he was unlikely to ask questions of a psychological nature. Anyone who had been recently harmed might feel the need for extra protection. Anyone who had been abused or traumatized might feel the need for ongoing protection. And, while it may happen less than fear would imagine, there are actually circumstances in which we are targeted generally or specifically and may require Spirit protection. The world can occasionally be abrasive, negative, or aggressive. It’s not a worldview we should embrace, but we should be mindful of the possibility. In those circumstances, rather than disrespect the practice of engaging protection, perhaps the suggestion might be: “Ask your helping spirits why you feel you need extra protection.”
Because I had been taught to do so by my guiding spirits, I have regularly practiced protection for both myself, my friends, and my of loved ones when the situation is called for. Sometimes that involves a shamanic prayer or blessing. There’s no such thing as “paint by numbers magic.” All Spirit based and shamanic practice requires a connection with compassionate spirit helpers or Soul. But some common practices seem to surface and may have archetypal significance – such as the use of reflective devises, spirit wards, and geometric patterns. The two most common geometric patterns are the circle and the pentagram. Almost against my will, I’ve been taught to use the five-pointed star within a pentagram. In any case, it’s not just a matter of drawing lines and speaking Latin. There needs to be an interface, a spiritual representative of the protective qualities flowing from the other world. I remember reading about an Australian aboriginal tribe that used staffs planted into the earth to create something like an invisible fence. Whatever the symbol, it has to be alive with Power. It could end up being your great grandmother’s hairpin.
Shields are another type of protection. Like with the sauna and spiritual cleansing, it’s the inherent intention of a shield that lends potential psychic qualities. One may construct a shield as one would gather an altar, an invitation for spirits to join the circle. Or a shield can be a song, dance, or a spiritual activity. It is good practice to become aware of your centering activities. A centering activity requires your connected attention, and will shield one from passing intrusions.
At the end of the day, the best protection is connection. I’ve come full circle from the start of this blog, and I’m weaving with the topic of connection for another post.
Next up: Connection