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Leadings and Stops--and Intuition

Part 1 of 3. 
(Part 2 is here.) 

Every now and then, I try talking about my peace testimony to others who do not share my sense of how our political values are rooted in our spiritual lives.  Some have visions of God or gods who are far away and unconcerned with human life; others do not believe that the world of religion is relevant to ordinary life; many do not believe in any sort of God or Spirit or spiritual underpinnings of life in the first place.

Some of my best friends are atheists.  They are remarkably tolerant people.  I suppose my going on and on about God and Spirit and religion sounds a lot to their ears the way listening to friends who are obsessed with stamp-collecting or quantum physics or the latest high tech gadgets sound to mine.  I mean, I'm happy that they're happy, glad they are interested and have no doubt that it's all very meaningful... to them.  But I'm not about to join them at the philatelist's convention, and past a certain point, I have to admit, this thing that they love does not mean anything to me.  It's just noise.

I feel for my friends.  Sometimes, when I'm done talking about whatever it is that has lit my fuse and got me popping like a firecracker, I'll just smile, sigh, and say, "I'm just trying to do what my Rice Krispies tell me."  Because, from a rational point of view, what's the difference between listening to God and listening to your breakfast cereal, anyway?

However, the truth is, I think that gods do talk to us.  And the Light of Friends, whom they have called Christ...She speaks to me.

I know, I know.  To me--a nice Pagan girl from suburban Massachusetts.  Sounds pretty freakin' unlikely, doesn't it?  But I learned a long time ago that the quickest way to cheat someone out of their birthright is to embarrass them out of it, and so even if it sounds ridiculous to say so, I might as well admit right here that I think God talks to me.

This is the story of what it is like for me, when I try to hear Her.

Spirit talks to me most often in a series of gentle tugs and nudges; when those add up to a direction, that's what I have learned to call a "leading."

Sometimes those are hard to hear.  Sometimes, when the gentle tugs and nudges aren't getting through to me, God takes out a kind of metaphysical 2x4 and wallops me across the psyche.

That's what I've learned to call a "stop."

I have been experiencing leadings and stops my whole life, not just since becoming a Friend and getting a new vocabulary for them.  To me, this makes sense.  Spirit is too big to fit inside of any one religion--She gets into 'em all, like water into basements. 

In fact, I think it was exactly my training as in Wicca that opened me up to sensing leadings on a regular basis at all.  So before I tell you about my experiences with leadings and stops, I think I have to tell you what it is like to train in Wicca, a magickal religion, rich in the tools of intuition.

So, what is it like to become a Witch?

For one thing, it's about being willing to experiment with ideas that most people dismiss as nonsense.  I remember telling my first husband, back when I began studying Wicca, "I think I'm going to go ahead and let myself not make too much sense for a while.  I'm going to go ahead and act like this stuff made sense, and see if it works for me."

And while I never found myself levitating in the air or saw blue flames spouting from the tip of my athame, being willing to act as though there might be something real and true in the crazy notion of "magic" did allow me to reimagine the world--to see it new, and make new discoveries in it.

From a woman with a mechanistic, purely conscious and rational view of life, I flowered into someone with much more nuanced views--richer, in the ways that candlelight is richer and more evocative than the light of a compact fluorescent bulb.  CFCs have their place--they're energy efficient, and very useful for finding lost socks.  But they have their limitations, too: they're not particularly useful for finding lost parts of your psyche, your soul.

Candles, firelight, and intuition are more helpful for that.

So much of training in Wicca is about honing intuition, about learning to think outside of words, and to observe with your whole mind, not just the part that is conscious.  We construct stories out of Tarot cards, interpret dreams for one another, sense auras... all kinds of things that, if they have a reality to them, have such a fine and subtle reality to them that it's certainly not the sort of thing that physicists label and measure.

I remember when I learned to feel my own aura, holding my hands an inch or two above my skin and gliding it softly over or through... what?  Something?  Nothing?  And playing with the auric energy between the palms of my two hands, moving my hands back in forth, slowly, patting them together till they didn't quite touch and easing them away again... until it felt as though something was there, resisting the inward and outward movement of those hands, like water or like honey.

I remember when I learned to sense the auras of others, and to use that sense to defuse a conflict by changing my own--what?  Connection to their energy?  Body language?  Was it subtle senses or simply a willingness to be intuitive and trust half-conscious visual cues around body language and position that made me begin to know when this client of mine or that was feeling low back pain or a headache, for instance--because I could somehow feel it in my own body?

I'm probably freaking out even the Quakers and non-Wiccan Pagans reading me here, never mind any stray rational humanist atheists who might have stumbled on my blog today.  This stuff is so subtle, so open to subjectivity and the projection of all kinds of crazy stuff, that we've all had (haven't we?) the experience of having some palpably crazy person offer to read our aura for us, or rid of of that pesky past-life experience that is going to cause us cancer some day, or whatever crazy thing they're offering.  People who believe they are reincarnated Atlantean priestesses, or vampires, or (I am not making this up) Vulcans somehow trapped in a human body.

There's a fine line, at times, between intuitive and crazy, between empathic and personality disordered.  It's fine for me to say I'm not crazy: I know me--you don't, or not as deeply as I do.  (Which is the key, by the way; crazy people work very hard at not being known to themselves.  More than anything else, in my last years as a therapist, I came to dislike the burden of knowing people better than they would allow themselves to know themselves.  No fun.)

In any case, I forgive you if you're feeling a little uneasy about my sanity right now, and I promise not to offer you an aura reading or a past-life cleansing when next we meet.  That would be intrusive and weird, and even if I do have the skills for doing some fairly weird stuff, I can be trusted to know when not to push that into the middle of our conversation.  Hell, I know how to ski, too, but I promise I won't try to do that at your dinner party if you decide to serve ice cream.

I can't promise not to be intuitive, though.  That stuff, one end result of fooling with magic, just happens.

For example.

One bright, hot day several years ago, my in-laws were staying with us for vacation, and we decided to talk a walk downtown where there are all kinds of fun, vacation-y things to do.  There was the usual bustle of activity that happens when a group of people on vacation decide to do something together--the finding of keys and wallets, the closing of doors and windows, the tying shoelaces--and Peter's mother Sheila and I were the last to head out the door.

When she got to the door, sunglasses in one hand and purse in the other, Sheila put her hand on the door and hesitated, and turned very slightly back into the house.  At the far end of the hallway, and up a staircase from Sheila, where I was putting on my sun hat, I saw that movement...

...and grabbed a second hat from a hook and tossed it down to where she stood.

She blinked up at me, her eyes wide.

"How did you do that?"

It took me a moment to realize the cause of her surprise.  She clearly had wanted a hat; I had an extra, and I handed it to her.  What was odd about that?

Oh.  Yeah.  Right.  It's not like she asked with words.  Come to think of it, how had I known?

I just had, that's all.

"That's almost... spooky," she concluded.  And put on her hat, as the two of us strolled out the door.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that knowing Sheila wanted a hat against the sun was magic or mind reading.  But I am going to tell you for a fact that, if I had never been open to the possibility of magic in the world, never tried to bottle that particular flavor of lightning, I never would have been open to whatever it was, whether body language, logic, experience, or even--just maybe--magic, that let me understand that my mother-in-law wanted a hat.

That is what I mean by intuition.

It's flaky, and it's unreliable, and when it works it can mostly be explained (or explained away, if that's your bent) by a hundred little circumstances around it.  But to use it, to be open to it, you must actually commit to trusting it, at least conditionally, and then practice it.

And when you do that, you discover that it can be pretty startlingly useful at times.

For instance, it can open the door to gods, some of whom have something to say to you, if you allow yourself to hear it.

(To be continued.)

Image credit: Vintage Rice Krispies box from the Michigan Historical Museum; courtesy of Wikipedia.


Hystery said…
Yes. Exactly.
staśa said…

I look forward to reading the rest of this.
Mary Ellen said…
I'm loving this - how wonderful to be able to be playful with matters of the spirit - I can hear a satisfied chuckle at the back of things at the very thought.
A "chuckle at the back of things"--what an elegant turn of phrase! Thank you, Mary Ellen.

And thanks Hystery and Stasa, too, for stopping by. Sounds like I gotta get busy and sit down and get the second part written tomorrow morning.

Liz Opp said…
Hey, Cat--

Other than Wicca's outward ritual and probably a very different sort of decision-making process by a gathered body, none of this sounds terribly discordant with other parts of (as opposed to "the rest of") Quakerism.

George Fox had his "miracles" of healing; rural farming Quakers had (have) their leadings and nudges to check on their livestock; and I once made a cold call to a stranger whose husband was walking out of her life--quite literally--at that very moment, so I was able to "companion" her and give her some support immediately.

God uses us in big ways and small ways, whatever we call that Principle and however open to it we can be.

What I've appreciated about you and your blog-writing about your spiritual-religious experience is how you let Pagans be Pagans and you let Quakers be Quakers. You don't lift one up as being better than the other; you don't tell Quakers to try this-or-that part of Paganism or vice versa.

I've known you to use language based on direct experiences you've had while also being humble--that your message has been grounded in the Loving, Divine Principle and not so much in or of your ego or your unspoken need to be validated--and that's what keeps me open to reading you and, as Way opens, visiting you.

(Lord knows, I still struggle with my own ego and my need to be validated, plus my failing at speaking of Conservative Quakerism as if that's where it's at!)

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up"
Kathleen said…
You wrote..."I think I'm going to go ahead and let myself not make too much sense for a while. I'm going to go ahead and act like this stuff made sense, and see if it works for me."

Wait a moment here - that acceptance is my "plan" to be a "better" Quaker! Today my intuition tells me we're both on the right path, by what ever name it chooses to manifest. Out there beyond language is a wonderful place, albeit a little tricky to define to others. You do a good job of that for me here today.

Looking forward to part two.
Alyss said…
What a beautiful post. I have had that same experience of being a self described "rational" person who has come to see the "reality" of intuitive knowledge.

I am re-reading C.S. Lewis's Chronicals of Narnia and read The Last Battle last night. There is a scene there where the main characters go through a door of what they think is a stable. On the other side they are in a beautiful field with delicious fruit and all their friends, safe and happy. Some dwarves have also gone through the door and are sitting huddled together complaining about the dark and the smell. Lewis is, I suspect, alluding to Christian heaven but I think it is a good metaphor for magic/intuition/fairy/god in general... we can't see it unless we try. Or at least try to stop seeing the inside of stable.

Thank you for writing this. I look forward to the next post.
Matt said…
"I think I'm going to go ahead and let myself not make too much sense for a while. I'm going to go ahead and act like this stuff made sense, and see if it works for me."

Or as I have always said, "Fake it til you make it."

I love reading your posts. Each is a masterwork of self-expression and interfaith dialog.
Matt Gerlach said…

"Sometimes, when the gentle tugs and nudges aren't getting through to me, God takes out a kind of metaphysical 2x4 and wallops me across the psyche.

That's what I've learned to call a "stop.""

I've always called that the Divine Cluex4!

Part 2 is up, and I'm very glad I didn't rush it. I think it captures (at least as much as I can with words) what the process of "hearing" the voice of Spirit is like for me.

Thank you to everyone who has commented, but especially to Liz. Liz, I've been struggling with how to begin to express my gratitude for your words here. Perhaps it is easier for me to avoid lifting up either Paganism or Friends prescriptively in that I am myself so new (after 10 years a Friend and almost 25 a Pagan! And yet it is true) at finding out what these two ways of hearing Truth have to say to each other. I have no grand unified theory to proclaim... all I have is what I've felt and lived.

I don't hold my experiences up on this blog because I am an extraordinary person, but because I do have an extraordinary need to find words for what is wordless and numinous... and because trying to express the lived experiences of my fairly ordinary life does seem to speak to others.

It's one of the great joys of my life when it does. (But you knew that.)

I hope I do stay low to the experiences Spirit has given me; I'm sure I mess that up a lot, but whenever I find my way back, I am glad about it.

And glad you are my fFriend, and hope way will indeed open for us to spend time together in the future, online or off.

Blessings, all. (And go read Part Two, y'all! I'm so excited to have it done, I can hardly type!
Bright Crow said…
Thank you, Cat.

I'm finding my way back out of the dust. Nice to have your reminders.

Blessed Be,

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