We seem to be careening towards Samhain at an incredible pace; there are fewer than two weeks left to this liturgical year. The veils are already tissue thin. Family members (living and dead) populated my dreams last night and my brother (who was about as unreligious as you can get) told me, “I was always better at theology than you.” I woke up thinking, “But I am better at praxis.”
For many Pagans, Samhain is a time to make plans for the coming year, to set new goals and objectives, to organize new ways of working in the world. Maybe it’s a way of casting an anchor forwards to a time when the veils won’t be so thin, of helping to assure ourselves that we won’t wander too far in the Autumn mists. And maybe it’s a way of working really deep magic — the kind that changes your life and the world — at a time when our landbase itself is magically transformed by green leaves turning crimson and fluttering to the ground.
I’ve posted before about my practice of selecting a Word of the Year, a technique that I learned about from Christine Kane. You can find her worksheet (which I fill out every year) here. There’s certainly nothing wrong with simply writing a basic list of goals and objectives and there’s plenty of information about how to do that. What I like about the Word of the Year practice is that it provides an organizing principle. I develop my list of goals and objectives around my word and find that I’m able to achieve more when everything is related. I’m still thinking and meditating about my word for the coming year.
Poet and novelist Theodora Goss recently posted a helpful technique that she uses to accomplish her objectives.
I’m the sort of person who wants to do everything: Teach. Write novels and stories and essays and poems. Spend time with my daughter, of course. But also learn Hungarian, and go to the ballet, and read books. Travel when I can. Decorate my apartment. There’s time for all of that, but I have to figure out when and how to do each thing so I’m doing it well, and not exhausting myself. That takes pacing.
So for example, I’m decorating my apartment. My impulse is to do everything at once: to buy the bookshelves, put them together, stain and finish them. Buy the pillows, the fabric to cover the pillows. Sew the pillow covers. But I don’t have time to do everything at once, because I’m also teaching and writing. So instead I do a little each day, and I find that as long as I’m doing something each day, eventually it gets done. The shelves go up, the pillows are covered and put on the daybed.
It takes having patience, and being able to divide work into discreet tasks so you can do it a bit at a time. So for example, today I’m going to stain the shelves, then let them dry overnight, turn them over, and stain the other sides tomorrow. They should be completely stained by this weekend, when I can put the whole bookshelf together and finish it with oil. Soon, and by soon I mean at the end of the week, I’ll have a bookshelf, and the books that have been sitting on the floor will have a home. I do hate books sitting on the floor, so not having a place to put them has been an exercise in patience. But I know that as long as I work on the shelves every day, a little at a time, I will eventually have a floor without books on it.
As I get older, I find that, more and more, I have to approach chores this way. My energy may not hold out to let me finish an entire project in one day, but, with a bit of planning, I can make a schedule and accomplish what I want over a few days. (Have I mentioned recently that calendars are every bit as much magical tool as athames, wands, goblets, and candles? They are.) And, like Ms. Goss, I can feel that I’m making steady progress. Pacing, Ms. Goss writes, requires three things:
1. Prioritizing. Know what you actually want to do, and get rid of the things you don’t want to, to the extent you can.
2. Dividing tasks over time. Figure out how to divide what you need or want to do, and do part of it each day until it’s done. But almost anything you do, even the things you love to do, you will tire of, if you keep doing them long enough.
3. Dividing your time into tasks. What do you want to do when? What are the things you most need or want to get done today, and how are you going to arrange them? Can you fit in the things you need to do, the things you want to do, and the things that will give you a break from everything else? Remember to take a walk, read a book . . .
What word might organize your goals for the coming year? What techniques do you use to keep moving forward?