I can't put enough value on the importance of open dialogue. Not just with others but with yourself, not just within your pagan group but within your everyday life. But I have to wonder how many people actually practice this art.
As a concept this has been floating around in my head for awhile for a couple of reasons. 1) because I am amazed that I have the kind of relationship with my husband that means we can have open dialogue without the other blowing a gasket over something. 2) because I am studying a History of Religion class and the lack of open dialogue happening within is driving me nuts. 3) because I have had some pretty serious questions running around inside my head regarding my spiritual beliefs and practices.
Now 1 I'm going to leave alone - private matters not for public consumption but 2 and 3 are fair game.
2. The lack of talk in my class. To set the scene. I'm doing my Masters in History online. One of my electives is History of Religion - sounds like an awesome class with lots of potential right? Sadly, my beliefs that this would eventuate have been shattered. Logistically I understand that with only 6 students dialogue is possibly going to be somewhat less, but the amazing lack of dialogue is just depressing. Throughout the course we are reading up on the various religions of the world (and thankfully they give equal tread to most of them) as well as looking at the Anatomy of the Sacred (an amazing book I highly recommend). We have three discussion papers to do that explore ideas of: what we believe and whether it is possible to be critical about religion, sacred rituals and their purpose, and the murky grounds of ethics, evil and right and wrong. All great areas of exploration that I could see resulting in some really interesting dialogue - yeah well, not so much.
The demographics of the group (4 Christians of various denominations, an Atheist and myself - a pagan). Sadly, the Christians are all sticking together and failing to interact with myself and the Atheist, what is worse is that they are failing to look at any of their beliefs and practices in a critical or even analytical way (I'm not biased on this, the professor has actually called them out on it). So while I'm getting some great dialogue from the Athiest I'm struggling to engage with anyone else. I don't care if they want to sit there and tell me that they don't understand, think I'm nuts or challenge everything I believe - I just want them to actually think about it. I have tried asking more probing questions about their own experiences and gained no response. Overall, it is frustrating and disappointing and it has me wondering how many people really don't interact with their faith beyond following, by route almost, its doctrines and practices.
On the upside, it has answered that first question we were asked - can you be critical about religion? Seems for a lot of people the answer is no, they can't be critical about their own religion. And I guess maybe some of that comes from fear. If you start thinking critically are you challenging your own beliefs and therefore proving that you don't believe? Fear that you might find something you don't like and have to re-evaluate? Or just fear, because your belief system says you shouldn't challenge. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying what I believe it perfect, there is definitely a need to think critically, but it is the little things I really like about it - for example the fact that many practices emphasize the practice of looking back and reflecting on our selves, our path and how we can improve it.
3. My own questioning. If there is one thing I have taken from my History of Religion class it is the final recognition that I will never be Wiccan (its just too structured), in fact I described myself to the class as eclectic Pagan. I borrow from a bunch of pagan faiths, practices and pantheons. Lets face it, most modern pagan practices do. So now that I've sorted out where I put myself I started assessing my actual participation. How much am I doing? You talk to people who are out there on the full and new moons working their stuff, who go all out for the celebrations of the wheel, who do regular tarot and divination and reiki and mediation and on and on and you start to wonder if you're really dedicated to your own path.
Of course this is all just self doubt - and one should never judge by the standards of others, you just don't know what the whole situation is. But I do have to acknowledge that sadly if something has to give in my life to the pressures of the moment it is my spiritual practice. Why is that? I think it comes down to the sad reality that while it helps fulfill me and make me happy it doesn't help pay the bills and it doesn't cost me money that is wasted if I don't do it and so it is the easiest thing to push aside. And while I acknowledge that really is not the best way to live life, I acknowledge that it is also the realities of living in society. Does it mean I value my path less? Does it mean I am not dedicated to it? These are the questions I'm dialoguing with myself at the moment.