Before walking through any doorway,
One should look about;
One should peer around keenly:
Because one may never be certain where a foe
Sits within the hall before you.
–Havamal 1, Translation by Connla Freyjason
At face value, this may seem like an extraordinarily paranoid way of living one’s life. It calls to mind those warnings which now run at the beginning of a movie everytime we visit a theater: “Look around you and find the nearest exit; if someone behaves oddly, make your way to the nearest exit and move far, far away.” It’s a sad, scared world that we live in, and apparently, it was also a sad, scared world for our Ancestors.
But there’s far more to this passage than apparent paranoia:
It is also a reminder to take the time to pause in life, and take a look around.
How often do we rush through life, never taking a moment even to pause to look over the threshold of a doorway before walking through it? I mean, when was the last time you paused, say, before your own front door, and took a moment to look at the door itself, or the wreath or besom you may have hanging upon it? Maybe even took those few extra moments to turn around and look back at your yard, and perhaps notice a blue jay or a squirrel who has likewise taken the time to pause, and look at you?
It is a reminder to look before we leap.
How often have you gotten yourself in too far over your head because you simply jumped in with both feet before looking at all the angles of a situation? If you’re like me, this happens to you quite often! An important part of mindfulness is actually taking the time to “roll something around” in your mind and “peer at it keenly”. There may be pitfalls ahead that you might otherwise have overlooked.
And, yes, it is a reminder to always have an exit strategy!
Taking those extra moments to be mindful of the situations in our lives can also help us to “find the exits”, and form valuable strategies for when we need to “bow out gracefully” (or even not-so-gracefully). On occasion, situations arise where we need to disentangle ourselves–maybe even flee–in order to live to fight another day. Such behavior is neither cowardice nor giving up, but instead, saving face and surviving: sometimes, having an exit strategy is the only way to keep our hamingja (our reputation and legacy) intact. It might be what is necessary to prevent you yourself from becoming the enemy.
Today is supposed to be the last day of my sabbatical. Usually sabbaticals are restful; then again, usually they’re also a paid period of leave. For me, neither of these has really been the case. Sure, I’ve earned a lot of things that money simply cannot buy–a certain sort of peace that I did not have before–but I’ve also worked myself to the point of abject exhaustion on more than one occasion, and the work on the new house (especially my office/studio) seems to be neverending (which is now stressing out the cat, in addition to me!). So instead of this being the last day of my sabbatical, I’ve decided it’s the first day of a new sort of life: a hyggelig life.
Hygge, and by extension, its adjective form, hyggelig, is a Danish/Norwegian concept that has become more than a bit of a fad here in the U.S. over the past year. Pronounced hoo-gah, I first stumbled upon the term when researching decorative motifs for our new home. I wanted a definite coastal vibe (in homage to Njordr, and also so that our house would feel like a permanent vacation-home), but with heavy Scandinavian motifs (so that our whole house would represent our Heathen/Pagan Faith), and a comfy, cozy Mid-Century Modern ease-of-living. When you Google Search all of that, you’ll likely be surprised how often the word hygge comes up. I certainly was, to the degree of thinking “where has this been all my life?“.
Like the word love, hygge has that rare distinction of being at the same time both a noun and an adjective. Also like love, it is a feeling. I’ve heard it argued by some that “if you treat hygge like it’s a verb, you’re doing it wrong”, but honestly, I think it has that in common with the concept of love, too: hygge really isn’t hygge until you can give it away; until you can share it with someone else who is dear to you.
So what in the hoo-hah is hygge? It is a consciousness–a mindfulness, if you will–of being fully present in a moment of coziness, specialness, and that indescribable feeling that is home. In its most basic form, hygge is homecoming. I don’t mean that in the sense of you’ve actually just come back home from having been somewhere else; I mean that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you finally arrive at a place or a moment where you deeply know this is where you belong. You may get that feeling sitting in candlelight drinking a warm cup of tea, or you may get that feeling relaxing on the couch papercrafting. The most important thing is that you build it into your life somewhere. We could all use some hygge now and then….
An interesting thing about hygge: etymologically, it traces back to the term hugr. Sound familiar? You may remember it as one of the four aspects of the Norse “soul”, which I talked about previously in this blog post. The Hugr would best be understood by us moderns as the “inner self”: a person’s personality as reflected in their conscious thought processes; very much in line with the oft-misquoted Buddhist ideal of “what you think, you become”. In a very real sense, hygge is food for the soul. I made a conscious decision a long time ago that that is my business in life: the feeding of people’s souls. But how to do that?
Since we changed the angle of this business to papercrafting and digital art a year ago, it has been no secret that I have often felt very at-sea over exactly how to keep us rolling in that direction, while still remaining passionate about both my business and my life. When we made that change back in July 2016, our initial tagline was Remember To Whimsy. What I didn’t know then, but have discovered over the course of this sabbatical, is that what we really meant was Infuse Your Life With Hygge. Ultimately, that is what every product we design, every blog post we write, and every interaction we have in this business–whether creating votive art, or sharing our spirituality with others–has been designed to do. We want to remind people to live in their most precious moments–those moments of homecoming–and be mindful of the warmth and joy they feel there. We’ve never just wanted to sell people things; we want to give people feelings, that they can come back to again and again.
Most folks are familiar with the old saying “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you can feed him for a lifetime.” I can give you a nifty set of digital papers and elements, and keep you busy for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, but if I can teach you to be mindful of your most treasured moments in the first place, and maybe couple that with a recipe here and there for something yummy to imbibe while you’re crafting, plus ideas for your home that make it a more enjoyable place to craft in, then I can help you find hygge for a lifetime!
Which is why I say today is not the end of my sabbatical, but instead the beginning of a new, hyggelig life. It’s a life I intend to share with all of you, and hopefully spread the hygge as liberally as butter (or in my case, cheese!) on bread. But before I can help you learn to infuse your lives with hygge, I’ve got to start the process of infusing my own. That starts with the “unplugged mornings” that I promised myself when we first moved in; mornings which I was doing a great job with for the first week we lived in our new house. After that first week, however, I fell sick, so I’ve been sleeping in most days. On top of that, I have a rather unrealistic gaming schedule that keeps me up til 1am four nights a week–which doesn’t exactly promote getting out of bed before 9am! Sleeping late means that by the time I finally do crawl out of bed, I’m in an urgent rush to hop online and let my Beloved know that I’m okay, which then leads to being locked online til noon. So my real day doesn’t start until 1:30 in the afternoon! On most days, that means I have around three hours to get everything I want to get accomplished in a day actually done, which isn’t nearly enough time to do those things without feeling like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! Needless to say (I hope), that leaves very little room for hygge.
So I would like to invite all of you to join me for unplugged mornings. If that means you have to get out of bed a bit earlier than you normally would, by all means, do so: it’s worth the sacrifice. Wake up, stretch, make yourself a cup of hot tea (or coffee, if that’s more your style), and then just sit and drink. Most importantly, remember to enjoy that moment. Bask in it. Depending on your work schedule and everything else, it may be one of the few such moments you get all day, but it gives you a touchstone moment that you can come back to again and again throughout the day, when things get nuts. Leave that cell phone on the counter; leave that computer in the other room; don’t turn on the TV. There will be plenty of time for those things later. For the length of that cuppa, just be present in the sweetness of that moment; just be you and the tea (or coffee, as the case may be). This may seem like a trivial change in your schedule at face value, but like that famous quote from the movie The Crow, nothing is trivial…..
I have spent most of my life attempting to emulate the famous Bruce Lee quote “Be water, my friend”, but for the past two weeks, I’ve felt more like the rock than the water: rock aching against water. Most of you already know that we’re in the midst of selling our home and attempting to find and buy a new one, and I’ve said before: moving is hard. As we go deeper and deeper down this tangled path, however, I’m discovering more and more every day that those three words are really too mild of a statement for precisely how difficult this entire scenario actually is. “Be water, my friend” went flying out the window, leaving nary a feather behind, somewhere around June 11th, and it’s been all uphill from there!
For a moment, let’s talk about what that quote means, before we talk about its opposite. In full, Bruce Lee said:
“Don’t get set into one form; adapt it, and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind; be formless; shapeless–like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Basically, what this means it that you shouldn’t get locked into patterns; that you should basically learn to “roll with the punches”, and somehow keep landing on your feet. It requires being mindful of your environment and surrounding situations to the point that you can easily “change your shape” to fit that environment and those situations–the way water becomes a cup, or a bottle, or a teapot. It implies that you are adaptable; that you can take virtually any situation and “make it your own”; take command of it; know when to flow, and when to crash. Ultimately, “being like water” means being completely open to the fact that there are infinite possibilities open to us; it means being hard and soft at the same time; it means accepting the possibilities of success and failure equally. It is to believe that anything can happen, and that it actually might. From a Heathen perspective, it means being comfortable with the ebb and flow of Wyrd, rather than afraid of that ebb and flow. When we close ourselves off to all of that, we remove any chance for a sense of accomplishment, relegating ourselves to a constant state of feeling stymied, trapped, out of control, and basically doomed.
And that is where being the rock, instead of the water, comes into this discussion. Rocks don’t typically move. They are static entities; their shape is their shape, and they aren’t exactly legendary for adapting. Instead of adapting, they break and erode. Generally, with a rock, “what you see is what you get”, which is why we have phrases like “written in stone” and “set in stone” to denote things that are unchangeable or immutable. Rather than changing its environment, a rock is changed by its environment: moss grows, or the rock is broken apart by rushing water, or eroded into sand. “Rock people” (as opposed to “water people”) see Wyrd as something which is likewise set in stone, and they live in an environment of fearingthat Wyrd. It is a life of feeling as though something unknown is constantly impending, and almost every creature alive fears the unknown.
Up until June 11th, I was doing a fairly decent job of “being water”, instead of “being rock”, with this whole home-selling-home-buying scenario. I had dutifully packed up most of my office without batting an eye, looking upon the whole affair as the first key to a new future in our lives together. I was, in fact, actually excited about the whole thing. I had begun shopping around online for potential new home prospects, and we had already toured a few open houses. I began embracing the whole concept of “mobile home living” and the “mobile home lifestyle”, which honestly tugged at my California-born heartstrings in ways that I couldn’t even begin to readily describe to my partner or anyone else. I began feverishly creating home-plans (complete with decor motifs and furniture placement) at Roomstyler, and researching everything I could find on home makeovers (including fantastic accent wall treatments). I resolved that I was going to become the “ultimate house husband” upon moving to our new locale, complete with all that such entails, right down to making sure dinner was on the table promptly at 5:30 every day when my Beloved gets home. And I was super excited about all of that. Wyrd would take us where we needed to be, and I had ultimate faith in the Gods in bringing us there. So what changed? How did I suddenly go from “water” to “rock”?
Prepping for our first open house, on the heels of our favorite future home prospect being pulled from the market, while suffering from the worst outbreak of pustular psoriasis we have ever endured started my downhill slide. Still, I tried to remain hopeful, as we went that Wednesday to tour two other home prospects, the first of which we were both absolutely in love with. Cat-in-tow, we went to tour two properties, both of which had promise, and I immediately came home and sat down the very next day and started plugging in our furniture and coming up with decorating motifs via Roomstyler. Yes, I was terrified about where my health was taking me, but I kept reminding myself that soon our lifestyle would be way more laid back, and that somewhat helped me through. I continued to pray nightly (as I always do), even as I put my job on hold because I couldn’t write or even make art through the fever and the itching and the fear. I tried to keep my chin up, and wade through the itching, the pain, and the knowledge that this could be the outbreak that ended both me and Michelle, and remain hopeful. I tried to stay water, my friends.
On the 22nd, that prospect we were in love with sold to another buyer. I tried not to let that get me down, as my health was improving (however slightly), and instead focus on the other prospect we had toured. The more of our furniture I crammed into the houseplan of it on Roomstyler, the more cramped it became, but I found “work arounds”, and kept plugging away. “It’ll just be cozy”, I reminded myself and my partner; “and we love cozy, right?” Meanwhile, we scheduled two more open houses, and I watched my Beloved work her tail off while I had to sit humbly by and try to “pray away the pain”. I began to feel guilty that I couldn’t do as much as I had done around the house previously and internally beat myself up about that fact. I began to pine for another property we had found that is totally our dreamhouse, but also totally un-financeable. I began to hear the Princess Leia quote from Star Wars: A New Hope replayed over and over again inside my head, only with a real estate theme: “The more you tighten your grip, the more mobile homes will slip through your fingers”. Except our “grip” didn’t feel tight at all; instead, it felt more and more like “one hand clapping”: an appendage constantly reaching out for what it wants, yet only grasping air. My downward spiral from “water” into “rock” had officially begun.
I am officially breaking, eroding, and turning into sand. Where once I sat out in the swing to watch the bunnies and the birds, and it would bring me peace, now I sit out in the swing and watch the bunnies and the birds to hide my tears. What will life be like in a place where I can no longer hear the coyotes sing? All I want to be able to do is look out my window and see a tree, and it doesn’t even have be my tree; it just needs to be a tree! All the while I am constantly reminded that I am a financial disaster, living on the good graces of the people who love me, and cannot help with anything whatsoever except maybe a little housework here and there, and right now, I’m not even fully able to do that. I feel like a piece of dandelion fluff blown on the wind; some magical thing, perhaps, to the eye of a child, but when it’s all said and done, wherever I come to land I will grow into a weed. And weeds are a nuisance; they leech all of the good away. My nightly prayers have begun to feel like something I say by rote. Where once there was faith behind those words, now that faith has been replaced with a very definite desperation. I still sing galdr, yet each time I do so, I am reminded of the two homes previously that I have tried to “galdr into existence” for us that have gone to other buyers, even as our own prospects grow ever more slim. I am spiraling ever deeper into a pit of despair, and I’m having a very hard time finding a way to climb back out of it. No longer caught up in the ebb and flow of Wyrd, it has instead become a wave which I fear will drown us all.
This morning, I pulled Uruz for my daily rune-draw. I do this every morning, asking the Gods to tell me Their intentions for me this day: how should I live; what should I do; to what should I put my energy? Immediately, the blessing for Thrud which I had been led to create weeks ago popped into my mind, and most especially the line: As rock as it aches against water. We don’t tend to think of the pain the rock endures, as it is broken apart by rushing water, until that moment when we have become that stone. As Heathens, the words “the strength of mountains” sound like a fantastic thing to have; like something for which to actively strive. That’s all well and good until one is actually asked to endure; then and only then does one realize just how tough it must be to be a mountain!
So how does one go from being “rock” back to being “water”?
Flip that switch in four steps:
Restore hope via gratitude.
Give yourself permission to believe in miracles; in infinite possibilities.
Define your ultimate possibility.
Ultimately believe in your ultimate possibility.
The first step is the restoration of hope. That’s the “thing” I lost a good grasp on, starting around June 11th, and then pretty much totally on the 22nd. As this proverbial stone has continued rolling downhill like an avalanche, things have come to feel more and more hopeless. And, as in that famous quote from the TV series Lost, “hope is a dangerous thing to lose“. Perhaps the easiest way to flip our brains from a “doom cycle” back to a “hope cycle” is via gratitude. Being grateful for the things around us provides the rational mind–that part of the brain that tends to be the “doomsayer” in the first place–with evidence that good things can and do, in fact, happen after all. I end every day, no matter how shitty, with a litany of gratitude to the Gods for every single good thing that happened throughout that day, no matter how small: everything from “thank you for that heron that flew by my window this afternoon at two o’clock” to “thank you for time with my Beloved and Kili”. So, clearly, I have a relatively decent “gratitude system” already in place, yet here I am still: a rock, instead of water.
Restoring hope should begin to pave the way for a restoration of the belief in infinite possibilities. In other words, giving oneself permission to honestly believe in miracles. Two weeks ago, I wholeheartedly did; now, notsomuch. I believe that was the true turning point for me, with going from water to rock. One can only be told so many times that something is impossible before one actually gets with the program and realizes that something is, in fact, impossible. And once we reach that point, miracles cease being a possibility. The permission to believe in them is officially revoked. Author Marianne Williamson, famous for her books on alternative spirituality, including A Course In Miracles, has this to say about giving oneself permission to believe in miracles:
“A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love–from a belief in what is not real, to faith in that which is. That shift in perception changes everything.”
Breaking that down from a strictly Heathen perspective, believing in miracles means understanding, accepting, and (most importantly) allowing the concept that all of those infinite possibilities–all of those miracles–are not utangard, but instead, innangard. In other words, miracles aren’t something that happen to someone else out there in the big somewhere else, but are instead right there, waiting for us, within our own circle of influence. We fear what is outside our circle of influence, while we love what is inside our circle of influence. When all of those infinite possibilities becomes things which are outside of that circle of influence–when we have that “one hand clapping” feeling that I described earlier, which makes us feel very out of control–we come to fear those possibilities, rather than love them. The further we push possibility away from us, the more we come to fear it, and the more out of control we subsequently feel.
So the third step is to define your ultimate possibility. Your ultimate possibility should be the best possible outcome, based on the good things already being detailed by your personal “gratitude system“. By basing the ultimate possibility on things which are already happening within our present circle of influence, all of those infinite possibilities become innangard, rather than utangard. My ultimate possibility, therefore, would be an attainable home that is sustainable by me, even given all of our health issues, which will require me to show off my interior design skills in effectively homemaking, because that is the “part of this bargain” which is actually within my circle of influence. I cannot buy us a house; I can’t make that happen. But I can make it a home. I cannot control whether or not there are trees in our yard-to-come, but I can learn to garden and grow things inside as well as outside. Home-buying is outside my circle ofinfluence;it is utangard. Homemaking, however, is something at which I excel–something I have always longed for the opportunity to actually do–and is therefore inside; it is innangard.
The final step, then, is to believe ultimately in that ultimate possibility. Believing ultimately means that you put your heart and soul (all four parts of it!) into making that ultimate possibility an ultimate reality. In my case, that means that rather than pinning all my hopes and dreams on this specific property, or that one, I instead put all of that energy into learning and preparing to do all of the things that are congruent with my ultimate possibility. For example, if I want to be able to look out my window and see a tree, I need to start learning how to either plant one, paint one, or otherwise create one, rather than sitting around crying and moaning about “please, Gods, give me a tree!” If I’m so obsessed with having “a room with a view”, instead of pinning everything on a specific property that has that view (which could just as easily slip away as not), I need to be developing creative ways to make a room have a view.
Ultimately, Wyrd is neither shaped for us nor set in stone: it ebbs and flows and changes with our every breath and our ever-changing attitudes. When we trap ourselves in a cycle of hopelessness, then that becomes our Wyrd. Instead of running like rabbits from shadows in the dark–from those things which are outside our circle of influence–we must come to realize that such behavior simply calls our worst fears to us. By living our lives that way, we are literally bringing the worst possible Wyrdinto existence. Instead, we must focus on those things which we can control–those things which are inside our circle of influence–and take charge of those things. Be grateful for them, and then do something with them and about them. Even if it requires the strength of mountains; even if it hurts, like rock aching against water.