This post has been updated; it originally appeared in May 2017 on PaganBloggers.com. My Priestess travels have ended (for the time being) and it is my intention to turn my attention to writing the posts that have been queuing up in my brain over the past few months. Thank you for reading, Dear Ones!
It may initially sound counterintuitive: I’ve found that leadership must begin with exceptional self-care. The perhaps-overused phrase “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others” is inherently and unquestionably true. Our individual needs must be met by and for ourselves before attempting to meet the needs of any group. To do anything else over time courts burn out, dissatisfaction, bitterness, illness, and/or antipathy.
I’ve learned this through excruciatingly painful, intimate experience, at times as frustrating as trying to draw water from an arid well. In holy desperation I may be able to squeeze some drops out of the heat-baked mud, but it sure won’t satisfy the whole village or help to quench thirst and keep people alive over the long haul.
Ancient Peruvian spiral well built by the Nazca people (Public domain image)
Almost 18 years ago, I moved to the Bay Area after meeting a woman at a pagan festival whom I’d intuitively recognized as the teacher I had been patiently—and impatiently—waiting to arrive into my life for decades.
My first few years in the community she had birthed were filled with immeasurable exuberance, a headiness I had never before experienced. It was an exhilarating time; I believed I had hit the spiritual lottery and could now, finally, be anything and everything I had ever wanted to be as a Priestess. I was learning, living, and digging deep into my Path whilst experiencing love, validation, and support. At long last, my contributions to the world were crucial, my service of genuine and irreplaceable value, and my skills desperately needed.
These early years were glorious as I soaked up as much knowledge and experience as I could, honing my priestessing and leadership skills, allowing my life to become completely intertwined and entirely enmeshed with the group—an unspoken expectation.
I felt expansive, fully aligned with my life’s purpose, one with the world and with the Multiverse. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for this community—after all, this was my tribe with a capital T; I belonged to these women and they, in turn, belonged to me. We were the ones we’d been waiting for.
It did not matter that friends and family didn’t understand or were upset by my lack of attention and availability; the community was doing important work on behalf of women everywhere, on behalf of the entire world, and this had to take precedence, no matter my or their personal feelings.
As time went on, rules were significantly changed—tightened—and the Initiated Priestesses were expected to place the community before anything else: family, friends, work, health, recreation, relaxation…anything and everything.
We were obligated to plan, run, and attend six or more events a month, and no longer were we permitted to follow our own dreams, our own Paths, without first obtaining permission. Further, due to an unethical sexual escapade by one of the Priestesses, we were suddenly forbidden to have friendships with anyone we were serving within the community.
The work I had once genuinely and profoundly loved and lived for had slowly become increasingly exhausting, soul-draining, unhealthy, and almost unbearably lonely. This was one of the most difficult and unhappy times of my existence, and yet I persevered: my entire life was now devoted to this community and I still passionately believed in our collective mission.
I held onto hope that things would somehow get better, would someday ease and become more flexible. Unwisely, depleted and drained, I set aside my own needs for what I then believed was the highest good of all.
Fast forward to now, eight years after making my exit. Even though I’ve done—and continue to do—much personal work around over-giving, self-worth, and the need for validation, I still find myself sadly wondering, contemplating our culture and the dominant paradigm. Who has taught us to give, and give, and give, and give until we burn out, break down, and have to either quit or die?
Women especially are taught that our value lies in our giving, in how much we can give and for how long, and in the martyrdom that organically emerges from this.
Why is self-care viewed as selfishness, instead of the necessary and natural filling of the Well of Self so that we can continue the instinctive, sensible cycle of giving and receiving that exists everywhere else in nature? Even the Earth Herself must have fallow periods in order to later be fertile enough to nurture and grow seeds. Why do we feel that we are somehow different than the body of the very mother from which we have all emerged, somehow exempt from the natural order of things? When did we mutually decide that this is okay, more than okay, necessary?
Dahlias amongst the Redwoods in Guerneville, CA (Photo by me)
Further, what needs are we individually meeting by wearing our exhaustion as a badge of honor? Why do we celebrate, even revere, how long we can go at a task without sleep or food, without water or movement (or, conversely, without sitting down and taking a respite)?
What expectations are we unconsciously trying to meet through how much we can caretake and nurture and how much we can offer without condition, without once tending to own Sweet Selves? Most importantly, how can we remove the shame and guilt that seem to arise out of the loving act of caring for our human selves? How can we change this?
Collectively we continue to make unconscious choices to meet unspoken expectations, to put others first, to give until we are frazzled and angry, even incapacitated. We spend so much of our precious time trying to meet our own unexamined and unspoken needs through meeting the needs of others, perhaps in attempts to gain love and respect and belonging, unreservedly offering complete access to our energies and strength.
What would happen if we first offered ourselves this love, energy, and support: when our own wells are filled, even overflowing, only then offering the chalice to others, willingly, giving from our hearts and by our own conscious awareness and free will?
My own personal power-within is intrinsically rooted in my self-care and, from that, springs self-love, self-worth, and my very sovereignty. In order to keep the community I serve healthy, it is absolutely necessary that I take care of myself, my physical human vessel and all the needs I have as an embodied being in this place and time. It is important that I make space to experience joy, connection, peace, and discovery.
For my own health, self-care, no matter how small an act of it, must happen daily. It is imperative that I sleep, eat, drink water, move, connect with Spirit, and to also leave unstructured free time to just relax and enjoy life. In my realm, cooking experiments, going to an Oakland A’s game, or reading a Regency romance novel are all considered good self-care.
Reading Woman by Jean-Honoré Fragonard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps we might actualize daily self-care by paying special attention to creating comfortable and beautiful spaces for ourselves, having available favorite, healthful foods and libations, spending time with Loved Ones, engaging in relaxing activities, resting, gentle stretching and movement, and/or allowing ourselves to be cared for and pampered by others from time-to-time. The only thing that is vital for self-care is that it feels good to us—there is no right or wrong way to care for ourselves and what feels good to me might not serve you at all.
Treating ourselves well is an act of personal integrity. In order to have the lives we sincerely want, to manifest all we desire, and to embody who we are truly meant to be—and yes, to be impeccable leaders—we must first be willing to take care of ourselves. I intend to share more about different aspects of self-care in the future but for now, what makes you feel cared for, happy, and relaxed? What fills you up? What small act of self-care are you willing to commit to doing today? Every day?
With Love, Lady Jesamyn
It takes a village to keep our community running, and to reach our vision of sustainable priestessing in the modern world. Should you wish to contribute to this cause by offering support, your Tribute is graciously and gratefully accepted here.