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Sometimes, breaks happen.

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Work, school, family issues and all the various moments that make up life can interfere with our religious or spiritual practices. Hitting the pause button isn’t a bad thing — sometimes it cannot be helped. I am not a fan of the whole “you make time for the things that are important to you” philosophy that can all too easily be used to shame people who have had to hit the pause button. There are things in life we truly have no control over that can make it difficult to stay in touch with our religious or spiritual practices.

I have had to take a break that has been longer than anticipated. There were a few reasons that I won’t get into now, but they were unavoidable. Months later, I am finally able to take a breath and think about resuming my religious practices. So far, it hasn’t been easy and it occurred to me that this may be a rather common problem. Here in the US there are a lot of stressful factors that add to an increase in depression, anxiety and general life issues, all of which can contribute to people taking less and less time for their religious practices.

It will be easier for some people to jump back in where they left off. For others, like me, it may be more difficult. In the midst of everything, I moved twice — once to another state. This means that my altars were all moved and changed. That’s a small difference, but a difference all the same. The places I was accustomed to spending time with my deities was no longer there. I had set up the altars again, but without actually spending time in prayer, thought, or what have you, it just wasn’t the same. My altars still don’t feel quite right, but they are a work in progress.

The most successful “reboot” for me has been turning my thoughts back to the gods and making new connections. This has been as simple as “this song reminds me of Freyr” or “I think Loki would like that”. Simple thoughts and connections make it easier for me to be mindful of the gods, and eventually return to prayer. I have never been formal in how I pray. I generally do so throughout the day, voicing appreciation to the gods and spirits out loud or in silence. If you pray in a more formal way, you may find it useful to recreate your routine one step at a time. Sit where you like to pray. Sit and think. Take your time and build the foundations of the habit before leaping in and stressing yourself out. For me, a lot of my religious practice had become habit and returning to broken habits isn’t easy. You have to rebuild the foundations of that habit and look at what habits replaced them. I replaced my religious habits with time wasters that reduced my stress but didn’t do much more for me. Evaluating the value of those time wasters and pulling away from them is a process, since they’ve become a sort of crutch. Leaning back towards my gods and my familiar spirits has made me feel better than the stress reduction of the time wasters — so has learning how to manage my stress in different ways.

I have also been looking into what I can get involved in locally. I have been historically wary of in-person community after some bad experiences, but at the same time I have to acknowledge that knowing people can be beneficial and can help jump start an interest and habit formation. There is a metaphysical shop that offers classes about an hour ago that I am interested in visiting. That interest (for me) expands out to research, reading, and engaging. Even if I end up not attending a class, cultivating that interest does a lot for me in terms of getting back to my religious practices. If local involvement doesn’t appeal to you, you might try seeking out online community. That comes with its own unique challenges. Since you’re reading this online, you’re probably aware of what lurks in online communities.

Take the time to remember what you were passionate about within your practices and beliefs. If there was a story or myth that sparked your interest in the first place, read it again. If you had a very powerful experience in the past, take the time to remember how you felt. This is even easier if you kept a blog or journal about the experience. Reconnect with favorite objects, if you use them. For me, handling my runes again has been a big help. Do the things that connected you with your practice and faith. Writing is a big thing for me. For you, it might be music, it might be reading — whatever it is, try it. The point is to reconnect, but also to remind yourself of what you were passionate about and loved.

Most of all? Don’t waste time and energy worrying about other people judging you for needing the break. Worrying about judgement makes it difficult to make any kind of start. That applies beyond religion. But where it comes to your practice, your faith, and what you do — that is ultimately between you and the gods or spirits. If you do not work with gods or spirits, or believe in them in a literal sense it is between you and whatever you do believe in. Do not let the judgement others may make on how you spend your time impede your progress, especially when you’re working on getting back into practice.

Viking Ship Burial, by photographer Andy Stephenson
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