by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
I’m all about the occult wisdom of memes these days. Well, not really. I’m all about an inner fire when I see well-meaning people perpetuate supposedly helpful ideas that are ultimately harmful, at least in the magickal community in which we both operate. The recent meme in question said:
“You disrespect yourself every time you say yes when you want to say no. You call it loyalty/love/friendship. Really you are just hoping someone will see how amazing you are and choose you. It shouldn’t work that way. Choose yourself. That’s how you teach them. By choosing you.”
It speaks to the evolving self-care culture which in itself isn’t inherently wrong. We must take care of ourselves, fill our cup before we can help others. And we shouldn’t be motivated by how we are perceived by others. The dominance of self-care and me-first messages is a symptom of a sick society, and while it might address an individual need in the moment, it does little to address the problem at hand and can encourage an isolated and egocentric experience, one which is already fueled by the dominance of the dark side of social media. As we approach the societal shifts that will come from potential environmental and economic collapse, we need to learn survival skills, which include not only wilderness crafts, home medicine, and growing our own food, but how to survive in small communities with empathy, reciprocity, and a sense of communal responsibility.
As a magician, witch, or magick worker of some stripe, we must ask which part of ourselves is saying yes and which part is saying no. We over-identify with the ego, the Middle Self, our personal identity. My personal self says no all the time. My personal self often wants to stay in bed, eat Doritos, and tell people who want me to do things to fuck off. My personal self wanted to say no to studying Witchcraft. I thought it was silly. My personal self certainly said no to being an author and teacher. And many days my personal self wants to say no to my day-to-day responsibilities that other people rely on me to do.
Likewise I’m sure there are people I rely on in community who want to say no to me sometimes. But we all say yes. Am I disrespecting myself? No, I don’t think so. Does the motivation of loyalty, love, or friendship motivate me? Sometimes. Do I know there are necessary mechanics to support the rest of the good stuff that is not always pleasant? Yes, and I think anyone in an adult life realizes that at some point. Does this spark joy? No. But to live in my home, I need to pay the rent, and while I like my home, I don’t get any joy from writing that check.
The current self-care paradigm requires that we cut out all toxic people. If they can’t support us, we should drop them. But what if they’re just going through a bad patch? What if I’m going through a bad patch? If we only want good-vibe people in our lives, then who will give us honest advice or tell us when they think we are making a mistake? All of this advice looks great in a tweet, but lacks the necessary nuance. It is easily embraced by those drowning in responsibilities and worries, who then alienate the people who could support them. Unfortunately, building stronger and more authentic relationships is hard to sum up in a pithy post or advertising slogan.
There are definitely times when both our Higher Soul and our personality are saying “no” and telling us to slow down, when that primal Lower Self is urging us to rest and replenish. And we should heed these messages. But they happen far more frequently today because of our lack of purposefulness around our true work, lack of appropriate boundaries, and lack of authentic support systems. A scented bath is nice, but true self care includes establishing these deeper supports in your life, not quick fixes.
Following the yes of the soul, the Higher Self, often requires a lot of little no’s from the personal self that requires transmutation. If you are consistently miserable, unhealthy, and out of alignment, then say no and make different choices. If you are saying yes out of low self-esteem, in a desire to be liked or to get someone to respond to you in a favorable way, start saying no and make some inner changes. But if you are doing some temporarily unpleasurable things in the name of friendship, love, and community, good job! Me too. Many of us are, and that creates the space held for people to enjoy life and feel supported.
As a Witch, I think about offerings, sacrifice, and reciprocity a lot. Few of us do old-style sacrifice, and most would object to it today, but I think of many of my actions that serve my higher will, my community, as offerings and sacrifices. In that light, it transforms them and makes them holy. They become something of love rather than a burden. They become a blessing, a realization that because I have such people and situations in my life, I can make these offerings and enjoy our lives together. So in the end, I try not to choose me, but we.