Doubt on the Path
I doubt. Sometimes, I doubt a lot. I know that I write here a lot about how I see things, where my worldview is, and how I approach things. It may give the impression that I never doubt, whether it is doubt of myself, my connection to the Gods, my signal clarity, etc. Yet I do, sometimes to the annoyance of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and sometimes, to the annoyance of my Elders. Sometimes I doubt to my own detriment. Yet I find my journey is not as much about overcoming doubt as it is working with it.
Good doubt is a healthy tool that helps discernment. It helps keep you clean from ego-trips and endless drains of self-doubt. Good doubt is not consistent, unceasing doubt, but is present because the situation would warrant it. When Odin first called to me, I doubted in being able to be a shaman, and even doubted the use of the word shaman in the first place. It was only after a lot of insistence from Odin, some corroboration from others, and working through that doubt that I accepted what He had placed me on the path to becoming and let go of the worry I had about using the term shaman. There are times I still wonder “why this term?” and I know the answer: the words we still have do not communicate the role of a shaman in its fullness. More practically, people in general have a useful idea of what I mean when I say shaman, whereas it may take 15-45 minutes to explain another word.
While they can be useful, the doubts you have can, and I think should, come under scrutiny. Good doubt will allow for this, even if it isn’t completely dispelled when you’re muddling through it. Sometimes the work any one of us is asked to do can seem outlandish to another, especially if you are a polytheist and/or animist. Our modern day society simply does not understand what it means to have a relationship with the land we live on, with our Dead, or with Gods. The concept of a God to begin with is only thought and talked about in a narrow band of understanding
Bad doubt mires you, and/or makes you incapable of moving, of figuring out where you even stand. It’s not that you’ll always know where you stand, I certainly haven’t. Bad doubt makes that an impossibility, or near enough. Struggling with where I am has been part of my journey regardless of where I have been at. When I first became a Pagan I had no solid foundation, so I was slipping this way and that, but I was able to at least find purchase. Poisonous doubt allows for no purchase at all, not even a morsel of faith in yourself, where you are, or what you are doing. It denies that you can find a way through with your doubt, whether you are working through it, or it follows you through a working, a process, etc.
Doubt can help me to keep a clearer head, unless, like a lot of ego-related problems, it runs amok without moderation or control. Metaphorically shooting my legs out from underneath me can be as sabotaging and irreverent as letting my head get inflated; both speak from the ego in different directions. Shooting out my own legs gives me an easy out from doing the hard work; after all, if I’m not worthy, or I ‘could never do that’, well, I won’t do it. I can avoid having to enter into the uncomfortable feeling of doing whatever work is set before me in the face of doubt. If I allow my head to get inflated I may see myself as unworthy of the work, doubting its worthiness of me. That this could not possibly be a hard lesson; after all, I’ve got this no matter what, right? No need to rely on other people, or ask for help; hell “I can help everyone!”. These do not help, but hinder.
Sometimes I doubt even before I’m about to be doing something. Things like “I don’t know if I can do this”, “What if I screw up?”, “What if I don’t have enough training/understanding/knowledge/preparation?” The last question is a healthy one, and the other two can be as well. They can also be deterrents to doing anything, allowed to press on enough. Asking myself “Do I know what I am doing here?” when I clearly do, i.e. hosting a workshop on Ancestor worship 101 can just be nerves or anxiety working itself out. Asking myself “Do I have the knowledge to do this?” can give me the kick in the butt to do my research and homework. These are good questions to ask, but where they become a problem is when they’re fixated on, rather than asked, answered, and dealt with. These questions, and doubt in general, become a problem when the work is so completely disrupted that it is not getting done.
I am going to be the last person to rail against healthy skepticism. Sometimes that ‘voice’ is really just an internal projection. Sometimes I am wrong, at times, completely, when I give advice. Skepticism allows me to keep my stance adaptive to change while standing firm in what I know to be true, not compromising on truth but accepting new truth as it comes when it passes muster. It provides a honed edge, a way to separate needles from haystacks and ice cream from bullshit.
I have been putting out posts for the last few days, and I wanted to get this post done and out there. I do not want to give people the impression that I am faultless, flawless, or so full of myself that I can never write about my failures. That said, I do find it hard to be that vulnerable unless I personally know you. Yet, I feel a responsibility to let people know that I do doubt, doubt often, and sometimes don’t have a resolution to my doubt until after whatever needing to be done is done. That it is a normal part of the journey on any path, religious or otherwise, to doubt. I don’t have a lock on confidence. Sometimes, I don’t even have a container for it. I am learning, just as sure as anyone I teach, or who teaches me, even if all I am is a lesson in frustration!
It does not make anyone less of a person to experience doubt, or even to be wrapped up in it for awhile. Where I think learning from it, and where strength and courage are found, is in the challenge that doubt presents. It is a challenge to keep pressing on in that doubt, whether you work through that doubt or not in the journey. It is a challenge to keep working on the path in the face of that doubt whether you do it for your Gods, Ancestors, spirits, community, family, and/or yourself. It is an offering to do the work set before you as best as you can, wherever and whenever you can. It may not be easy. It probably won’t be, regardless of what path you are on, or whatever your role(s) are in your communities. Doubt may dog each step of your path regardless of how devoted you are to the path, the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. So take a rest if you need it. Do the work as best as you can when you can, and keep on the path.