Compassion and understanding, sometimes we forget to practice these two virtues.  I’m as guilty as the next, but I do try to put both in my life every day.  I say this because on occasion I get reminded of how important these two things can be to those around us and how often we forget to practice them.  This really comes into focus at the beginning of every year on campus.

Each year there are new students.  We are, after all, at a University; we hope that there will always be new students coming to learn.  What they learn will in the long run truly be up to them, but they come with the hope that we will give them knowledge that will be useful after graduation. As the new students arrive to the campus a few find their way to the Chapel; ultimately some find their way to SPIRAL (our student pagan group) and to me.  This is the time when students, on their own for the first time, begin to explore their education, including their spiritual education.  This, for me, is what it is all about: helping others figure out who they are and what the next step on their path might be.

Grounding and centering, the essential building blocks to everything else; this is where we begin.  The older students can help, and they do.  It is always my goal to have the older students work actively with the new.  Seeing that peers have been able to learn the skills helps the newer students understand that it just takes time and practice.  It also helps instill with the older students that we have an obligation to give back, that it is the job of those that have gone first to help those that come afterwards. If we don’t help each other, teaching and learning along the way, who will? 

A little energy play, they get excited; a little more energy play, and they learn to feel; a little more energy work and they understand that this isn’t necessarily easy or play.  But what they learn is whether or not this is something that they wish to pursue.  What is a direction? Why are elements associated with them, why those elements with those directions, are those things all you can have for that direction, what etiquette is there that I must follow?  Is there only one kind of energy? Are dragons and fairies real? What is a journey? All are questions that get asked every year.  It is a repeatable cycle, the academic Wheel of the Year.  And this is where compassion and understanding are necessary – when someone new comes to the pagan traditions and wants to learn we need to have both compassion and understanding.

Remember when you were new?  Maybe you do or maybe you don’t, but everyone has to be new at some point.  We all come to our path knowing nothing, or at least knowing nothing outside of our intuition.  We know what calls to us, we know that this might be the path we need to be on, but understanding ritual construction, element direction (think neo-pagan designations), energy work, casting circles, spell crafting, the Charge of the Goddess (or God), that there are multitudes of traditions, are not innately understood things.  We have to be taught, we have to learn, we have to teach, and we have to practice patience.    

So reach deep down inside of your memory.  When was the last time you were engaged by someone completely new and excited about a pagan path?  Was it yesterday or was it years ago?  When it happened, how did you respond to the questions, or were you even open to them?  Answering the questions that seem silly can be tiring but it can also be a barometer to how society views Pagans in general.  It is an opportunity for us to educate and to be educated.  Trust me there is nothing more rewarding that helping someone see who I am as a Pagan while assisting them in finding their own path.  And so compassion and understanding: Compassion for the need to know “stuff” and to know it all right now; to figure it all out so that “I know how to do everything that the experienced crafters do.”  Understanding that we were like that at one time as well, eager to learn and not understanding that this is a life time pursuit of knowledge and skill.  They figure it out eventually, but it is a tough road to travel at times.  And like all of us, they reach a particular point. That moment when the older student approaches me with a single question:

                “Was I that much of a pain?”

My answer,

                 “No, you were worse. Be patient, they are new and you were once as well.”

So today think about where you are.  Are you the new and excited student fresh on your path and a sponge for information and continuously asking questions? Are you the one a little further down the path that helps to show that it just takes some practice?   Are you the one just far enough along who is tired of answer the questions and not wanting to bother with newbies?  Are you the one much further on their path, charged with guiding people around the “cosmic pot holes” that you fell in to and had someone there to help you out? Maybe you are a little bit of all of these.  I know that one of my great sources of learning is new students.  They ask questions that I have either not thought of or not thought of in a long time.  They make me think, they help me not be stagnant, and they teach me to remember that compassion and understanding are there to help all of us.