Modern Contemplation of the Runes: Naudhiz


NaudhizNeed is nearest to the breast
yet often proves to children of men
a source of help and healing
if they heed it betimes.

Continuing our series examining modern pagan practice via the Elder Futhark, we move on to the tenth rune, Naudhiz. As with the others, the rune-poem above gives us a place to start.

This rune, in both ancient and modern times, speaks to those times when things are not going so well, and you are indeed in distress. The lore, and modern experience, suggest that neither good times nor bad times last forever, and also that going through difficulties may lead to greater accomplishment once the situation becomes less harsh. One can think of the classic Nietzsche quote "What does not kill me makes me stronger".

What makes sense to cover here is how to get through those times of difficulties in a way that allows you to leave stronger, rather than dead. There are two pieces of that puzzle: What you can do for yourself, and how to get help from others.

How To Pick Yourself Up

NASA trains its personnel, when things look dire, to "work the problem". The point of doing this is to get as clear a picture as possible about what the problem actually is, and develop solutions that get closer to good enough for the task at hand.

If You Can't Think Straight

If you can't think straight, then the first step is to get your brain working properly if at all possible. That means, typically, doing some basic physical self-care:

  • If you are very sleepy, get some sleep. Even if you don't think you can afford to take the time.
  • If you feel very tired but aren't sure why, try drinking water (a lot of exhaustion is caused by dehydration).
  • If you are hungry enough that it is distracting you, eat something. Then drink more water.
  • If you are on prescription medication, then make sure you are taking it as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If you are severely sick or injured, then you need medical attention. That is your immediate problem, everything else can wait.

The reason this must come first is that if your brain is not working properly, you are unlikely to be able to do anything else useful. Again, using the example of NASA, they train their people to remain highly functional under extreme stress, but odds are you haven't had that kind of training, and thus need to take care of yourself.

Identifying the Problems

The hard part here is that problems can mask other problems. For instance, those with substance abuse problems not-infrequently discover that the reason they have a substance abuse problem is that they were trying to avoid dealing with some other serious problem in their life. And in the same vein, insomnia isn't always a medical issue, sometimes it's about longstanding anxieties that are keeping you awake.

A good technique for dissecting this is to start from what went wrong, and keep asking yourself "Why?" until you get some real clarity on the issue. An example of this might be:

  • I'm running out of money. Why?
  • My boss fired me. Why?
  • I kept coming in late for work. Why?
  • I've been staying up too late the night. Why?
  • I've been playing video games and losing track of time. Why?
  • I find the fantasy life of the video games more valuable than my real life. Why?
  • I don't have any hobbies other than video games that I really enjoy. Why?
  • I am fearful of walking into a room full of strangers and don't have any friends nearby. Why?

Keep going until you really truly cannot think of a deeper explanation. Try going into meditation for a while on that last item if you can. The reason you want to get as deep as you can into this process is because it will enable you to think about larger but subtler problems that may be causing other surface challenges.

Identifying Your Resources

Now that you know the problem you face, the next question to answer is taking an inventory of what resources you have to fix that problem. Those resources include tangible objects around you, your own relevant capabilities, people who might be willing and able to help, and that which is not readily visible like money in a bank account somewhere.

The more complex the problem you need to solve, the more complete your inventory needs to be. If the problem is something simple like "It's around dinnertime and I'm hungry", knowing "There's a bunch of restaurants here, and I have $15 readily available" is pretty much all you need to know. If the problem is something complicated like "My house is slowly falling apart", your inventory has to be much more complete, to include, for instance, tools and materials you own, what you can borrow or rent, who you might know that knows something about houses, charitable organizations that might help you, what useful stuff a neighbor is leaving out on the curb, and so forth.

Exceptional problem-solvers are often exceptional at finding out what resources are available that nobody had thought of. If you discover in the next steps that there is nothing you can do, come back to this step and see what other resources you might have overlooked.

Identify Your Goals

The next stage is to figure out what you actually need to accomplish, and when. This will direct you towards which level you should focus on. In our example problem above, there's an important question about how much time you have to reverse the trend your financial life is taking: If you will be unable to make rent next week, that creates a different kind of response than if you have a few months before you're really up against a wall.

When figuring out goals, it's important to differentiate between things you really need, and things you want. The list of what you really really need is remarkably short: If you can keep your body the right temperature, avoid major traumas and illnesses, and get enough water to drink, then you will be able to survive for a solid month or so. If you can also get food, then you can survive indefinitely. Keeping that in mind can help reduce panic quite a bit. Something else that might be worth familiarizing yourself with is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, to get an idea as to what to prioritize.

Identify Your Potential Solutions

At this stage, you look at what you can do to tackle each of the layers of the problem. Not necessarily all at once, but working with the idea that all problems are solveable and that you can always make choices no matter how dire the situation is. Using our example yet again:

  • I'm running out of money: I can ask friends and family for short-term help.
  • My boss fired me: I can put my resume out there, contact recruiters, and apply at the local stores if need be.
  • I kept coming in late for work: I can set an alarm clock, and develop habits to actually wake up when it goes off.
  • I've been staying up too late the night: I can use an alarm clock for that too.
  • I've been playing video games and losing track of time: This might not be a big problem, but I might want to in the future figure out a way to establish a different habit.
  • I find the fantasy life of the video games more valuable than my real life: This one will require some real self-reflection. What is it I find valuable about the games that is missing from the rest of my life? What sorts of things might I be able to do that would give me those same effects?
  • I don't have any hobbies other than video games that I really enjoy: This should be the result of that same self-reflection process.
  • I am fearful of walking into a room full of strangers and don't have any friends nearby: If I have lots of friends far away, now might be a good time to consider moving to be near them. If it's more a question of being friendless, I might want to try events like gaming conventions where I'll find people like me. I might also consider making use of some kind of therapy to work on my social anxieties.

Not all of these solutions will be things you can or should do right now. But they are the steps you will take in the next step.

Make a Plan

Sometimes, you don't have time to make a full plan, so you just solve the immediate-survival problems. But if you do have time, you decide which of the solutions above you're going to do, and in what order. This is where your goals come into play: If you have more time and resources, you can address those deeper problems thoroughly. If you don't have the time or resources, then you need to solve the higher-level problems first in order to get the time and resources you need to solve the deeper problems.

Stick to the Plan

Once you have the plan, it's important to follow through until all the problems you identified are addressed. Otherwise, your solution will be incomplete, and that means the immediate problems you had will crop right back up again. In our example, begging might get you another few weeks before things get much worse, but it won't solve the problem of no income and mis-allocated time. Getting a job will certainly help on the income side, but won't help the social life or sleep habits. And so on.

How to Get Help From Others

There are a few basic ideas to follow when asking for help from other people. They are, in a nutshell:

  1. Don't be shy about your situation. Unless you have done something seriously wrong (e.g. committed a major crime), there's no advantage in being discreet about it. Being ashamed about problems is one way those problems persist.
  2. Start with those with whom you have an established relationship. Friends and family are going to be much more willing to stand up and help you than strangers are, because they know you and likely believe you to be a good person.
  3. Show what you are doing to help yourself. Most people are much more willing to help those who are doing their best to fix their own problems. Showing rather than telling means that you aren't relying solely on your own credibility to make your appeal.
  4. Give those you are asking a clear goal of what you need and why. For example, if the problem is money, instead of saying "I need as much as you can give me.", you are much better off saying "I need to come up with $600 to pay the rent." If the problem is trying to move to a new place, it's "I need 3 people at my old place on Saturday morning, and 3 people on the other end to help unload Saturday afternoon."
  5. Ask those in a position to give you what you need. Asking people with no money for money won't work. Neither will asking someone with a bad back to move a heavy object.
  6. If you know you have some willing helpers, but those people aren't enough, try to "seed the pot" by showing what the willing helpers are doing for you. That will make it more likely that others who can help you will step forward.
  7. Reciprocate whenever possible. Help those that help you to the best of your ability.
  8. Try to avoid leaning too hard on any one person or organization.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help when you truly need it. Asking for help does not mean that you are completely incapable: It means that you have an immediate challenge that you are unable to take care of right now. Everybody has a stage in their life when they need help: Both children and elders must rely on others for basic physical care, for instance. As social animals, people tend to do what they can for other people, in the hopes that others will do for them when their turn comes.

To bring in the first real pagan-specific point in this whole article, all of the above also applies to appeals you may make to gods and spirits, and any other magic you may work: Let them know what's going on. Appeal to those with whom you have a relationship. Do what you can in real-world action. Be specific about your intentions. Ask beings who can help you. Give back to them when you can.

You Are Never Helpless

Even in times of dire need, you have choices, you have options, and you have resources. You also have others you can and should lean on when your situation is not so good. Indeed, acknowledging your needs can often be very freeing, because it allows you to consider choices you might not have otherwise thought of. As strange as it seems, being reduced to nothing is what can allow you to discover more about yourself than times of plenty will ever show you. Out of these experiences come the skills needed to address internal problems as well as work with people around you.

Most of this advice has been decidedly non-pagan. That's because this is a universal human challenge: Recognizing needs and addressing them. Because it is so universal, you should not limit yourself to pagan resources when trying to address your own challenges, nor limit the aid you give others solely to pagans. Placing those kinds of boundaries around yourself helps neither you nor your community.

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