TCBP – Personal Cycles

I am very caught up in the idea of cycles, and much of it has to do with the natural rhythms of my life from season-to-season…although becoming a Kemetic didn’t help at all!  The fact that everything is a cycle in Kemeticism – Day and Night mirror the Duat which mirrors the cycle of the year, etc. – fills me with squishy and lovely feelings and makes me wish I had better calendar foo!

(Fortunately, my religious community is filled with those who are better at CALENDAR than I.)

Anyway.

When I mention the rhythms of my life, and season-to-season, I’m not actually talking about the standard changes of the year – Winter to Spring to Summer to Autumn to Winter and so-on.  I mean the changes that occur within my brain and body on a regular cycle – apathy to ecstasy, illness to health, wakefulness to constant sleep.  If locked in a space with no windows or doors and no natural light I could still (probably) calculate the passing of time accurately based on how I cycle.  I wax and wane, gain and lose interests, have epic health problems only to bounce back…and it repeats and repeats and repeats until I am bloody well sick of it.

For example, my season of insomnia just ended.  It is something that happens to me in the first quarter of every new year, usually beginning around the middle of February and ending in the middle or end of March.  I just cannot stay asleep regardless of sleep hygiene, medications, or other aids.  I fall asleep, but then about three hours in wake every 30 minutes for the rest of the night, falling into real sleep again around 5:30 AM.  And then…the alarm goes off, because there are things to do.  At times, I try to schedule naps during the season of insomnia but they neither hinder or help – sleeping during the day works fine, but at night it is the same year after year and has been since I was a child.   Once the season of insomnia is complete, however, I sleep just fine.

(I have other sleep issues too that aren’t cyclical, but I won’t get into them here.)

The season of insomnia usually overlaps (at the beginning) with epic sinus buggery in which I have massive facial and head pain, epic drip, and congestion in my head and ears that moves down to my lungs and then back up again over and over.  It’s viral (or so we think), so antibiotics do nothing, and I end up dosing myself silly with inhalers and antihistamines and decongestants and cough suppressants and throat lozenges until it, too, decides to go away.  I then get a 4-6 week break before my season allergies kick in.  Yay!

As for other personal seasons…well, how about (in no particular order): chronically overheated and without energy, wind-up-my-tail, family angst, DO ALL THE THINGS, DON’T do all the things, nesting, and WHY WON’T YOU STAY IN YOUR BOX??? to name a few?

Why am I writing about this for The Cauldron Blog Project?  Well first, the topic for March involved cycles.  Second, all of these cycles I go through affect my ability to do the religious things I set out for myself – honoring my gods and ancestors, self-care, interaction with others, promotion of community, etc.  Hell, during some of my seasons it is amazing I even make it over to the forums or to chat to interact with my religious community…and that seems to be the one thing I can reliably do with a spoon shortage.

I do expect that, with time and a lot more work in therapy, some of these cycles will disappear and some others will shorten.  I don’t think I’ll ever rid myself of them completely, nor do I think I’ll ever be one of those people who moves with the rhythm of the Earth or other things I’ve heard about.  And, you know what?

That’s okay.

 

Good Will

“A trespass-offering mocketh fools; But among the upright there is good will.” – Proverbs 14:9 – Bible, American Standard Version.

“The kingdom on that day shall be Allah’s; He will judge between them; so those who believe and do good will be in gardens of bliss.” – Al-Hajj 22:56, Qu’ran, Muhammad Habib Shakir translation.

“The proper disposition of man toward his neighbor is an unreserved good will. The ethical tractate Abot reiterates this demand repeatedly. Matthew ben Heresh taught: “Be the first to offer cordial greetings to every man.” Shammai was the author of a similar maxim: “Receive every person with a glad disposition.” Ben Zoma was wont to say: “Who is deserving of honor? He who honors other people.” Rabbi Eliezer urged: “Let the honor of your friend be as dear to thee as thine own.” Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa declared: “He who pleases the spirit of man, will also please the spirit of God; and he who does not please the spirit of his fellowman, will not please the spirit of God either.”  – The Wisdom of the Talmud: Personal Morality – Ben Zion Bosker, [1951] at sacred-texts.com

“Let him be able, and upright and straight,
Easy to speak to, gentle, and not proud,
Contented too, supported easily,
With few tasks, and living very lightly;
His faculties serene, prudent, and modest,
Unswayed by the emotions of the clans;
And let him never do the slightest thing
That other wise men might hold blamable.”
The Buddha’s Discourse on Loving Kindness/Good Will – Khuddaka Nikaya; Sutta Nipata (Sn) 1.8

 “‘Om bahubhyam yasho balam’ i.e. ‘God!  May I create goodwill and strength through my arms!’ Where you are sensitive and think, you do not indulge in atrocities through strength of arms.  You serve.  You do good deeds.  You defend justice.  There is goodwill in it.  It is non-violence.” - Message of the Vedas, B.B. Paliwal.

“I counsel thee, Stray-Singer, accept my counsels,
they will be thy boon if thou obey’st them,
they will work thy weal if thou win’st them:
never in speech with a foolish knave
shouldst thou waste a single word.

From the lips of such thou needst not look
for reward of thine own good will;
but a righteous man by praise will render thee
firm in favour and love.” – Hávamál, The Counseling of the Stray-Singer, verses 121-122.

To write this post, I went a-looking for quotes that would fit in order to prove a point that the Abrahamic faiths shouldn’t (and don’t) have the concept of good will cornered.  As a former Christian, I knew that there were lovely examples from the Bible, and figured that the Qur’an and Talmud would both contain similar mentions.  When I went looking beyond the texts of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, however, I found mention of good will in a Discourse from the Buddha, a book commenting on the Vedas, and within the Hávamál.  Now, I’ll admit that I stopped my search at this point – if you, dear reader, know of mentions from other texts I’ve missed, I’d be thrilled if you shared them here.

Of all the references I found, I like the one from The Wisdom of the Talmud best; it actually gives good examples of what good will is and how to go about living it.  As someone who practices religion in an action-centered way, this is important to me – I want to know how to apply larger concepts to my daily life.  Hell, I did an entire workshop on the idea that religion does not have to be separate from daily life…and so, when examining good will it doesn’t matter how many mentions and platitudes there are, really (although perhaps my plethora of mentions at the top of this post belies that statement!)  What matters (to me) is being able to translate the meaning into something I can do.

To me, good will involves a lot of different little bits and pieces that basically translate, as a whole, to Wheaton’s Law, but involve action rather than sitting back and doing nothing.  It’s easy not to be a dick if all you do is sit back and allow the world to go on without you, but it is quite another thing to involve yourself in what goes on, work for justice, stand up for the rights of others, and ensure they get respect while simultaneously ensuring that your actions are also respectful of those who (actively or passively) are working against you.  It means doing what is just, and what is right, and dodging the slings and arrows in a way that appears effortless.  It means standing up and not being a doormat, but addressing those who would treat you as such in a respectful way.  It means treating others how you wish to be treated and not, as is so often seen, doing unto others before they see you coming.

(I need to work on that last bit.  Seriously.  For all that I try, I don’t not consider myself a naturally good person.)

My mother, for all that we don’t see eye-to-eye on religious things (and political things, and family things), has good will down pat.  She’s a board-certified behavior analyst, and oversees the support of children who are on the Autism spectrum.  In doing so, she has to do what is best for the child while not ticking off the parent(s), which is slightly more difficult than it sounds.  Time and again she manages to straddle the line and not offend a parent (despite the horrible things they say to her) so a child can get the best services to help them operate in a society that respects conformity more than individuality.  At the moment, for example, she is managing to work around the bigotry of a parent (albeit with many telephone conversations with me where she rails against the idiocy of the woman) in order to assign support staff that will best meet the needs of the child.  She’s found polite and truthful ways to overcome every objection the parent has brought up and, since the parent will not admit her bigotry, it means the child is able to benefit from working with someone who really gets him.

I will admit that I have trouble with expressing respect for my fellow humans (especially when they don’t agree with me), and you’ve seen that in other posts I’ve written.  It is something I’m striving for, however – to me, respect of others by praxis hits ma’at and my Bright Flame at the same time and these are things I need to be doing.  I need to be able to move forward while remembering to acknowledge the humanity of others and dealing out respect even when they fail to live up to whatever standards I’ve set for them based on the box I’ve put them in…and that means actually practicing good will.

(Looks like I’ve just given myself more religious work to do.  Fuckmonkeys.)

Peace on Earth.  Good will toward (hu)man(s).

Gather

Anthropologists say that humans are social creatures by nature, and (aside from the fact that I know some outliers), I pretty much agree.  We tend to group together, and very often into specific categories of people – those who are related (by genetics, relationship, or choice); those who share interests; those who share employer; those who share geographic region, etc.  By grouping as we do, it is inevitable that an “Us” and Them” dynamic develops, even when we’re tied to each other by a shared goal.

I’ll give an example.  I attended Paganicon 2014 this year (I know, you’re all going, “No, really???), and I chose to attend despite the fact that I probably could have benefited financially from not going…although, to be fair, a bunch of my friends actually picked up most of my expenses (attendance fee, lodging, most meals, rental car, and I did my flight through miles).   I wanted to go, and ended up going, for a bunch of reasons, but primarily I wanted to see and hang-out in meat-space with my friends from The Cauldron.

(Oh, and I also gave a talk.)

This year, which was my fourth attending Paganicon, I spent a lot of time noticing the amazing similarities between conferences.  Regardless of the topic(s) being covered, the reason for the conference, and the audience, the horde of people coalesces into groups along the following lines:

  • I’m here because I’m working!  Yay!
  • I’m here to learn!
  • I’m here to spread knowledge!
  • I’m here because everyone I know is here!
  • I’m here because I needed a break from <insert stressful thing>!
  • I’m here to meet new people!
  • I’m here to PARTY!

These groups overlapped from time to time: the “working” group overlapped with “spreading knowledge” and “everyone I know”; the “learning” group overlapped with “need a break” and “meet new people” and, on Saturday night, just about everyone landed in “PARTY”.  I didn’t notice any obvious problems between groups (although I’m sure there were some issues behind the scenes because CONVENTION), but I did notice that once people associated themselves with a group, they tended to remain within that group and go along with whatever that group was doing.

The need to form groups is human nature – we’re (if you believe those anthropologists I mentioned earlier) conditioned to form little communities.  Put a collection of humans in any situation (in this case, a pagan gathering) and they will form alliances along lines of similarity and break off into little groups, even if they’re able to keep the goal of the gather in mind.  And, I don’t think this is unique to pagan gatherings; I’ve seen similar dynamics at scientific meetings, and in continuing education, and at political rallies.  Very rarely is everyone in attendance there for the same reason, and can lead to misunderstandings between groups.  Those working an event, for example, might be so overwhelmed by what they have to do that the exuberant person who is JUST SO EXCITED TO BE HERE may break the camel’s back.  Likewise, those who have a definitive agenda of attending workshops, or earning CEUs, or learning as much as they can may become annoyed at those who are there to socialize, or those who they see as distracting them or preventing them from achieving that goal.  Without thorough and honest communication between all groups, rifts can form and the overall community of the event is affected by the little communities that form within it.

This is why we, as FlameKeepers, work on our Bright Flames – the pieces of us that touch others are critical to ensuring community exists.  This is why we attempt to approach being with other individuals from the standpoint of recognizing differences and similarities between us, and why we strive to encourage connection.  We are all connected; as pieces of the Divine, we are linked to the Universe and so to other people, whether we choose to be or not.  We can rail against the connection; we can try to ignore it; we can deny it exists and act as such, but sooner or later we end up ricocheting back into the brick wall of association with others.  If we’re going to hit the wall anyway, does it make sense to deny it up until our skulls crack?

We are all Divine – you, me, the tree, the rock, and my left shoe (especially my LEFT SHOE).  Recognize the connections that bind us to the Universe and nourish them.

Mirrored People – a response

The creator of FlameKeeping, Genevieve Wood, recently shared the introduction to her second book, which is a work in progress.  This introduction caused a reaction I wasn’t expecting and that I felt was worthy of writing out and exploring.  So, with her permission, I present to you below the content in question (in italics) and my response to it (in plain text).

Mirrored People

What do we see, when we look at other people? It’s simple, with strangers. We just see a stranger. A grocery clerk, waitstaff, someone passing in another car. And even here, we see examples of mirroring. When our mood is bad, people seem to be crankier to us. When we’re cheerful, we see people in a different light. Same people, but our mood gets reflected on them. But it’s a quick interaction, a small mirror. What about people we see more?

I tend to put people in boxes based on their role in interactions with me, and so I’ve not really thought about how I reflect off them.  I size them up, look at what they are doing in relation to what I am doing…and into a box they go.  There’s movement between boxes, and I do have one for motherfucking asshats but…I never thought that box was for people directly reflecting my crankiness.  Hmm…must look at this box and see who is in there.

One of the most critical pieces of seeing ourselves mirrored in others is that we almost never see something we’re happy about there. We enjoy the company of people who share our values, share and discuss and grow from each other, but we don’t tend to mirror our good qualities. We sometimes project an image of who we want someone to be, but that’s a different problem. Projection is about positive things. Reflection is about the things we deny or fear, about people we remember and are reminded of.

Projection and reflection are shades of each other in my mind – I project myself onto other surfaces to change those surfaces, but I reflect off other surfaces and bounce back on myself.  Projection, when I’ve used it, hasn’t always been about the positive – I project onto my brother, for example, to try to force him into the shape I want him to be or give reasons for why he isn’t (he’s overwhelmed, he’s stressed, he needs to grow up, he’s never had to stand on his own and he should).  The reflection that comes from him shores up my feelings of worthlessness – the way I see myself reflected from him has layers of my own feelings and those that he’s expressed.  He treats me like garbage; I feel like garbage, both from his treatment and the reflection of my own feelings of being garbage.  It’s tricky…

Not sure if that made any sense.

Reflection and memory is normal. Having bits and pieces of people we have known in the past isn’t a problem. It’s when the past overshadows the present, when we react to people that aren’t there instead of the people that are, that we end up in trouble.

Oh boy.  Here’s where words become hard.  Letting go of memories and dealing with people as they are is a goal worth striving toward rather than wallowing and a very difficult thing to do.  My brother (again) and I were very close as children and if I remember those things, there’s a yearning to get that closeness back.  Dealing with him now is a different story – I’m torn apart over and over again without a goal of being built back up, and it is the memories of what we were that are actually driving me to separate from him completely at this point.  I cannot have what I want; it is not possible.  Projection upon him doesn’t work, and my reflection is wavy and distorted.  Out of respect for the memories and nostalgia (a bit more, I suspect), and this need I have to protect myself, I am pulling away.

Words.  Why are there no words, brain?

When community is healthy, we shine brightly and reflect cleanly, and our Flames magnify and burn stronger together than apart. When community is unhealthy, distortion twists with unhealthy Flames and builds problem onto problem.

I’ve…never lived in a completely healthy community, although my religious one (online though it is, mostly) is getting there.  How much of this is something to strive for and how much of it is a pipe-dream?  How many people make community?

We do not live in isolation. We cannot tend only to ourselves and our Flame and ignore those of others. We live in communities, and how we shine and what we reflect changes those communities. And each community becomes its own mirrored flame which reflects against the reflected collections of other communities, distortions combine and interact and reflect off each other.

I agree with this.  Dark Flame and Bright Flame take work, and we cannot work on one to the detriment of the other, no matter how much more easily one may be.  Integrated balanced Flames (although not necessarily equal, mind you) will enable the enrichment of community – as the individuals in community improve and become more themselves, so does the community become more itself.  Community reflects off other communities, and so perpetuates both the things that move and grow and the things that stagnate and decay.

If we are to improve the world, we need to shine clearly and see clearly. While distortion may be impossible to eliminate, the more we are aware of it and attempt to minimize it, the better we make the world around us.

See clearly.

As we take responsibility for our actions, individual and societal, and attempt to mitigate risk and negative consequence, the stronger we become and the more able we are to interact truthfully with one another.   The question is how we will start that ball rolling, and whether anyone will roll it back once we let go.

Thank you, Vieva, for making me think.  I’m looking forward to the next book, and to seeing if my readers have thoughts as well.

Presenting…the Puzzle of Life with Religion Worksheet!

I’ve received a bunch of feedback from the talk I did at Paganicon 2014 (and the recap post here on Fluid Morality) that included people wanting a worksheet version of the whiteboard exercise.

So, without further ado, I present…the Puzzle of Life with Religion Worksheet!

Puzzle of Life with Religion

This worksheet can be downloaded for personal use.  Use outside of this (republishing, duplication, etc.) requires express permission.  The worksheet may not be modified from its original form without express permission from the creator.

*Note – the version of the file has been updated to correct a typo.

 

Baby Steps – Paganicon 2014

I mentioned, in an earlier, post, that I would try and do a recap of the talk I gave at Paganicon 2014…and I’m going to try to convey what we discussed and how it went.  Before I do so, though, I do want to thank everyone who attended despite it being at 11:00 AM on a Sunday morning after much drunken hedonism the night before.  Would that I’d participated!

(Not really – I seriously needed not to have a hangover.)

The topic of the talk was, of course, Baby Steps.  To be more specific, I presented on bringing religion into everyday life and actions rather than separating the two things.  So many of us do this – we have LIFE, and then we have RELIGION, and we keep them as separate as possible.  In order to be true to our spiritual selves, however, I believe we need to be able to integrate the two…and this is what I presented.

I, personally, divide my LIFE into four parts  – job/school; family; personal time; community – and I drew a square made up of four puzzle pieces labeled with these things.  I then put a circle around it with an R (for religion) on the outside to mark the separation.  Upon suggestion from the participants, I added a circle in the center of the puzzle that touched all of the pieces (like a Venn diagram) labeled “Health”.  And then, in the name of examining how we could bring religion inside the circle and incorporate it into each of the pieces, I told this story:

Once upon a time, I made a promise to the goddess Nut that I would work through Her cycle over the course of one year, meditating on a different one of her gates, in sequence, on each Jubilee of Nut that occurred after Wep Ronpet in 2013.  On the first Jubilee after Wep Ronpet, I had the house to myself and was able, through dancing and consumption of an entheogen (absinthe in particular) to enter an altered state and meditate upon the First Hour of the Nut Cycle.  It went well.

On the second Jubilee after Wep Ronpet, my husband was at home, so I took my dancing and absinthe upstairs to our bedroom.  Again, things went as planned, I was able to enter an altered state and meditate upon the Second Hour.  I was in great spirits.  On the third Jubilee, however, things went awry.  There were enough people in the house to make doing the entire ritual impossible, and so I excused myself briefly to go upstairs.  Once there, I cried out to Nut that I couldn’t do the work I promised, and that I had failed her.  I then got a response back, “Remember Me.  That is all I ask.”

I realized at that point that while I’d needed the kick of formal practice to begin work with Nut, I didn’t need to continue the grand gestures in order to honor Her, and that honor and remembrance is what She wanted.  This is not to say that I do not need to work through the Nut Cycle – I do, and will.  However, Nut knows that I am imperfect and is not offended by this.  So now, on every Jubilee, I take ten minutes or so to honor Her – I pray, and sing hymns to her and, if it is on a work day, I use my 40 minute one-way commute as Her time.

After telling the story, I moved into incorporating religion into sections of LIFE, starting with Personal Time.  I spoke of my commute to and from my current job (26 miles one way = 40 minutes without traffic) and how I can use that time to pray, or rejoice, or reflect.  I then moved on to Community, and spoke about Shopping Cart Theology and how I modify it when I need to due to health reasons.  And then, I asked the participants to talk about ways in which to incorporate religion into the other two categories: Job/School, and Family.

Here is the list they came up with for Job/School:

  • Use passwords for systems that have religious meaning (I call this “password with intent”)
  • Use wallpaper or screen savers for your computer that have religious significance (doesn’t have to be overt – nature images are often used, or words with meaning.  Example – I’ve a friend who has Dune’s Litany Against Fear as a scrolling screen saver.)
  • Breathe and/or center between interactions with people
  • Bless or ward your personal space
  • Dedicate the work you to do a specific deity, if you work with deities (Example: my work in pharmaceuticals is dedicated to Sekhmet as patron of physicians and healer)
  • Choose your clothing to have significance – color choices, accessories, and the location of jewelry can all play a part

Then, we moved on to Family.  This one is tough, I admit, especially if you are like me and not out about your religion to your entire family.  I gave the following example: my mother and father are Christian, and my mother evangelical leaning enough (although she’s Episcopalian) that finding out I wasn’t Christian would hurt her heart.  However, I’m able to incorporate my religious beliefs into my interactions with them by going above and beyond what is expected.  When they went away recently, they needed someone to feed their cats.  My youngest brother lives 10 minutes from my parents, while I live 26 miles away.  However, three of their four cats are only comfortable with my parents and with me, and my mother worried they wouldn’t eat.  So, I stayed at their house while they were gone.  In addition, my current job is in their business and, as such, I will sometimes bring work home to do it if there is a deadline rather than waiting until a scheduled work day.  I arrange my hours to accommodate this type of thing,

Some of the things the audience came up with were:

  • Studying family culture and history as a devotional act
  • Looking into geneology
  • Cooking for family
  • Parenting either children or, in some cases, other family members
  • Devoting shared interests to deity (My father is a frustrated archaeologist who is the one who introduced me to Ancient Egypt.  I can geek out with him about various things without the religious connection being overt.)

When this part of the talk was complete, I then erased the circle I’d drawn around LIFE and drew arrows from the R into each puzzle piece.

From the response I received when I was finished, I know I gave some people food for thought.  I hope, that by sharing this here, that I’ve done the same for you, and I’d love to hear from you if you either attended the live talk, or read the recap here, and have thinky thoughts.

Thanks!

Feedback

I am a FlameKeeper, and that means I believe that everything is Divine – you, me, the tree, the rock, and my left shoe (especially my left shoe!).   I believe that I have a Dark Flame – the essential spark that makes me ME – and a Bright Flame – the side of me that interacts with others.  I believe that both my flames need to be nurtured and encouraged to burn and grow that I might improve and, by so doing, improve the Universe.

In addition to believing these things, I do work associated with them.  I care for myself, that my Dark Flame burn more brightly.  I act in the world through in a variety of ways – charitable giving, care for my friends, adhering to Shopping Cart Theology – that my Bright Flame be able to grow.  In addition, I try to remain polite and helpful (when appropriate) to strangers, go out of my way to find garbage cans and/or recycling bins rather than dump my trash along the side of a road while driving and, generally, try not to be a dick.

(As an aside, I’m quite fond of “Don’t be a dick” as a life skill.)

I can, usually, tell how I’m doing in my FlameKeeping-specific work (although there’s a lot of overlap between it and my Kemetic work…but I digress again) on my own, but sometimes I need others to take a look at my stuff and tell me how I’m doing.  This happens especially when I am low on spoons and have to break things down into smaller baby steps than usual.  For example, I’ve had an exhausting week – travel home from Paganicon on Monday, therapy and work on Tuesday, work on Wednesday and Thursday – and so today I am sitting here, writing in my PJs at 1:35 PM with hair in a ponytail and none of my dailies done…and if I cannot get a wind of any kind, I may have to pick out one or two to get done and say fuck it to everything else.  The times I have to say “Fuck it” are the times that I need reassurance of some kind that I am not allowing the Universe to fall apart simply because I have a day where I cannot get my shit together.

I know, logically, that one day (or even one week) of “Meh” is not going to cause things to explode…but it feels wrong, and so I turn to my religious community for the same feedback I’ve been know to give to others having similar issues.  And, I’m told that even getting one thing done is more progress than doing nothing…and that the one thing can be as simple as taking my empty coffee mug to the sink when I next go downstairs.  Gee, where have I heard this kind of thing before?

I am one of those people for whom it is easier to give advice and encouragement than to take it, which makes my life an interesting set of contradictions. So this post is really meant to remind me (and others) that the feedback I need can come from others, or it can come from myself.  I can give myself feedback and encouragement and it is as meaningful as that which comes from outside.

It’s not wrong to want or need outside feedback; we all crave, at some point, someone else to notice what we do and commend us, or commiserate with us when things aren’t going the way we want them to.  Learning to do it ourselves for ourselves, though…that’s worth patting ourselves on the back over, because it means we recognize that we have worth in our own eyes and can therefore measure our own actions and decide objectively whether they measure up or not.

Freeing, isn’t it?