Cloverleaf and Roundabout

Like last year, this year I got to Paganicon via a road-trip, and while I didn’t happen to see The Rider on my journey, I did unravel a piece of the web that I’ve been staring at for what feels like ages but has probably been around six months.

But I should probably back up a bit, and explain a couple of things before diving down the hole in front of me and urging you to follow, shouldn’t I?

2015 was a horrible year for many people, and for me it was filled with family tensions, work tensions, and religious community tensions that eventually drove me to leave the place I considered my religious home for six years.  And, after all that, came the time of No Computers, and I was driven to seeking out those I wanted to stay close to via Google Hangouts from my work laptop in between doing the things that comprise my day job, which is heavy on pointless meetings with people I don’t want to hear, much less see.

(Okay – done with the self-pity now.  I swear.)

At the time of the upheaval (last October, or therabouts), I was staring at a problem I’d been tasked to address – the untangling of a particular set of threads in the Web in front of me.  Staring wasn’t getting me anywhere, and I couldn’t figure out where I need to start, and then things blew up and I put the task aside where it sat.

And sat.

And sat, until I was smacked in the head by a not-so-velvet paw and reminded that the tangle was still there.  And, that I hadn’t said “No” when I was asked to deal with it.  And that it was going to stay right there until I figured it out.

I like to put my gods in the category of “tough but fair”, but they don’t always like to stay in that category.  This time, though, everyone took on that label, and everyone reminded me that there was a THING that needed DOING, over and over again until I finally decided to get off my ass and look at it again.  Which, I did.  I looked at it.  I walked around it, and looked at it from a number of angles, and tugged on a few things, and pushed a few more, and then sat down and stared at it again.

And then, I took a 21 hour (round trip) road-trip with my sister, and we talked the whole way.  Sometimes it was serious, and sometimes it was silly, and sometimes it would have made no sense at all to anyone listening in, but it was in the talking on the way there, and in Paganicon itself, and in the further talking on the way home that I figured it out and the threads unwound themselves as prettily as anyone could hope to see…and now they’re connecting just as they should.

It took two things, really: the realization that I am very very good at asking questions, and that the sigil I created in Thorn’s workshop is meant to remind me to Speak Up.  And once I connected those two things everything else fell neatly into place.  I am not meant to be a Hammer – I am meant to be a Lever.  I am meant to move things from passive to active.  What once I called a cul-de-sac, a parking lot, where we stop and wait and try to figure out which way to go is now a cloverleaf, or a roundabout, with exits that are there.   We’re just waking up and wondering where we are, how we got here, and why we’re in a hand-basket.

This, then, is the Introduction.

Falderal

At times, it’s all I can do to embrace my connections with others while ignoring the falderal that accompanies it.

As a human being surrounded by other human beings on most occasions, it is inevitable that I’ll be exposed to a certain amount of human behavior that is just baffling.  Some of this behavior might fit most people’s definition of nonsensical  (an adult pirouetting in Starbucks while waiting for coffee, for example), but a lot of it simply doesn’t make sense to me, and it makes me wonder if it is the behavior that is unusual or my perception of it.

We’re all blessed with unique perspective, since no two human beings are exactly alike, and so there’s a certain amount of play in the idea of what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t.  For example, if we take dining in a restaurant as an example situation, I am relatively certain that running up to the table of a stranger and removing all of their cutlery is unacceptable behavior.  But, in that same restaurant, is it acceptable for a child to run around the restaurant rather than staying at the table with whoever brought them?  Some would say yes, and others would say no.  It’s a matter of perception; if I allow my own children to do that thing, then it is likely to be acceptable to me if other people allow their children to do the same thing.  If I don’t allow such things, then it is more likely I will find such behavior appalling and be baffled at the idea that someone thinks this is okay.

It gets tricky, for me anyway, when looking at things that society as a whole deems acceptable that I just don’t get.  To take what I think is a good example: marriage in the United States contains an expectation that the people entering the marriage will behave as if they have no romantic love for anyone but their spouse, no physical attraction for anyone but their spouse, and no desire to form relationships that go beyond the platonic friend stage with anyone but their spouse.  Those who do not behave in this fashion are called “immoral”, “unethical”, “cheaters”, and many other things because they deviate from the societal norm.  But, while I understand that society has built up expectations of how married people behave, those expectations baffle me.  I cannot imagine turning off my feelings and attractions to other people simply because society expects me to, and thankfully my spouse is of like mind (if he weren’t, we probably wouldn’t be married now).

(Now, I should probably say at this point that I do think lying about such things is inappropriate.  Someone who agrees to do one thing but does another is a liar, and that’s what makes it cheating.  Anyway.)

My position on relationships between people has led to some interesting situations in my day-to-day life.  I can’t watch a television show that has a “love triangle” plot without ranting about how the person in the center of the triangle should just admit how they feel and try and work things out with the other two.  If I am attracted to someone who is in a relationship with someone else, I tend to ask about the openness of that relationship, thereby exposing myself as non-monogamous.  This baffles other people at times, and yet I am baffled at their bafflement…and around and around we go.

Here’s another one: there’s a child in one of my swimming classes, a four-year-old boy who, when choosing a toy, always picks one that is pink, or purple, or has sparkles on it.  He’s a bright child, and is really enjoying his swimming lessons, and I didn’t even think about his toy choices until his mother approached me after a class and mentioned that her son’s toy choices didn’t mean he was gay.  I am sure the expression on my face conveyed my confusion, because she further explained that he was the youngest of four children, and the others were girls, and so it was natural that he would want to play with their toys…

WTF?  This person was concerned that I might read something into her child’s behavior, that I might think her four-year-old was gay because he likes to play with pink and purple ducks in the pool.  I was flabbergasted that she felt the need to say anything, but of course I reassured her that I hadn’t read anything into his behavior and that, in my class, everyone gets to choose the toy they want.  She walked away happy, and I stood there stunned because the idea that someone would expect a preschooler to adhere to gender stereotypes, and then comment on them, is baffling to me.  It’s falderal – it makes NO SENSE to me.

It’s easy enough to be myself, to be open and honest, when I’m in situations where it makes things better.  In the case of the swimming lessons above, it was an easy thing to reassure the mother than I wasn’t thinking anything about her son based on his choice of duck, and go on when life…but when it is my own behavior that is causing bafflement, it gets trickier.  When I see that I am brushing up against societal norms and cultural mores, when I see I am making others uncomfortable, I end up torn in two directions.  On the one hand, I want to rail and shout and explain that I am a decent person despite their bafflement, and that it is our differences that make humans so interesting, and that everything I do is consensual and it doesn’t affect them anyway!  On the other hand, well, I have to live in society and things work better if I am not marked for ostracism.  So, almost inevitably, I end up pulling back and behaving in ways that are way outside my own norms to please others…and it fucking sucks not to be myself.

So, why am I writing about this, especially over here on a religious blog?  Well, I’m a FlameKeeper, and as a FlameKeeper I am always looking for connections, for the things that tie us to other pieces of the Divine and to the Universe.  And, behavior is a pretty big connection between people; we’re joined by our behavior preferences, by things we do and do not do, by what we think is appropriate and what we think is inappropriate.  The trouble is, we’re also connected to the people who do not behave like us, and those people are not going away despite our wishes to the contrary.  There will always be someone on the other side of the debate: for every person who identifies as pro-choice, there is a person who identifies as pro-life.  For every liberal, there is a conservative.  For every theist, there’s an atheist.  For every gamer, there’s someone who thinks video games are a waste of time.  But, we’re connected to those people, the ones who disagree with us on a fundamental level, the ones who behave totally unlike us.

We are all Divine – you, me, the tree, the rock, and my left shoe (especially my LEFT SHOE).  The connections between us are there, even when we pretend they aren’t, even when we let the falderal get in the way of recognizing them.  The trick is to see past the nonsense to the essential, to see the spark and what radiates from it, and then nourish those connections.  Through this, we improve ourselves, and thus the Universe.

Space

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This is a post about space, but not the kind of space you might be expecting. I suppose outer space could be included in the overall theme, but what I really want to talk about is space for. You know; space for being; space for action; space for recognizing yourself in the context of the universe.

Space for can be as nebulous and difficult to grasp as time for, and I think more people worry about the latter with the idea that finding the time for will open up space for…but I’ve never really been able to do it that way. I have to seek out both at the same time or put space for in the priority position in order to get what I need.

Here’s an example: If I go into my backyard after the sun has gone down and the neighborhood is quiet, I can find space for any number of religious or spiritual things. The fact that I’ve gone out to investigate at a time when distractions are minimized means that I also have some time for any number of religious or spiritual things. They may not match up symmetrically – space for a lengthy ritual may not always match up with time for the same ritual, but there’s always something that can be done with the available space and time. Perhaps I shift gears and act in a way that matches both space and time, or I go back to the space when I have the time to complete what I want to do.

(At this point, I feel like I might be writing in circles. There is a point to this, I swear.)

The largest space for you can imagine will not work for you without the right amount of time for. The largest time for you can imagine will not work for you without the right amount of space for. The two concepts are connected and intertwined just as you and I are intertwined with each other, and the tree, and the rock, and my left shoe (especially my left shoe!). We are all Divine, and thus we are all part of each other’s being.

Look up at the night sky, into what we call outer space, and remember that such vastness of space is not possible without vastness of time. Now, look into yourself and remember the things you want to do, and then seek out the space for along with the time for. When those two things are solidly in your pocket, the possibilities are endless.

Quotidian

A typical weekday in the life of this Veggie looks something like this:

6:00 AM – Wake to blaring alarm (when it works)
6:05 – 6:30 AM – Coffee, breakfast, check email to wake brain
6:30 – 6:45 AM – Dress for work
6:45 – 6:55 AM – Pack laptop bag and lunch
6:55 – 7:30 AM – Commute to work (depending on traffic)

7:30 AM – 3:30 PM – Work

3:30 – 4:30 PM -Commute home from work
4:30 – 5:00 PM – Change clothing; pack bag for swimming
5:05 – 5:10 PM – Commute to YMCA

5:15 – 7:30 PM – Teach swimming lessons
7:30 – 8:00 PM – Shower; change clothes again; commute home

8:00 – 9:00 PM – Eat dinner and hang with husband
9:00 – 9:30 PM – Wind down and get ready for bed

And then I try to go to bed between 9:30 and 10:00 PM (try being the operative word) because I have to get up again at 6:00 AM the next day.  Unless, of course, it is Saturday – then I get to sleep until 7:45 AM!

(I love sleep, and think it is super underrated.  Just saying.)

As someone who actively promotes incorporation of religion and religious work into every day life, and who tries to do so as well, you can imagine how frustrating I find my weekday schedule.  It reminds me of the struggle some people have about adding an exercise regimen to an already packed schedule…and religious work is something I actually want to do on a daily basis.  But, when I already get up at sparrowfart (in the dark!) and come home exhausted (also in the dark!), how the fuck am I going to fit religious work into my schedule?

The answer took quite some time to find and I still don’t think I have things perfect, although my religious path is all about making attempts and, if they fail, owning the failure and making adjustments.  I find the constant reworking of actions to be frustrating, honestly – after all, I somehow believe that my own actions should be perfect the first time around!  But, through trial and error, and a lot of swearing, I’ve found ways to incorporate religious work into the few quiet spaces I have.

Take this morning, for example.  This morning, I left for work early enough that I could stop at a nationally-known coffee chain (PUMPKIN SPICE ALL THE THINGS!), and got coffee and a scone.  On the way to get said coffee, I said prayers to wake the netjeru, and after returning to the car loot in hand I offered them both as ka refreshment.  Before leaving the parking lot, I dialed up some Kemetic meditation music, and then drove to work, not touching coffee or scone or iPod for fifteen minutes.  Once the meditation music was complete, I reverted the offerings and slowly sipped my coffee, giving myself over to the liquid bliss that is the nectar of Caffeinea…

(Um, yeah.  I might have a coffee problem.)

Doing the above put me in that mindset of, “All I do is for ma’at,” that I believe is so necessary for Kemetics in general, and for my own path in particular and I feel more equipped to deal with whatever my day might throw at me (three meetings, chasing down people for signatures on documents, and a private swimming lesson at a different YMCA than I usually inhabit.)  I’m calmer and more focused than usual, and I know it’s because I took the time to do the things I wanted/needed to do along with some time for breathing.

Now, obviously what I did this morning will not work for everyone.  Hell, there are mornings when I can’t do it either – morning when I move more slowly than usual, or can’t find the right thing to wear, or have to deal with a hairball, or don’t get coffee before work (a sin, I know).  But I keep trying to find things I can do to make me mindful for just a bit, to remind me that religion does not have to sit on a separate shelf from life.  At the risk of appearing to proselytize, I think everyone who claims a religious bent of any variety can try to make time for the Baby Steps needed to begin incorporating the two and, eventually, the trying will become doing and the benefits will be more tangible.

Things to Think About:

  • Do you try to incorporate religious work into parts of your life that wouldn’t normally have such a component?  If so, how?  If not, why not?
  • What would you (or do you) expect to get from such an exercise?

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.

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?