Impulse Control

For someone whose mind is occupied with as many things as mine is, I actually have excellent impulse control.  This is demonstrated by all of the socially unacceptable thoughts I have that I’ve not acted on.  For example, I’ve not had sex in my workplace, or set a building on fire, or told the CEO of my old company what I think of him.  I’ve also not yet cut my brother’s brakes so he careens down a hill and then dies.  Of course, this could be due to the fact that I’ve not been alone with his car.

Then again, I also don’t know where the brake lines are or how to cut them.

I jest, to a point.  I don’t consider myself a murderer despite having thoughts to the contrary, but I also don’t live in a world where my thoughts are made manifest.  If I did, impulse control would have an entirely different meaning and perhaps we’d end up like people out of Harrison Bergeron from sheer necessity.  Okay, yeah.  Not sure where I was going with that last bit, to be honest.  Anyway, my thoughts, like those of all human beings, can be quite random and unexpected, and I (mostly) don’t act on the ones that show up out of the blue or that I deem unwise.  It’s the mostly that counts there, I think; all human beings are going to end up doing some things they later regret, and some of those things derive from impulse.

So, why the fuck am I writing about this stuff on my religious blog?  Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about random thoughts and impulses and how we as humans control what we do, when we do, and I decided to try and take a look at it from a FlameKeeping perspective.  This included talking to Genevieve Wood, founder of FlameKeeping, to get her opinion on the topic.  Once she stopped laughing and referred me to Skippy’s List (specifically, number 87), she noted that impulse is reaction rather than action, and that “impulse should be run through the filter of “is this a bad idea” before acted upon.

Now, what I think is a bad idea may (and almost certainly does!) differ from what you consider a bad idea…but I think that’s the point, really.  Regardless of what society as a whole may put forth as optimal (in)action, everyone’s experience of life is different and, except on rare occasion, each individual should be able to determine what is a bad idea from their own point of view.  Sometimes that aligns with what society says, and sometimes it doesn’t, but that alignment isn’t a meter stick – to measure someone up against societal norms alone is to ignore the larger picture.

I’m rambling again, aren’t I?

Here’s the thing – controlling my impulses might make my own life smoother, but it doesn’t make me a better person than someone who doesn’t control them or can’t control them.  I am not a good person based on the fact that I haven’t cut my brother’s brakes; there’s a lot more desire not to spend time in prison than there is benevolence.

We are all Divine – you, me, the tree, the rock, and my left shoe (ESPECIALLY my left shoe!).  That Divinity is not erased when we give in to our impulses, nor is it bolstered when we control them.  Relax, take a breath, and run your impulse through your personal filter…and if it looks good, leap.

Woofits

I’ve made occasional reference to the fact that I have MDD*, and spoken about how it impacts my ability to care for myself.  I’ve also told you about self-care being an essential part of Dark Flame work…and so I thought I’d do something different this time around.  Instead of dealing with abstracts, I’m going to take you through a recent day of mine and give you an idea of how my woofits manifest.

Last Wednesday, I woke up not wanting to go to therapy.  There’s nothing really unusual about that, except for the fact that I’m not used to feeling it – my previous therapist, whom I stopped seeing in September, lasted almost five years, and for some reason I enjoyed going to see her even though I didn’t really like the work we were doing.  Anyway, I’ve got a new therapist and we’re working on what I like to call my last monster – my relationship with food – and I absolutely hate it.  With a capital H, HATE it.

So, I woke up hating things, went downstairs and fed cats, and ate breakfast.  Since my last monster has to do with food, and emotional eating for self-medication purposes, I obsess over what I eat and meals are a struggle.  I fought with myself briefly, then ate a lovely bowl of granola with unsweetened almond milk (tastes good and is filling, thereby leading me away from hunger.)  Of course, self-medication has little to do with hunger.

I worked all morning, going back and forth about whether I was going to go to therapy or call out with an excuse, but I ended up going.  On the way, I ran through a drive-through and got fast food french fries, which is my classic I need comfort; must eat the things food.  I was in a state that (I believed) could only be assuaged by salt and grease…and it was mighty tasty, despite the pangs of guilt and the shoulding all over myself that occurred later.  In the grand scheme of things, driving through occasionally isn’t going to kill me, but it plays right into my endless cycle of “I don’t like myself-I’m too fat-I’ll eat to feel better-YUM-oh gods, I ate food shame shame SHAME-rinse-repeat” thing I’ve got going on.

I went into therapy and lambasted new therapist for giving me eating tips when I know what I should be doing, but I allow the emotional need for comfort to overcome, and what I need is something I can do when the urge becomes overwhelming and and AND…and she listened.  New therapist listened, and asked questions, and then pointed out that my need to eat for comfort is (most likely) related to series of emotional things I’m carrying around in addition to a lifelong habit of “sneak” eating that I’m no longer active enough to do without physical consequences.

She then reminded me that eating for comfort is probably preferable to drinking for comfort, and I felt a little better, but my head was filled with self-loathing and guilt and I argued with myself all the way back home.  I didn’t go through another drive-through, nor did I buy and eat ALL THE POTATO CHIPS but instead sat with the fact that I am not taking care of myself in the way I think I should.

(There it goes again – shoulding all over myself.)

The rest of the week went without outward manifestation of my feelings about myself.  Internally, though, I was as much a wreck as I usually am.  This is actually where Baby Steps helps – even when I’m in super meltdown mode I can (usually) find something small to do for myself.  I did manage to bathe/shower when I needed to, and I did manage to get dressed, and I did brush my teeth every dayand all of these things, small though they are, count as self-care and nurture of my Dark Flame, so the week wasn’t totally lost.  Still, going back to Baby Steps time after time feels like a letdown; funnily enough, though, I encourage others to count their Baby Steps as real things (they are, after all!) but I don’t always remember to pat myself on the back for putting shoes on.

I consider myself a pretty good FlameKeeper as things go (although my guru might disagree!) but after three (four?) years as a practitioner I still have trouble remembering that the small things I do count as action, and that self-care is religious work, and that work on myself improves things around me…but it makes sense.  If we are all Divine, work on one of us is work on the Divine and, therefore, work on us all.  The things I do for myself help to strengthen community, and strengthening community improves the Universe, and so it goes.  Perhaps I need a Post-It to remind me.

We are all Divine, and as we grow and change the Universe grows and changes.  As we work on ourselves, we work on everything around us; as we know ourselves, we gain knowledge about our connections to others.  All parts of us, and of others, are parts of the Divine – our joys and sorrows, our selflessness and selfishness, our ins and outs.  This means our woofits are Divine as well and, as such, it behooves us to work with them.

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?

Reset

I don’t often write about my coexistence with mental illness on this blog, unless it is in reference to Monster Work. I like to keep Depression fed in a different space because while I believe that all Monsters need to be fed or be fucked (and sometimes both), I don’t think I necessarily have to do that feeding and fucking in the midst of the rest of my life.

(Or, maybe that’s the way to truly recognize them as parts of me and to integrate them. Hmmm. Must think about that some more.)

Anyway, I have Depression, with a capital D, and was officially diagnosed in the first year after my son was born. Since then, I’ve been on and off medications and in and out of therapy (seventeen, count them, seventeen therapists) until I finally hit the formula that worked for me in November of 2009 – a therapist I could trust and connect with, and a medication regimen that works.

Being on medication again, and in therapy, meant that spaces in my life opened up that were formerly consumed with Depression telling me what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. I had space to breathe, and spoons, and was able to focus on things I wanted to do for the first time in year.

Things like building a religious practice.

With treatment for my mental illness and its’ attendant issues, I delved into Kemeticism (something Sekhmet nagged me about for years before I found it) and FlameKeeping, and Monster Work, and Words Mean Things. I learned how to apply the concept of ma’at to everyday life. I went to Paganicon, and did a talk on Baby Steps. I listened, and I learned, and my brain and heart became full. At this point in my life, I feel like I inhabit myself…and I wouldn’t be there now if it weren’t for the fact that I got the help I needed.

Why am I saying all of this? Well, as of yesterday, September 11, 2014, I had my last therapy session with the amazing Dr. Barb. We almost hit the five-year mark – just a little over a month short, actually. And this post, for the Pagan Blog Project, is in recognition of the fact that without her I wouldn’t be where I am.

As I push the reset button on one part of my life, I can honestly say I am looking forward in hope instead of fear. I know I can handle whatever comes; I’ve already passed through the fire and come out singed but not roasted. I am transformed.

So, here’s to the supporters out there – the quality therapists who are open-minded and don’t judge; the psychiatrists who listen and want to help us make our own decisions about medication; the counselors who fit us in when we need them. Here’s to the psychologist who takes over the client load of another and promises to help with a forward journey rather than looking back.

And here’s to Dr. Barb. Without her, I wouldn’t know what it’s like to truly live.

Jump, Jive, and Wail

Baby, baby it looks like it’s gonna hail

Baby, baby it looks like it’s gonna hail

You better come inside

Let me teach you how to jive and wail. (1-4)*

Recently, I did an inventory of how I honor my gods, and examining that aspect of my religious practice led me to start examining how I honor myself. After all, I’m both a FlameKeeper and a Kemetic and self-care and self-confidence are valuable commodities in my line of religion.

Most of you know that I’ve recently started two (count ‘em, TWO!) new jobs after being pretty much out of work for six months. One of these is a corporate-type day job that runs five days a week during “normal business hours”, and the other is a job teaching swimming lessons part-time at the local Y. The two could not be more different from one another: at my corporate job I wear clothes that are business casual and spend a lot of time in a chair in front of a computer, and at my other job I wear my bathing suit and move around continually for 2-4 hours.

Between the two jobs, I feel like I’m getting a well-rounded experience. I’m getting a mental workout five days a week from my corporate job, and a physical workout three days a week from my other job. In addition, I’ve just added more deliberate exercising on the days I teach swimming lessons – half an hour swimming laps with a friend on Tuesday evenings, Wednesday evenings, and Saturday mornings – because, you know, I’m already at the exercise place!

Initially, when I looked at my schedule I wondered when I was going to find time for myself. It’s a pretty full schedule I’ve got now and the only day I really have to myself is Sunday. But then I looked again and realized that I’m actually honoring myself through both jobs, and through the extra exercise I stuck in there. I’m working a day job that uses my brain, organizational skills, and creativity. I’m teaching swimming lessons, which bolsters my desire to teach and to work with children (thereby building community – ma’at anyone????) Finally, I’m doing extra physical activity which is improving my health, helping me build endurance and respiratory strength, and giving me better sleep. I’m proud to say I am back down to one Xanax a night instead of two (and my eventual goal is to wean off it entirely.)

The other thing I’m noticing is that all of this busyness and mental and physical movement is making me really happy. Even though I get worn out, even though I wish I could sleep a little later most mornings, and even though my commute to corporate job stinks (30 miles, one way), I feel more myself than I have in a long time. I’m enthusiastic about things in general, which hasn’t happened in over six months. Now, I recognize that identifying self with job can be a slippery slope but the funny thing is that I feel more able to look at my entire self these days and see where I’m still in need of improvement and where I’m just fine as I am.

It feels good not to force self-care on myself, but to be happy for any reason to Jump, Jive, and Wail in celebration.

*Prima, Louis. Baby, baby it looks like it’s gonna hail/Baby, baby it looks like it’s gonna hail/You better come inside/Let me teach you how to jive and wail. “Jump, Jive, and Wail.” The Wildest. Record album. Capitol. 1956

Hyperbolic Me

I am not one to sit quietly and wait for things to happen.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to you, dear reader – you’ve seen my ranting and raving and calls for action rather than stagnation over the years.  You (should) know how I get when something gets under my skin and, lately, everything’s been getting under and rubbing me raw. Some of this is because life is overwhelming and I’ve just not had the luxury to sit down and objectively examine anything…but some of it is because it’s easier
for me to get angry and fly off the handle than to allow myself to just BE sad.

I happily feed off anger; it warms me and propels me to keep going and so I embrace it to function. It’s a coping mechanism (not a healthy one) and my excuses about not having time to embrace the sad are beginning to wear thin even to me. As I’ve said, I hate waiting for things to happen and so I’m going to have to allow myself the time to mourn all of the things I’ve lost since November of last year, even though I’m terrified to do it.

It’s easier to fall apart once the ground settles under my feet. I remember my son splitting his chin to the bone as a toddler, and driving him to the Emergency Room while also applying direct pressure to his chin, and soothing him while we waited, and holding him while they stitched him up. Four hours later, we were home, and he was in bed, and I collapsed on the floor weeping, and wailing, and gnashing my teeth. This type of delayed reaction is normal in situations between parent and child – the parent remains calm so as not  to further upset the child and doesn’t break down until after the crisis is long over. The same thing happened when my son broke his leg in two places as an adolescent – I stayed calm and collected for him until he was taken in to surgery and then I fell apart. My ability to do this isn’t limited to situations with children, though – I will bottle up my despair and frustration and sadness over my world collapsing until it is put back together.

To give you an idea of the pending storm, let me say this: I lost a job in mid-November and didn’t get another one until this week (May 5th). While I was out of work, I worked in my parents’ business for $15/hour for a maximum of 20 hours a week (all they could afford). My son is in college, and while he has financial aid and a job, he needed my help to pay his bills. My husband and I had to scrimp and pinch, earning whatever we could however we could, trying to pay the mortgage, and utilities, and a car payment, and support our son, two cats, and ourselves. We borrowed money from my parents and from my in-laws, and schemed and pleaded with everyone to get extra time to pay the bills…and I got my current job just as we were about to miss a mortgage payment. Now that I am working full-time at one job (and have a second job teaching swimming lessons), we’re still not out of the woods – my first paycheck won’t come until the 22nd of the month and it is already spoken for.

So, why am I writing about this for a Pagan Blog Project post? Well, I am a great espouser of religion not being limited to a delineated space and time – everything we do can be made into a religious act. The key word in that statement, though, is act. To practice the religion of the everyday we must act with intent and purpose and the smallest things become devotional. Locking my computer every time I walk away from it, as is company policy, can be devotional because adhering to company policies promotes community within the workplace and promotion of community is ma’at. Putting confidential documents in the shred bins is shopping cart theology in another environment. And, taking the time I need to mourn the losses I had nurtures my Dark Flame – it brings me back to myself and lets me concentrate on working through what and how I feel.

Hyperbolic Me needs to fall apart once in a while in order to truly inhabit myself. Why not recognize it for the religious act it is?