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.

Wale

Sometimes, figuring out what counts as a choice is the tricky part.

When I learn something new that resonates with me, I find it difficult not to allow the NRE* to spill over into every aspect of my life regardless of where I initially plan to apply it.  Take the concept of Words Mean Things – I primarily chose to incorporate it into my religious practice because it fits with ma’at and heka…and from there it was easy enough to adhere to at work, and with my family, and in my leisure time.  It’s what I sometimes call a “slippery slope principle”; it’s more difficult to limit the application of Words Mean Things than to stand back while it infiltrates every nook and cranny, and there’s no doubt I’m benefiting from its incursion.  Yet, I didn’t choose to allow it out of its box in the first place.

Of course, I also didn’t choose to stop it.  Why would I, when it works so well?  In fact, I don’t think I ever stopped to think about whether I made an active choice on Words Mean Things until I started writing this post (and rewriting it, and rewriting it), and now I’m noticing some things:

  1. I didn’t actively choose to allow Words Mean Things to run amok all over my life, but I also didn’t choose to stop it.
  2. Not choosing to stop it means I did make a choice on the subject, albeit a passive one.
  3. Passive choices are still choices, and therefore still count as action.  (I think)

As I said before, it’s tricky.  There’s a line between not choosing and passive choosing, but I’m not exactly sure where it is.  I’m also not sure that one can’t be retconned into the other – refusing to make a choice about something that happens anyway can look like a passive choice after the fact.  Does this matter?  Well, in the grand scheme of things I think it must, if only because I tie such importance to action and to being required to make a choice in situations.  I know if I’ve made a choice, and I have to live with the consequences of my action (or inaction)…so I guess the only thing I can really do is be conscious of when I wale, and how I wale, and whether I’ve waled at all.

This is turning into one of those philosophical posts with more questions than answers.  Must be time to stop writing now.

*New Relationship Energy

The Work – FlameKeeping

I could write, simply, that my FlameKeeping work is identical to my Kemetic work and that would be that.  See?  Nice short blog post!

Except,  they’re not identical and to try and say they’re one and the same would be a pile of misinformation and you all know how I feel about that.  There are similarities, but to harp on them could diminish the FlameKeeping work itself.  So, let me try and break that down into parts that make sense and then you, dear reader, can identify the similarities as it pleases you.

In FlameKeeping, we believe that everything is Divine and part of a greater Whole.   In line with this, it stands to reason that our actions therefore affect that Whole – anything a “part” does impacts the Whole to which it belongs.  My task, therefore, is to ensure that the actions I take are toward improvement of the Whole…and this means all my actions.  When I brush my teeth (Dark Flame – self-care), when I put my shopping cart back in the cart corral (Bright Flame – consideration of others), when I go to therapy (Dark Flame), when I hunt down an issue with clinical trial data (Bright Flame) – during all of these things I try to keep in mind the idea that my actions affect the Whole, and that it behooves me to ensure that I improve as I go.

The thing about FlameKeeping is that it requires no grand rituals, no setting aside of sacred space, no marking of holidays with pomp and circumstance and incense and prayer…so my religious work is rooted in my daily activities.  In fact, my FlameKeeping work is all daily activities – the things I do each day are imbued with my intent to improve the Whole and so they become work even while remaining, on face value, ordinary.

Improvement, of the self, of others, of community, is key.  Intent is key.  FlameKeeping combines them both.

The Work – Kemetic

I promised, in my previous post, that I’d do a series on my religious work and it seemed only right to start with my Kemetic things, since I’ve been practicing them the longest.

The main part of my Kemetic work is to promote ma’at, which doesn’t really have a direct translation – it can be considered a combination of order, justice, truth, and balance.  I’ve written about ma’at at length in the past, so I won’t do a full recap here but I will mention this: ma’at is a force that promotes community through connection and is not diametrically opposed to chaos.

When one’s ultimate goal is to promote ma’at, it is amazing to see what daily acts become religious work…and most of my Kemetic religious work is all wrapped up in my daily acts.  Remembering to return my shopping basket to the basket bin, or my shopping cart to the cart corral so no one else is inconvenienced?  Ma’at.  Donating clothing to Goodwill or cans of food to a food drive or loaning money through micro-finance?  Ma’at.  Helping my parents with their business by re-organizing their office files, or helping a friend organize her craft room so she can find everything?  Ma’at.  It is in the mindset as well as the acts themselves, and once I got the mindset down, the rest because significantly easier.

Another part of my Kemetic work includes the honoring of my ancestors, or akhu.  Again, I’ve written about the akhu before and I don’t want to do a full recap here, but I will mention that my belief system includes the fact that I am here because of my ancestors, and their ka flows to me and through me.  Without the akhu, I would not be here, and so it behooves me to honor them.  I keep a shrine for my akhu at which I give offerings to refresh the ka of my ancestors and so, also my own.  The shrine is in my living room, on the mantel, which means I pass it multiple times per day and I try to take a moment each time to remember how much I’ve been given, through them.  I clean it and reset it on a routine basis, depending on the time of year.  In fact, this past weekend, I cleaned and reset my akhu shrine for the “holiday” season.

I put holiday in quotation marks because the only religious holiday I’ll be celebrating in December is a Jubilee of Nut on the 30th.  Ausir’s Mysteries ended before December began, and while I do mark the solstice, Christmas, and the turning of the civil year, I mark them as secular holidays rather than religious ones.  The solstice will be spent  with friends during an annual celebration, Christmas will include gathering and a meal with family and friends, and the turning of the civil year will most likely involve movies and a glass of champagne with my husband at midnight.

But, since most of my Beloved Dead celebrated religious holidays this time of year, and since the iconography and symbols meant something to them, I decorate my akhu shrine to take that into account.  What does this mean?  Well, it means cleaning off the shrine itself (my living room mantelpiece), cleaning the icons, and rearranging them to include symbols of the season that represent how they lived.  This includes two Christmas tree decorations (one ceramic that holds a tea light, and one collapsible wooden one brought back from a Christmas market in Prague), and a creche.  After redecoration, I shared a beer with my akhu to refresh their ka.  (And I mean shared – offerings are meant to revert once their essence is consumed, and so I drank the remaining beer once my akhu were finished.

After these two things comes deity-specific work.  This can be divided into two pieces – work done as general honor or worship of the netjeru, and work done by request from a specific ntjr(t).  Piece one includes prayers and offerings, celebration of religious holidays, ritual, and heka.  Waking the gods falls into this category, as does petitioning for aid, reading aloud from Eternal Egypt when a section applies, and giving cool water or beer to refresh the ka of the netjeru.

Piece two includes things like following the Nut Cycle (not an easy task, given the TEETH involved), acting as a health advocate for those who need help (and ask for it), writing (this blog, and others), and learning to tear myself apart and then put things together again, piece by piece.

Now, I’m sure there are people out there who will read this post and go, “That’s it?  What about <insert random thing they do here>?”  I’m expecting that, actually – as we’re all individuals it would be odd if we all did exactly the same thing in exactly the same way all the time.  If your work is different than mine, but it works for you and your gods, there’s no reason to stop and switch to doing the things I do.  Sure, there are basic concepts that pertain to Kemeticism (like ma’at, for instance) but the manner in which it is upheld is an individual choice.

Wouldn’t things be pointless and boring if we all did exactly the same thing?

The Work

There’s been a theme in the blogosphere, of late, about the work we do as pagans.  It’s gotten heated at times, and playful at other times, and (like assholes) everyone has an opinion of what constitutes religious work and what doesn’t.

I’ve always been a fan of doing tangible things in the name of religious practice; the church I grew up attending had practices that included actual feeding of the hungry, clothing of the naked, housing for the homeless, etc.  We, as children, went into the community to perform actual service rather than just paying lip-, and it is something that stayed with me even as I moved away from Christianity in the late 90s.

(Yes, I’ve only been a pagan for 16+ years.)

Every aspect of my religious practice has tangible work associated with it; like so many people out there, I’ unable to sit by and talk the talk without walking the walk.  My relationships with my gods include more than hermitage, or constant prayer, or locking myself away in a cell to spend all my days in contemplation.  They also don’t include telling other people what counts as true religious practice and what doesn’t – as we’re all individuals, it is natural that our practices will differ.

I have three separate categories of religious work right now based on the paths I follow.  There are things I do that are specifically Kemetic in nature, others that are part of FlameKeeping, and some that apply across the board.  I suspect there’s a third category coming along as well but that…well, it isn’t well-defined right now.  Anyway, since there are separate categories, I am going to write a separate post for each rather than trying to cram them all into one enormous 1000+ word thing – my readers know I tend to be a fan of brevity.

So, stay tuned.  Self-righteous posts about how my own work trumps that of others are coming up Posts with specifics are coming right up!

What in the World are you Doing???

Conversation in a parking lot:

“What are you doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what are you doing?”

“I’m…taking a cart back to the corral?”

********************************************

This is not an unusual occurrence, the random questions in the parking lot when someone sees me return more than one shopping cart.  People seem genuinely puzzled by the idea that someone would want to return not only the cart they used but additional carts as well.  It’s like it doesn’t even occur to them, so when they see me they just have to ask what I’m doing as if I’m rounding up sex partners or something else equally scandalous to the public eye.

(Hmmm…interesting idea.  Note to self: explore round-up opportunities.)

I don’t think I go overboard.  I put away my own cart and if I see any other random carts hanging out on my way to the corral, I put those away too.  It doesn’t take long, it saves someone else the work later, and it makes the parking lot a little bit more orderly.  For me, that’s what putting the carts away is – it is imposing order where it didn’t exist.

The idea didn’t begin with me; I started putting the carts away after reading this post on Everyday Theology by someone who has since become a friend of mine.  I was looking for ways to uphold ma’at in everyday life and along comes this idea of ordering things as I go.  It works for me, it makes me happy, and it helps me keep ma’at in the forefront of my mind.  But, it apparently puzzles the people around me and I’m not sure why.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m an individualist at heart rather than a community-builder, but small acts to benefit the community have their purpose.  For example, if I put away a cart that was blocking a parking space, someone can now park there without damaging their car, or sticking out too far and clogging lanes, etc.  That person will now likely have a better day and, if they actually see me putting the cart away, may go on to put (at the very least) their own cart in the corral.  And thus, the cycle of order continues.

Our actions have consequences, whether we can see them or no.

Whack-a-Religion

***WARNING – RANT ZONE AHEAD***

Religion bashing makes no fucking sense to me.

Maybe it’s because it smacks of bullying, and I had a number of friends who were bullied when we were young.  Maybe it’s because I never saw the point of trying to make others look small to make myself more important.  Maybe it’s because I just think it is incredibly stupid and makes people look more like jerks than they already are.  Whatever the reason, whatever the season, bashing religion in general or a specific religion in particular just does not compute for me.

I understand baggage;  everyone has baggage and some of it is definitely religion-specific.  I understand bad experiences; I’ve had tons myself.  I also understand a lousy fit; no matter how badly the proselytizers wants us to believe it, there’s no religion out there that is perfect for everyone.  I’ve noticed, though, that baggage, and bad experiences, and lousy fits don’t (usually) lead to blanket bashing.  They do lead to constructive criticism and personal opinions and discussion and debate…all of which are good things.

So, here I am, trying to make sense of something I don’t grok and I’ve actually latched onto a couple of thoughts that may or may not be helpful:

  • People who bash religions they don’t follow are operating from a place of ignorance either related to a lack of education on the topic or a viewpoint that their own religion is the only true one.
  • People who bash religions they don’t follow (often) don’t remember that there are assholes in all groups and that one asshole does not a failure make.
  • People who bash religions they don’t follow may actually be the asshole of their own group.

(Okay, that last one gets a winky face after it, but you know what I mean.)

I guess I’m operating from a particular point of view (well, when don’t I?) but here’s the thing for me: I want my religious path to be respected, if not understood.  I’d ideally like it to receive the same acknowledgement of being valid (not true – they’re two different things) that the JCI faiths do.  Why on Earth would I bash someone else’s religion if I want my own to be free of similar bashing???

Do unto others, after all.