Kicking the Hornet’s Nest

I spend a great deal of time poking at hidden things.  I open cans of worms; I kick hornet’s nests; I turn over rocks to see what lies wriggling underneath.  And, I ask questions – tons and tons of questions, sometimes to the dismay of my colleagues, and my family, and my friends.  I hold the flashlight and shine it right into the face of things that are more comfortable in darkness, in the secret places where they cannot be examined.

Some of this is innate – I am a curious person, and examining something from every conceivable angle until I *know* it fills me with the kind of ecstasy most ascribe to moments of a more…intimate nature.   And, don’t get me wrong – I enjoy sex as much as anyone, and perhaps more than many…but the perfect blend of the emotional and the physical that so many of my loved ones ascribe to it is, for me, found in that first perfect moment when I truly understand something new.

This, as one might assume, means that I am sometimes extremely difficult to be around.  When active avoidance of a topic is the MO, I have to deliberately focus to not only not see the elephant in the room, but also keep from asking it questions about how it got onto the elevator.

It also means, though, that I am a Very Useful Tool, and that some of the Powers That Be have a vested interest in keeping me in good repair.  My boss at my day job, for example, knows I will dig deeply into anything he asks me to investigate and bring back every single piece of information available.  My boss’ boss, the head of Quality Assurance for our company, has come to welcome me greeting him with, “I opened another can.”  They both know, as does anyone who works with me, that I will worry a thing until it breaks open and reveals its creamy center, and that benefits almost everyone involved.

Mmmmmm….creamy center….*drools*

Outside of my day job, I remain a Very Useful Tool.  This thing I do, this poking, and prodding, and questioning, and untangling, brought me the attention of the netjeru before I knew that they were available to me as more than a list of Names in a book of mythology.  It brought me Work to Do that was ecstatic and transformative, but wrapped to make it seem smaller and less critical than it turned out to be.  It is the primary way I uphold ma’at, the concept that is so critical to Kemetic practice.  It is integral to my FlameKeeping work – the Dark Flame Wayfinder guides through the nebulous so the seeker can see the infinite potential(s) waiting for them.  It forms the foundation of my web work – how can I know what to untangle and what to leave in place if I don’t ask the question, or at least get right up against the threads to trace where they are connected?

To ask, to kick, to nudge, to pry – these are not without consequences.  For every piece of knowledge gained, for every insight, there is something better left unknown, or untouched.  My head is filled with things I’d rather forget but cannot, and I’m reminded of some platitude about being unable to put knowledge back where it belongs.  Once opened, a box can never return to its unopened state…but then again, I’ve always found Pandora to be a kindred spirit, and wasn’t Hope at the bottom of that box anyway?

I am the one who Questions, and I have no regrets.  The reward is worth a thousand stings.

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.

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?

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?

Dark Flame – Self-Check

I’ve just finished a project on my other blog where I kept a food journal for seven days in an attempt to assess what I eat on a regular basis and if there are any modifications I need to make.  I wrote what I ate, and did not make any modifications for the project except not consuming any alcohol until the final day (my thought was that alcohol would complicate things, and I wanted to focus on the food I was eating).  I’m going to do an assessment of how the project went on the other blog, so I won’t get into too much detail or analysis here.  I will say, though, that I think it worked as a self-check and, therefore, as Dark Flame work.

Self-checks are very important in my religious practice – I subscribe to the idea that understanding myself is key to being able to understand things outside myself.  Since everything is Divine (me, the tree, the rock, and especially my left shoe) it therefore makes sense to ensure that I walk my own talk when it comes to improving.  The things I do impact the Universe, and so I need to make sure that I am actually doing the things I think I’m doing.  I do this by doing periodic self-checks on different aspects of my life and measuring them against my intent.

I do self-checks on personal things (what I eat, how much activity I get, whether I’m keeping to my budget, what my depression is doing), religious work (am I upholding ma’at?  am I remembering to honor my gods?), interactions with others (am I remembering to be social?  am I calling people back when they call me?), etc.  Each time I look at what I intend to do, what I am actually doing, and if I am still being true to myself – sort of a “check myself and make sure I’m still who I think I am” thing.   If I notice a change in my behavior I do a root cause analysis on it – why am I doing X, and do I need to change my expectations of myself or change my behavior?  In some instances, my expectations have to change but, in others, I find I’m not being true to myself and I have to wrench things back on track.  Whichever I do, the self-check ensures I’m self-aware and can make a decision about who/how I want to be rather than allowing the current to carry me along.

Action above all things, after all.  😉