Fire Burns

[ Trigger Warning –  This post touches on a lot of potential triggers  – including miscarriage, death of a beloved, sacrifice, bullying, rape, and self-acceptance.  I’ve intentionally avoided being graphic or emotional in talking about these things, but  there is a whole lot of potentially painful subjects mentioned in fairly quick succession, mostly, but not always, just in passing.

General note: This post, in case you didn’t guess from the above, talks about some very personal and intense experiences.  Much of this is a culmination of things I’ve touched on in my last few posts.  If you’re not interested in reading about personal experience and some associated unpleasantness, skip reading this post.

I’d ask, too, that if you feel the need to belittle, ridicule, or otherwise criticize the events and decisions described below, that you refrain from doing so in the comments.  Thoughtful comments are, as always, welcome.]

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PBP Week 9 – Elders Behaving Badly: A Spiritual Perspective

So… I’m not done talking about Pantheacon. I thought maybe I would have exorcised that particular monster out of my system with the last Pagan Blog Project post.  Apparently not.  I tried to work on some other topics for this week’s post, but my thoughts kept wandering back to the subject.

I suppose that I should begin with a disclaimer first… I wasn’t at the event.  I am not personally acquainted with nor do I follow any of the major players.   I am not transgendered.  My practice is not Dianic nor Wiccan.  I rarely attend public pagan events.  I am, in short, unaffiliated.

And furthermore… this is the most important part of the disclaimer… what follows are just my meandering thoughts on the matter, as it relates to spiritual leadership, growth and development.  I’m not going to go down the route of hate-for-hate that’s been prevalent in some of the blog posts on the matter.  If you’re looking for blood, you aren’t going to find it here.

So if you’re still with me, let us proceed…

To be honest, Z had been nothing more than a faint blip on my spiritual radar until the last couple of years.  Her particular brand of spiritual belief is so far from my own that we might as well be on separate planets. I’m pretty sure that if men are from Mars, Z and her followers are from Venus, then I’m solidly a native of Earth – and Middle Earth at that.

There is no denying that Z is an elder in the community and that she has been around the pagan block longer than most of us have been practicing, longer than some of us have been alive.  One cannot deny that she’s been an influential force in certain spheres of pagandom.   As an elder and a leader, she has a large following who hang on her every word.   Therein lies the problem…. her words are filled with disrespect, disdain, and discrimination for those who don’t conform to her ideal of womanhood.

Moving beyond my initial reaction of anger to Z’s attitude and antics, I began looking at this thing through the lens of my own spiritual beliefs.  I believe that every thing in this universe has a divine spirit within it (not a surprise, as I’m an animist).  For humans, I think the ultimate expression of our divine selves is our capacity to love ourselves and others, to be able to recognize that divine beautiful soul in another person, and to be willing to move beyond our own prejudices to a place of understanding.

When someone is unable to or refuses to recognize the divine nature of others, it says to me that there is a certain level of disconnect or fracture in their spiritual selves.   In my own worldview, someone who engages in hate speech and intentionally marginalizes others is out of touch with their own divine soul.    I’ll go even further to say that I think that being able to recognize our own prejudices, acknowledge them, and attempt to move beyond them is a sign of spiritual growth.

In my ideal universe, elders in any and every spiritual community would embrace a sense of respect and responsibility toward the entire community that they claim to be a part of, without separatism and exclusion based on personal prejudice.   Ideally, a spiritual leader not only works to become aware of their own points of spiritual disconnection, but strives to heal those breaks within themselves.  In a perfect universe, someone who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of their spiritual selves would be able to recognize the divine beauty of other people, even in those with whom they do not agree.

I don’t think I need to remind anyone, but this isn’t a perfect world (and yes, I do recognize that my idea of perfect does not necessarily coincide with anyone else’s).  There’s much to be done as a community to work through this issue in a way that is respectful to all sides.  There is, I believe, also work to be done by many of us on an individual level to process our own thoughts, feelings, and biases.  We can only hope that this journey bring us all to a better understanding of ourselves, our thoughts, our community, and our world.

Notes from the Coffee Shop: Choice and Denial

Theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy. Mosaic...
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“I had no options.”

“I no longer had a choice in the matter.”

“What else could I do? All other avenues were closed to me.”

Phrases like these have been popping up a lot lately.  They’re being uttered by people I know who are, to be quite frank, speaking in self-pitying tones about the various situations which they’ve found themselves in, either by accident or by intention.  While I do care about the people who are saying these things and can sympathize with anyone who’s going through a rough time, a small but integral part of me wants to pour a large dose of tough love down their throats without benefit of spoonful of sugar as a chaser.

I don’t mean to be callous because I know that times are difficult for a lot of people and that life is not full of rainbows, unicorns, and puppies.  I am a person who believes in tough love, though, precisely because I do know that life is so much grittier, uglier, and crueler than most people dare to imagine. I do know what it’s like to find yourself in a miserable situation.   I’ve had those real life George Bailey moments of wishing I’d never been born.  Been there, done that, and worn the t-shirt until it was threadbare.

There is another thing that I know… barring certain severe cognition problems, there are always choices available.  Those choices may not be to our liking, but they are there.  Finding a plate full of distasteful food is not the same as finding an empty plate.  Yet, we often confuse a lack of palatable choices with an absolute lack of choices.   We complain about the lack of option when the reality is that we simply do not like the options in front of us and have failed to find any alternatives.

Even when our choices aren’t readily apparent or seemingly non-existent,  we still have a choice open to us – a choice about our attitude toward any given situation.  We can chose how we react to the circumstances that are handed to us.   There’s no right or wrong answer in our choice, but our choice can make the difference between a smooth path or one filled with obstacles that would have not otherwise existed.  With your choice of attitude, you can make mountains from mole hills or shrink mountains to the size of a grain of sand.

Here’s the thing… when we deny that we have a choice in a situation, we are also absolving ourselves for any responsibility for that situation.  It makes getting sympathy so much easier when we can convince ourselves that we were merely innocent bystanders who got blindsided by a problem.  That makes it okay to sit back and feel bad for ourselves.  Look at this terrible thing that’s happened to us.  What can we do except lick our wounds and let everyone know how horribly we’ve suffered and how powerless we were to prevent it?

Yet, how often are we innocent bystanders in the problems that crop in our lives?  Even when we are blindsided by something totally unexpected (a life-threatening illness for example), we instantly stop being innocent bystanders and become active participants in the situation with choices to make.  Denying the availability of options does not negate their existence.

We allow ourselves to become victims when we relinquish responsibility for ourselves and fail to recognize the choices available to us.  Is this how we really want to view the world, and in turn, how we want the world to view us, as powerless victims in our own lives?  Do we want to be one of those people who aren’t clever, tough, or courageous enough to make the best of a bad situation and to find a way to turn it around?  Do we really want to play the victim and deny responsibility for our own attitudes?  Or do we want to put on our big girl panties/big boy briefs and deal with the unpleasantness that life hands us in a way that is not destructive to our own psyches, lives, and relationships?

Choices are available to us.  First, last, and always we have a choice about our attitude.  We can choose to remain crouched miserably in the wreckage of our personal catastrophes or we can rise phoenix-like from the ashes, dust ourselves off, and move on, a little bit tougher, wiser, and stronger.  There is no one else who can make that decision for us.  It is ours alone for the choosing.

The question is: What choice are you going to make when life throws something unexpected in your path?

In the Eye of the Storm

Someone pointed out that it’s been awhile since I’ve written any public posts on this blog.  Doubtful, I checked.  Not only were they right, but my last public post was an explanation of the public/protected/private posts on this blog.  I realized that I hadn’t publicly posted any pertinent to spirituality -mine or anyone else’s- since February.  Ack, how did things get away from me so quickly?

The same person who reminded me of my failure to blog wondered if perhaps my silence was the result of a long, dark night of the soul and if I’d gotten lost along the way.  

Well, no actually.  My silence was more of a reflection of a greater silence, the calm in the center of the storm that I’ve been occupying for the last few months.   While things have been in general chaos around me, the universe and my Lady have seen to it that I’ve been occupying a place of deep spiritual calm and silence.  

This silence has been a mixed blessing.  It has given me time to check my progress on my path as well as my own spiritual compass (which points, not to true north, but to my true self).   The silence has  created an opportunity to examine the places and times where things have gone wrong or are still going that way.   It’s been the silence of a teacher waiting for a pupil to solve a difficult problem, patient but help only a request away.  

Time spent in the relative calm of the eye of the storm is an opportunity to regroup and prepare for the next round of chaos.  I know that it’s coming, but right now, I feel more prepared for it than I have in a long time. I can only hope that the chaos will eventually subside again and things return to an overall calm, rather than simply breaks in the tempest.  In the meantime, I’ll try to be better about blogging.  Really. 

Path Forging – Ancillary Beliefs

Defining the core tenets of one’s path is vital to forging a cohesive, workable belief system.  The examination of one’s beliefs should not stop there, however.  In looking at our spiritual lives, we often find that there are ideas that we hold near and dear that fall beyond the pale of those central beliefs.  These ancillary beliefs can shape our religious and spiritual selves as much as, if not more than, the tenets that form the foundations of our beliefs.

  • Aside from your core tenets, are there beliefs that you hold in your spiritual practice or path?
  • How do these ancillary beliefs affect your path?
  • How much importance do you assign to these beliefs?
  • Are your ancillary beliefs fixed or have they changed over time?
  • Do these beliefs ever clash with your core tenets?

My core tenets are simple and have changed little with the passage of time:  the Divine exists and that Divinity expresses itself uniquely to each individual.  While these ideas act as my spiritual compass in all things, they leave quite a lot of undiscovered spiritual territory.  They say much, yet speak little, about my spiritual practice or being.

My ancillary beliefs give my path its shape, defining its landmarks and pitfalls.  For example, I believe that acts of charity and hospitality are beneficial to my spiritual self.  It’s not a central tenet of my spiritual path, nothing in my core tenets say that charity or hospitality  are required.  Yet, through these acts, I allow myself to connect with other people, their needs, hopes, and fears.  By giving of myself, it provides opportunities for spiritual growth.  My path would not disappear if I stopped holding this belief, but the landscape would certain look much different.

Path Forging – Codes of Conduct

Established religions often present their followers with a code of conduct in some form or another.  By doing so, they create an ethical frame-work which the practitioner can use to guide her/his own day-to-day behavior.   

  • Does your path have a prescribed code of conduct?
  • If so, which aspects of behavior does the code address?
  • How does this code of conduct relate to the basic tenets of your path?
  • What happens if you violate one of the rules of conduct?
  • Who enforces this code? Is it deity? Clergy? Other practitioners?
  • Are code violations punishable? If so how?
  • Is the code subject to revision or change?  Who can change it?

Codes of conduct can be tricky for eclectic practitioners, myself included.  I strive to live my spirituality, to break down any barriers that I can between my mundane life and my spiritual one.   My religious codes of conduct are no different from those that guide me otherwise.   My deities may take an interest in my misdeeds, but ultimately, it is to my own self that I am accountable.

Be well,

Path Forging – Changing Beliefs

The most recent Path Forging post centered on defining core beliefs within our individual paths.  The last question in that particular series had to do with changes to our beliefs.  Since that post, several related questions have come to mind, so perhaps it is worthy of a little deeper consideration.

  • How flexible is your belief system?  Is it set in stone or written in dust?
  • If you find your beliefs challenged, does your path prescribe a course of action to meet those challenges?
  • Is there “wiggle” room within your core spiritual tenets that allows you to modify your ideas as a result of new information or experiences?
  • How do these changes happen in our paths? Are they sudden, cataclysmic events or a slow evolution over time?
  • If you follow an established tradition or path, how much change can occur without requiring a change in that path?
  • What consequences, good or bad, result if your beliefs change?
  • Are changes or challenges to our spiritual paths desirable? Are these events a source of spiritual growth or atrophy?

Following an eclectic spiritual path requires a certain amount of flexibility and adaptability of beliefs.  Experience and time challenge and shape my own beliefs and I will be the first to say that my path looks very different than it appeared five, ten, or twenty years ago.  Always, there is a belief in the Divine and that Divinity expresses itself differently to each individual.  Aside from that basic tenet, my path demands a certain level of change and challenge to remain a vital, living belief.  Spiritual growth, on my own path, requires challenge and opposition to occur.  For me, spiritual atrophy happens when we get too firmly locked into our beliefs, when there is no longer room for new pathways to open.

Be well,