Life lessons in linguistics

A few months ago I began studying Italian via Rosetta Stone software. For the most part I love the software. Languages come pretty easily to me to begin with (for which I am hugely grateful because I love learning them), and the intuitive nature of the software is, for the most part, convenient and meshes well with how I learn. Being a stay-at-home mom, my schedule is erratic and time to myself is pretty minimal, so I haven’t exactly been able to work with it in as disciplined of a fashion as I’d like. Shortly after beginning Italian, I started to miss speaking French (the second language I learned). I studied it throughout high school, college, and then lived in the country for just under two years, but have lost a lot since my return. So when the computer that the Italian software was on crashed, I took the opportunity to start working with an intermediate/advanced French grammar and vocab book I checked out of the library. Earlier today, I went through and completed all the exercises in the first chapter of the book – a somewhat frustrating experience as I struggled to remember words, proper spelling, grammatical structure, etc. After I finished (and had made flash cards for verbs I’d forgotten, good little student that I am) and several hours passed, one word keeps coming up in my brain. I hear it spoken in my mind at random intervals. The word is céder, to yield.

Because, in my experience, the things that crop up like that are not typically coincidental, I sat with that a minute. Yield. A number of things come up. Synonyms, foremost being ‘surrender’ (a lesson whose levels I’ve been working on – and will probably continue to work on – for a long time).  Questions – to whom (duh – Momma and Papa)? Yield what (probably another duh – uh, me, everything)? In English, ‘yield’ sounds like such a harsh, forceful word. The beginning of it requiring a push from the back of the throat to get it out; the “ee” sound that follows invoking a sense of nervousness, tension, apprehension, anxiety; and, the awkward combination of the consonants ‘l’ and ‘d’ at the end requiring great linguistic intention to annunciate fully. I find that pronouncing the word in English parallels my own experience in moving through the lesson of Surrender with the Divine – challenging, full of tension and anxiety, awkward. And yet, complete surrender, and, therefore, Oneness with the Divine IS our natural state. So why has my experience with it been fraught with such negativity?

The French, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Céder. Despite being one syllable longer than its English translation, the first part of the word flows off the tongue like water or a sigh, its phonetic pronunciation of “se” (like the English word ‘set’ without the ‘t’). The second syllable, ‘dae’ with its ‘d’ firm – yet not harsh – followed by the long ‘a’ vowel sound, cushioned with a gentle, open finish (like the ‘a’ in ‘ate’, but without the ‘t’ at the end), is like a mother’s solid but gentle hand around her child. When I hear it, it carries the softness of a whisper with reserves upon reserves of strength. Céder. I want to curl up in it, feel it wrap around me because that kind of gentle, wise strength could only create the most comforting safety. And there we have it. What it both takes to surrender to the Divine (some crazy ass strength, an owning of our own will and the gentle yet firm release and relinquishing of it) as well as what is offered in the surrender itself (Divine and Supreme Care and Safety, the likes of which exist nowhere else). The English word ‘cede’ is similar, and that makes me think of its homonym, seed. A seed is not forceful or dictatorial. Yet, it contains within it enormous potential (for instance, just think of a redwood tree).

I got curious about the etymology of the word ‘yield’ and looked it up online, English being such a hodge-podge language that it is. Among the root words from which it is speculated to come is the Old Norse gjaldo, meaning “to repay, return.” And isn’t that what surrender is? A return? Return to Source, to Divinity? A reunion, but one that is, ideally, lived every day? Chosen every moment?

I’ve had a hard time thinking of it and conceptualizing it like that – because a return and reunion with Source lived with each breath of my body sounds downright blissful – and perhaps part of my problem has been the language in which I’ve considered the lesson. Yield, as previously discussed, but even surrender. The latter brings to my mind images of war and/or a half-life in captivity or shame, capitulation, failure. Perhaps at this point, you may think that I’m overthinking this whole thing. And though that may be partially true (it is a tendency of mine, after all), we throw words around in our society to the extent that they lose their power on the surface. But not in our internal world. Our internal world – the one to which we’re more often than not oblivious – retains the memory of the essence of those words. And the language we use to make sense of and give meaning to the world around us and our interactions with it has great power. Like gravity, we don’t need to believe in it or know exactly how it works for it to be very real and effective.

One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is that so much of life is simply about perspective, how we choose to view things or think about them. I’ve been blessed with a gift for learning languages and the opportunities through which I am able to use that gift. Perhaps if I can look at this lesson with which I’ve struggled through new eyes and with new language (céder) that bears completely different connotations for me, my movement through it will be smoother.

In France, the street sign equivalent to the American ‘yield’ sign is sometimes just the familiar upside down red and white triangle , but often, it also reads “Cedez le passage.” Most interpreters advise against direct translation and that’s a general good rule of thumb; but, sometimes direct translations provide insights we would otherwise miss. Cedez le passage, translated directly means ‘Yield the passage, or way.’ What if I stopped trying to force my own way or passage onto or on my life and just took a side step? What amazing things could grow from my having ceded, and therefore, seeded the way?

What about you?

 

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Why, What, How – huh?

Up until probably the last two years or so, I was a big supporter of the question, “Why?” I asked it all the time and about pretty much everything. I was convinced that the answers held the keys to everything I thought I needed and wanted. I first began to be broken of this habit during an extreme financial and family crisis. When you consistently wonder, for a prolonged period of time (i.e., months at least), if you’re going to end up homeless or how to possibly feed a family of 6 on about $10, you stop asking, “Why?” There is no more time for why. Why becomes wholly irrelevant. Facing any major crisis is like being on fire. It isn’t helpful to wonder why you caught on fire because if you do then you’re spending energy there instead of just putting the damn fire out. The important questions then become, “How?” or “What?” as in, “How can I put this fire out?” and “What can I use to accomplish that most quickly?” etc.

On a spiritual level, “Why?” is completely incongruent with the practice of surrender, of trust, and faith. Just like when you’re a little kid, even the most ideal parents will train you to just follow directions some times. My wife and her husband trained our girls like that because, God and Goddess forbid that in any dangerous situation they would hesitate when given directions instead of immediately following them without question (obviously, this practice could be and is abused by bad parents but we’ll leave that discussion for another time). I’m convinced the Divine operates the same way.

I don’t know if it’s because we have averted most of the crises facing us or they’re at least not raging fires but little piles of smoldering ash now, but at some point over the last several months I started asking Momma and Papa that question again. Like an obnoxious 4 year old, I would rattle on and on, “Why aren’t You telling me what my career is supposed to be?” “Why have You stopped me so many times in the middle of pursuing a career?” “Why do I have such a hard time with selfishness? “Why is it such work for me to have to remember the needs and wants of other people and focus on them instead of just my own?” “Why couldn’t I be one of those people that just knows what they want to do with their life with such conviction and goes after it?” “Why have I had and why am I still having such a hard time figuring out who I am?” Ugh. On and on and on and on. Interspersed in there, of course, was a lot of, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” “What am I supposed to be doing long-term?” “What is my purpose?” Thank goodness that Momma and Papa are Patience because when I started piecing this all together yesterday, even I wanted to smack me upside the head. But then the craziest thing happened, and it began slowly some time last week. They started giving me answers. And here’s the part that’s even more astonishingly crazy: having the answers to all those questions didn’t do a damn thing other than lead to me feeling stupid, guilty, and overwhelmed. It fixed nothing. And, of course, as soon as I began to get the answers, my questions shifted to “What” and “How?” and I found myself saying, “WHY isn’t helping me!!!” Oh, hey! *Lightbulb moment*

Now, I don’t know about you, but I had to sit with that for a while (that’s what happens some times when you’re hardheaded like I am). And as I sat in that space, Momma explained – and not because I asked! – that it was the only way I was going to learn that ‘Why’ is, for the most part, a waste of time. And energy. Then I saw a pattern. When They gave me what I told Them I wanted, I wanted something else. Back when I was working full time, I complained about having to do the work of figuring out who I am and all the other stuff that goes with that at the same time, and wouldn’t it be nice to not have to work and have more time to devote to working simply on me? And I saw that as soon as I had that (now and since we moved), I’ve been complaining about not knowing what path my career should be heading down, and why can’t I just get on with that? It’s the same thing with the Why’s. I’d been asking Why (instead of What or How), and They’d been telling me the What and How. Then when They started to tell me the Why’s (totally unhelpful, but exactly what I’d been bugging Them about), I’d shifted to the What and Hows. Kind of a grass being greener type thing which stems from a lack of gratitude, but also a lack of trust.

So, in light of all of that, I am committing myself to surrender, to trust, and sticking with the Whats and Hows. I hope to report super happy fabulousness shortly on this new venture!

The Key to Happiness

If you’ve spent any time anywhere (whether online or in bookstores, etc.) looking at self-help material, you no doubt encountered probably dozens of titles about the ‘secret to happiness.’ It is something that we, as a society, endlessly struggle to try to find, spending probably millions of dollars on everything from books, CDs/mp3s, retreats, gurus, diets, exercise programs or personal trainers, spa treatments, clothes, drugs – you name it. In an amazon search I just did simply typing in “secret to happiness”, there were just over 6,000 results. I had no idea happiness was such a profitable market. And if you’ve spent any time here in blogland, you’ll find tons of New Agers promising that certain crystals or meditations or whatnot will get you there or an explanation of the achievement of happiness that reads like a doctoral thesis on quantum physics. If quantum physics is happy at you, fabulous! But I promise you don’t need to learn it if you don’t already study it to be happy.Now, in spite of being a joy-filled person by nature (for which I am enormously grateful), I still have a tendency to get in my own way. I still get cranky and moody and irritable and bitchy and just, well, lost. And while I have learned a lot – particularly over the course of the last 5+ years – one of the things I’ve learned is that I know very little. And I’ve reached a point where I am pretty okay with that. I’m happy to marvel at the mystery of the Universe and enjoy the part I play in it. There are, though, two things that I Know that I Know – the key to happiness being one of them – and it is my great joy to share them with you here today. In plain English. For free!

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

courtesy of stock.xchng

1) What you focus on grows.

2) Gratitude is the key to happiness.

 

Yup. It’s that simple. It just figures that something so seemingly elusive is so simple to find. Now, note that I said simple – not easy. There’s a difference. Simple means uncomplicated. It is not the antonym for difficult.

 

As for the first one – the phrase ‘law of attraction’ probably springs to mind. I haven’t read any of Abraham Hicks material and I may be one of the few Pagans out there in the world who has not read “The Secret” – mostly because I’d already learned the principle from my Teacher. If you haven’t read either of these yourself, you don’t really need to if you just remember #1 up there (I know I personally have a hard time taking anyone who uses the word ‘vortex’ seriously, so if that’s you, too, you’re not alone). That’s the gist of it. Of course, if you want to do some reading, feel free! The bottom line is that the fundamental principle of ‘what you focus on grows’ is NOT froo-froo, New Age fluff. No, that part’s for real. I imagine if you take a hard look through your life and be painfully honest with yourself, you will find it to be true.

 

As for the second one – the expression of genuine gratitude is the fastest way to shift any negative or purely destructive energy and bring it into balance. Balance is our Natural, dynamic state. Everyone’s. When you connect with your Natural way of Being, happiness follows. When I express genuine gratitude, I direct my commentary to my particular conceptualization of the Divine (Momma and Papa), but don’t worry – we’re not going to leave the Atheists out there in the cold. Simply stating, “I am grateful for *fill in the blank*” totally works, as long as you’re genuine. And these don’t need to be earth-shaking sentiments. In fact, it’s being grateful for the little things that I’ve found just amps it up. Blue skies. Flowers that smell yummy. Coffee. Indoor plumbing. Stinky French cheese (I don’t have any in my fridge at the moment, but I’m grateful it exists in the world). Cigarettes. Hot water. African black face soap (it is the shit for combination skin). How it smells right after it rains. Coffee. Body glitter. Baby giggles (if you don’t know any babies, go to youtube). Youtube. Kittens. Deep, belly laughs. The internet. The color magenta. Picnics. Sleeping in. Really awesome sex. Traffic lights turning green right as I approach an intersection. Have I mentioned coffee?  Just try it. For two weeks, write down a minimum of 20 things you’re grateful for every day. Every day, no exceptions. And you need to be genuinely grateful for each and every thing you write down. If you have a hard time with that part, take a moment for each one and imagine what the world (or your world) would be like if that didn’t exist. I’d like to take a moment to remind you that I said this was simple, not easy.

 

If you manage your two weeks having been genuinely expressing gratitude for at least 20 things every day, I think you’ll find that at the end of your two weeks, you’ll be a hell of a lot happier than you are right now. And if you’re pretty happy now, imagine how much happier you’ll be incorporating this practice into your routine! And it’s cumulative! It just keeps building. Perhaps you’re remembering a part in the beginning of my post where I said I still get bitchy and cranky, etc. and wondering why you should buy into this stuff I’m saying if I still experience moments where I’m lacking happiness. Have you ever gone to a gym after either having never been to one or there being a pretty long lapse of time between visits? You head over to the free weights, pick up the 10, 20, or 50 lb-ers (some weight that you think would be manageable) and start doing reps. But your muscles aren’t accustomed to working that hard. They tire. Pretty quickly. And, by the way, you’re wearing a weighted suit when you do all this. You can only build that muscle so fast without your body shaking and collapsing in protest. It’s the same king of thing here. The weighted suit you’re wearing is all of the shit piled on top of who you really are, your True Self. The more you “work out,” the closer you come to Balance, the more you start to shed pieces of that suit which, in turn, makes working out easier, which then means you shed more of that suit, and it’s an amazing and magical cycle. It’ll kick your ass 100 ways to Sunday – I won’t lie about that – but if you persevere, you’ll get to where it is you want to be. And you can start it with the simple expression of genuine gratitude.

Leaving the Zone

Have you ever been looking for something and not even known you were searching? It’s like your spirit bypasses your brain somehow and directs your body where to go, what to do. It gives your brain just enough information so it can lend some resources to the endeavor but, at least initially, restricts access to that part of the brain that can take all those pieces, synthesize them, and then name it. Of course, once that part of the brain has access, the immediate reaction is just, “Well, duh!” How could I have missed that?

I think it happens that way so that we cannot possibly get in our own way too early in the process; so that our spirits have the chance to pull the rest of us into the process and get us to start to really want it. That way, in case our brain balks at the idea, it’s out-voted. Here are the pieces that my spirit had previously kept separate so my brain couldn’t get in my way:

1) Yesterday I began reading a book called Allies in Healing. It’s written for partners of childhood sexual abuse survivors. My wife (a survivor of complex, chronic trauma and abuse) had bought it for me at a used book store. She’s been encouraging me to be more social in general, whether it was to find some kind of support group specifically (online or in person), or to just make friends. While I don’t fall in the extremist area on the introvert/extrovert scale, I’m definitely not the extreme introvert she is. My wife and I have been together for just over five years. She is the most amazing being I have ever met. And though I knew she was a trauma survivor before we got together, I didn’t have the slightest idea as to what that meant for our relationship, how completely it would impact it and us, me, and my life. Up to this point, I’ve essentially gotten through all the challenges that we’ve encountered with her or on my own.

2) Last night I was cleaning up my blogroll. It was a rather saddening affair because most of my favorite blogs either don’t exist anymore (their authors deleted them, which for the record, I completely disagree with, but to each their own) or they haven’t had new entries in forever. It was like coming home after you’ve been away and everything’s different – nobody and nothing is where it used to be. A while ago, I’d try to hunt for new favorite places but couldn’t find anyone that felt like “kin.” So I finally resigned myself to deleting the now-non-existent sites, letting go of the hope that the authors would return and sighed in the loneliness that settled in my space.

3) Before our whole family moved here (south Florida) and it was just my wife and our oldest daughter, they found a Unitarian Universalist church and went to it a couple times. When the rest of us joined them and, the first Sunday we had enough gas money, I went without my wife and with our two girls as well as my wife’s ‘kind of boyfriend.’ We were prepping to go this morning, and I was talking about how I’m not a good mingler. My wife pointed out that the whole point was community – you kind of have to mingle to achieve it. Touche.

4) Late this afternoon, upon my wife’s recommendation, I went over to Quaker Pagan Reflections, and read Cat’s latest post. And that’s when my spirit finally let my brain in on the secret. Community. Support. Connection. Oh!  Thank you, Cat (no, really, I still hadn’t quite gotten it even after the whole church thing – I’m a bit slow some times, what can I say?).

So, instead of just reading and lurking on other people’s blogs, I actually started commenting (whether to express gratitude or if I had something I genuinely wanted to share). Then, I went a step further and googled to find an online forum for partners of sexual abuse survivors. While all relationships present challenges and opportunities to learn and grow, those of us who are partners of these survivors face unique experiences and challenges, and it’s past time that I get some support  and learn how to better equip myself. I did find one, by the way, and I signed up. Go me!

All of the hard experiences that I’ve lived and moved through over the course of the past couple years have been challenging enough, but by isolating myself the way I have, I’ve made it all the more difficult. Stepping away from what is familiar and out of what has become my comfort zone is daunting. I haven’t been social in such a long time that I honestly forget how to be. I have no idea how people do it – meet people for the first time and just chat let alone go from being acquaintances to friends. You might as well be asking me to read the Talmud. In Hebrew. However, I am committing myself to this pursuit. I will face my anxiety, I will move through it, and I will heal this aspect of myself and my life. Comfort, like boredom, is overrated, right? 😉

What ventures out of your comfort zone have you recently made? Or what ventures outside of it do you want to make but haven’t yet?

How did I get on this carpet?

Life is such an amazing and beautiful thing. Ceaselessly astonishing and surprising to me. The mystery of it all continues to amaze me each and every day. Experiencing and interacting with the Divine and the Divine’s sense of humor has, often simultaneously, brought me to my knees in gut-wrenching sobs while feeling the embrace of Love and Compassion as I sit there crumpled up in a ball of snotting, overwhelming emotion and awareness of Truth and how far from and close to it I am, sometimes all at once.

Every time I experience an opportunity for some significant jump in growth and dedicate myself to pursuing that jump, to embracing it before and around me, to unfold and become more of my True Self Momma and Papa inevitably call me to the carpet about it – usually within a 24 hr period. That call typically manifests in the form of some challenge. The Divine is ALWAYS listening, and while I imagine They hoot and holler and cheer for us when we make such declarations of dedication to change and healing and are ready and willing to coach us and walk through the whole sticky, messy, and some times painful process of it with us, They are compassionate enough to test us first, to provide us an ‘out’, to make sure we really mean it. My challenge after taking up the mantle of Love and Gratitude on my crusade of anti-negativity showed up in the form of our almost 21 year old son behaving like a complete douche and, well, a typical 21 yr old male with a history of trauma who has only just begun the healing process.

The incident itself is less important than was my response to it. Now, perhaps it’s my Irish ancestry at work, but I am a temperamental being who also happens to be, among other things, relentless, willful and headstrong. It’s a delicious combination of traits (I’m not being sarcastic – really, it is marvelous), and one of the mysteries is that just those four traits can comingle in myriad different measures to produce an astounding number of different reactions and responses. Some healing and creative, some…well, not so much. On this particular occasion, they coalesced and manufactured a river of lava, a veritable flow of fury that simmered below the surface and threatened to geiser at the slightest misstep or lack of adequate contrition on our son’s part. I spent the whole of yesterday walking around in restless agitation, justifying my emotional state by reminding myself of our son’s inappropriate demanding, ungrateful, disrespectful, and bitchy behavior. Replaying the scene of our argument on a movie reel in my mind with extra attention and encore performances of the part where he called my wife (his mother) a “crazy lady.” Like a school yard bully, I aimed a steely eyeball at him (when I deigned to look upon his face) throughout the day, my ears on high alert like a cat’s ready to pounce at the smallest nuance of attitude. I didn’t try to move past the mad. I reveled in it, keeping it barely managed.

By 11pm last night, I was exhausted.  I’d already taken an hour and a half nap earlier in the day, confused as to why I was so tired. It wasn’t until just before bef time that I remembered how tiring being angry was. My wife and I were sitting on the back patio, and she asked me what was up because I seemed not okay. I replied saying I was still angry. She then inquired as to why I hadn’t been able to let go of my mad. The conversation that ensued entailed my wife, as ambassador for the Goddess and God, calling me to the carpet and reminding me of my crusade as well as poignantly asking how I was doing with that right now? Oh, a Divine touche! Well, hell. I was gloriously sucking at it. Hahaha!  How marvelous!  What a wonderful opportunity to grow! Throughout our conversation, I reaffirmed several important tenets I have promised to uphold: 1) I will always love our kids more than I will be mad at them, 2) I will ensure they are firm in this knowledge, and 3) the goal is to heal the person, not to simply change the behavior. I was still a little grumpy even at the end of the conversation, but it was a different kind of mad. It was the, ‘well, damn, I fucked that up and my emotions are not yet in perfect congruence with my goals and doesn’t that suck’ kind of grumpy. Yup, I fell off the Love and Gratitude wagon before I was even settled on to it. Good thing I’m relentless 😉

Today, as I think about yesterday, I simply find myself chuckling to and at myself. Oh, Jess, did you really think it was going to be easy? Of course I have to instill Love and Gratitude in myself before I can begin trying to create it around me. So today, I am dusting myself off from that little wagon stumbling incident yesterday and damned if I’m not going to get back on that wagon again!

Wherever you are in the beautiful process and journey that is your life, I hope for you the ability to chuckle at yourself when you fall – to not take it all so seriously as to discourage you from continuing on when you get those scrapes and bruises on your knees and shins from falling off whatever wagon you were trying to get or stay on. I hope for you a touch of relentlessness to urge you to keep trying in those times because truly, nothing ever gets better if you just give up.

Expansions in the name of Love and Gratitude

At some point during the other day, I had a moment of clarity the likes of which I have only experienced a handful of times in my life. I had been listening to the short people in my house and L throughout the day and something was building up within me without my awareness. Like the sky parting after a long and tumultuous storm to reveal blueness so vivid that one swears the sky had never donned this vibrant shade before, it coalesced in my mind in words: negativity. Everywhere around me, the people I love and whose lives I am so honored to share and witness were a teaming bundle of complaints, whining, sniping, and irritability. I noticed it not only in them, but also in myself – either right before I would utter something or immediately after I thought or said it. As pervasive and present as noxious gas, it was everywhere I turned, in everything I heard. Knowing that complaining and negativity is the opposite of gratitude, and only serves to attract more of the same, I became angry; of course, only to realize minutes later that my anger only fed the negativity around me and wouldn’t help to heal these amazing people in asshole’s clothing or the situation so that wasn’t an option. The next part of the revelation occured when I began to pay closer attention to their behavior, to what they said and how they said it. And I found one common underlying theme to all of it: Fear.

I have learned that there are two (I guess technically three, but two are partners and on the “same side”) primary sources whose roots we can trace all of our decisions, thoughts, emotions and behaviors back to: 1) Fear, or its opposite 2) Love and Gratitude. Everything  (and I do mean everything) – from what you decide to wear each day to why you chose the career track you did to how you function and interact in relationship – comes back to one of these two concepts. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying all fear is “bad.” Fear, in its true form and not the hyped up anxiety we often mistake it for today, is a survival mechanism. It is one of the managers of the limbic system and the driver behind the flight/fight/or freeze response. But most stress management experts will tell you that our physiology hasn’t caught up with our modern environment. Rarely, unless one works in a dangerous and high-risk profession, is the fear that drives us today based on our immediate survival. It’s leftover from the days when it served that purpose but except in those rare occasions, its roots aren’t planted in survival. They’re planted in selfishness. AA brilliantly acknowledges this root of self- and other destruction in the famous Big Book and its 12-step program. It’s one of the main reasons why there is such a focus on service in the program and why, after one has reached a somewhat stable level of sobriety, one’s next step is to be a sponsor to someone else struggling. As a side note, the Big Book is brilliant in and of itself and I think everyone on the planet would benefit from reading it and walking through the 12 steps as well as learning the 12 traditions. For those of us without substance issues, there are any number of addictions we can substitute, if not the addiction to selfishness as a whole.

For the past several days, when I’m not herding children or cats or trying to figure out some way to not let the people I love make me crazy I’ve been reading a biography about a Franciscan priest who was a chaplain for the FDNY and died during the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. I’m less than halfway through the book, and I can affirm to you that this man whom I never met in person has already dramatically changed my life in ways I am sure will continue to unfold for years to come. It’s called The Book of Mychal if you’re interested. Perhaps it’s the Christians I knew growing up or the one my parents attempted to groom me into becoming or my lack of experience with Christians who seem to truly LIVE their faith that makes the story of Father Mychal’s life that much more moving and awe-inspiring. But more than the type of Christian he was, the book (and he) is incredible because it describes the person he was. (A witchy parenthesis – it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this man actually was Saint Francis reincarnated. That was a damn cool dude that particular time around to begin with.) He was a man of unfathomable love, devotion, compassion, and service.

So it is Father Mychal I think about when I look around my home and see the state of the people I love embroiled in negativity, weighted down in fear. And again, like a few other times so far in this life, I feel an expansion within myself. If I have the capacity to recognize the state of things, then I wholeheartedly believe that I have the capacity to heal them and make them better for us all. And perhaps that might mean expanding even more, but I fully believe I’m capable of that as well and that the opportunity would not be presented to me if it were otherwise.

 

Story time

Rarely is my life not in some state of upheaval. Thankfully, when my shit is on really straight and I’m not bitching about it, I thrive on change which means I’ve learned to make some damn fine lemonade. Lemonade aside, though, I’ve established a pattern of bitching more often than not (whether this takes place in my head or with my outside voice) and allowing the upheaval to dictate my life and schedule, not to mention temperament. I’ve resisted embracing the concept of thriving on change out of fear for sending out a message to the Universe to keep it comin’ and thereby never attaining a sense of stability. The thing is, when I deny parts of my Self (like thriving on change), the result is usually a hot mess. Through denying this particular part of my Self, I essentially get plowed by the wave of change and end up bruised and exhausted on the beach of whatever new space I was meant to be, sputtering up salt water, coughing, and wheezing because I chose to hide instead of ride that wave and see where it took me. Cause that translates to stability? So, since what I’ve been doing isn’t getting me to where I’d like to be, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to do my best to not hide from those waves, to not bitch about them, but to stare at them head-on and then ride them out with grace.

One of the things that I’ve allowed to lapse when those waves come rolling toward me is my writing, as is evidenced through the extreme inconsistency of posts here. I’d like that to be different. At the moment, we have one semi-functional car among myself and the two other adults with whom I share my life. My wife is working full-time, and her husband is working part-time. His boss provides transportation to the jobs they handle, so his lack of vehicular independence isn’t a problem. My role in our house and family, though, has dramatically changed from being the full-time employee and primary “bread-winner” to being the stay-at-home mom. I’m still adjusting. One of the beautiful things about this new situation, though, is that it provides me more time to be able to devote to writing.

I was reflecting on this the other day and a movie clip from my memory slid onto a projector in my mind. I am in my tenth grade biology class. We are, yet again, sitting at our desks and coloring in pictures of mitochondria. It seems we spend most of this year just coloring in pictures of cells. Mrs. S, our teacher, is at her desk with her head bent down doing who-knows-what-besides-ignoring-us. My lab partner, JW, asks me what movie I watched this weekend. We’re not really friends, JW and myself, but these times of coloring pictures have become story time for all of us and quiet anticipation breathes collectively as they all await my tale. It is not that I am popular or friends with all or even most of them. As soon as the bell rings, we will go about the rest of our day and probably ignore each other again. But right now, I am the story teller and they are my eager audience. I begin recounting the latest movie I saw, vividly painting the scenes with florid descriptions as our coloring pencils fill in the whites of the papers on our desks. There are occasional laughs, gasps, “No way!”s, and “Then what happened?!”s. Some times, someone will point out a part I missed or forgot – not antagonistically, but because they want me to go back and include it. I am in my element. It is not the attention that I seek – I’m more comfortable out of the spotlight than in it, struggling as I am with typical 15 year old insecurities – but it is the passion for the story and its telling that drives me and lifts me up into more of who I am than I am capable of achieving on my own at the time.

I’ve been meditating a lot over the course of the last year and, through meditation, have been holding discussions with my True Self. She is a story teller. After I learned that, it made much more sense as to why I have difficulty being concise. It also made much more sense as to why I feel so alive and just right within my own space when I am writing or telling stories. In an effort to step more into the space of my True Self, I am recommitting myself to this space and to writing. I don’t know how often I’ll be posting here, but I’ll aim for at least twice a week to start and see how that goes. Wherever you are in your journey, I wish you well.

Stirring the pot

We recently moved, and because the process of the move was a little slower than I would have liked and frought with a number of obstacles magically overcome (I am speaking literally there), I had a lot of opportunity to ask some big questions and spend some time in serious reflection.

My parents were on my mind a lot at that time and, consequently, my religious upbringing and my current spiritual affiliation. I’ve written a lot about my parents and being raised in a conservative Christian household, so I won’t rehash that here. Spirituality and spiritual differences is one of the huge points of contention between my parents and myself and is one of several thorns in the side of our relationship (my non-heterosexual orientation and polyamorous lifestyle rank right up there as well).  I’m not sure which of those three they’re most concerned will damn my soul to a firey oblivion, but in all seriousness I imagine it’s a big fear of theirs that I (obviously) do not share. So during this period of transition, I found myself pondering the Christian “answer” to eternal life/’salvation’ engrained in me since before I could remember: inviting Jesus into one’s heart and accepting him as one’s ‘savior’ knowing that is not something I will share with them.

Now, I left the Church about 10 years ago when it stopped making sense to me and I found my spiritual home in Witchcraft and Paganism; however, I spent more than the first half of my life practicing that religion so I’m pretty well-versed in it and its doctrine. Regardless of whether one chooses to believe the Bible’s “divinely inspired origin” as Christians contend (which doesn’t really matter to me personally either way – lots of books contain valuable information, insight and Truth), for the sake of empathizing with my parents, I tried to step into those particular shoes during my time of introspection and reflection. I thought about how JC almost always spoke in metaphors and parables. And I concluded that where a lot of Christians miss the boat is that they forget this tendency of his and take what appear to be simple words literally. The thing is, just because they’re simple doesn’t mean they are/were intended to be interpreted concretely. I thought about the various traits that JC embodied – Love, Compassion, Mercy, Kindness, Faith, Hope, etc. – and I came to the conclusion that was what he meant with that whole, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” bit. That the goal was to integrate those characteristics and traits into one’s self and spirit, to plant them, let them take root, grow, and bloom. I happen to think that those characteristics are pretty awesome and the Goddess and God embody them and have told me I should as well. So, despite the different paths we may take to get there, my parents and I could very well end up on the same page as far as they’re concerned.

Witchcraft is a mystery religion. It is very straightforward in its identification about that. Having practiced a mystery path for about 10 years now, I have a certain calmness and level of tolerance for ambiguity that I have experienced some others as not having, which brings me to my second major realization: All religions are mystery religions. Some are just more straightforward about declaring and owning it. The thing is, because of the fact that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience, part of that human experience is the not knowing. The Big Three (and any number of other organized religions) can try to take as much mystery out of it all they want through the creation of rules, guidelines, by-laws, etc., but I think they do a disservice to their followers as a result.

I’m not saying that all the leaders of those faiths behave in such a way. I think a huge part of the problem comes from not distinguishing the difference between religion and spirituality – one is man-made and the other is Divinely gifted, respectively. The former is supposed to be a vehicle for connecting with and expressing the latter, though that is sadly not often reality. The ones who pitch the rules and religion over the spirituality are like used car salesmen; and, most (though certainly not all) of the buyers out there either don’t know enough, don’t want or are too lazy to ask questions. These religious leaders (because when they behave this way, I don’t think they deserve the title of ‘spiritual leaders’ seeing as they’re not engaging Spiritual Truth) make it seem clean, clear-cut, concrete, and straightforward with no grey area; however, in spite of all the rules and regulations, there are still inconsistencies, still contradictions, still unanswerable questions, uncertainty and the unknown. It’s like a redacted car fax report. There is still mystery. There will always be mystery.

Most people, though, fear the unknown, so they buy into the idea that it’s not really there – that those redacted sections aren’t important – and immerse themselves in the following of the aforementioned rules, regulations, and routine. They tell themselves that they have a step-by-step formula to follow. But here’s where it gets a bit dodgier – because there are inconsistencies and contradictions, they can sort through and choose which pieces they like and which ones are easiest for them and then ignore the rest (hello, KKK, nazis, scary-ass cults and other zealous fundamental sub-groups). And all of this serves the purpose of making them feel better about who they are and where their soul will go when their body dies. Really, I think that those literalist practitioners of the Big Three and other rigid organized religions are just as uncertain as the rest of us – whether you follow some other spiritual path or not. They just cling tighter to the routine when those pesky questions that pull at the rest of us about the mystery all around us dog them in order to avoid facing the questions head on and to ease the existential anxiety the lack of answers leaves with them.

But I don’t think the answer is in trying to avoid those questions, trying to escape that faceless opponent who’s one hell of  a grappler. I know it’s scary, but engaging with the Divine and Its Mystery, I am convinced, is always better than not. So if you’re struggling – whatever your path and affiliation may be – your best bet, I think, is one of two options: A) Scream, fight against, resist, cuss, kick and claw that mystery till your throat is raw and your hands and knees are bloody. If you’ve tried that course and it hasn’t gotten you what you’re looking for, try this on for size: B) Embrace that Mystery, lean into it even more. Instead of trying to fight and resist that nameless, faceless, mysterious figure, let it pin you to the ground and stare straight into your soul. Then give it a big, passionate, and sloppy kiss. Follow that kiss up with the innocent giggle of a new lover. Stare right back and ask it what it wants. Then, Listen.

It’s getting to be that time of year

We just celebrated Litha here at our house, and as a precursor to the celebration, I asked my wife/Teacher to have a review with me so we could go over together all the lessons that I’ve been focusing on (or not, as it was in some areas) since our last Samhain. I don’t know what it’s like for other Witches (and if you’re a practicing Witch reading this, feel free to chime in here and tell me about your experience because I really am curious), but for the Witches in our house, if we haven’t worked through our individual life/spiritual lessons enough throughout the year the result is that October sucks. A lot. What happens is that the Universe dredges up all those lessons and shoves them in our faces all at once to give us 30 days to work on them, move through them, and complete them all before the end of the year.

If it’s hard for you to imagine what that might be like, you can think of it like this: Imagine that you’ve only straightened up your house all year long. You haven’t ever really cleaned it. So that first day of October, then, all the dirt, grime, crap, dust, moldy-refrigerator science projects that never got thrown away, etc. rains down from above to cover everything and everyone. And you have 30 days to clean up 335 days of putrid and disgusting crap and get it to a sparkling shine.  To put it in perhaps even more understandably concrete terms, think about this: Have you ever had one of those days where everything that could go wrong seems to do just that? But you also happen to be super hormonal and you have the flu and food poisoning. Oh, and just to keep things interesting, you still have to keep living your life per usual. No calling in sick. That’s what October is like around here if we haven’t worked on our shit. That’s what October has been like for me for the past few years. And in the event that we can’t get it all cleaned up by the end of those thirty days, the mess not only stays but more gets added to it so that the crappiness of October stretches out for, well, it’s been known to stretch out for the entire next year.

Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about all that with the intention of throwing a glorified pity party. As far as I specifically (meaning my personal shit) am concerned, it’s been my own damn fault for slacking and no one is responsible for that but me. Thankfully, I’d like to think I’ve gotten rather smarter this year. Hence the requested review.

I am happy and grateful to report that there are some areas where I’ve made considerable progress. Unfortunately, there are also some areas that I’ve either completely or at least mostly neglected. One of those is the area of self-discipline (Who – me? Ms. I-write-on-my-blog-once-every-few-months? Yup. My bad). To remedy this situation, I am (yet again) creating a schedule for myself. Schedules are great for improving self-discipline – especially if you’re like me and take immense joy from getting to cross things off to-do lists. Especially when you really don’t feel like doing them (I like to think those times get double points in the self-discipline column).

Among my list of daily activities I will be completing (see – positive thinking – I have grown!) I have included writing. Whether it’s journaling, writing here, or working on my book I am determined to write for an hour a day. Today is day 2 of my adopting this new practice. So, I intend for this to translate into an increasing number of posts here.

Wherever you are in your own journey and lessons, I hope this finds you well. Blessed be.

Re-translated and re-membered

It’s been too damn long since I’ve written. Anything. Unfortunately, my computer troubles I had been having are still unresolved – at the moment the hard drive of my previous laptop is in a sort of limbo state where it’s still fully intact, yet I am unable to access or open any of the files. Including the book on which I was working. I don’t know if that’s some sort of message from the Universe that I need to chuck it and start over; that I need to work harder and because I hadn’t been it, I can’t have it until I’m ready to work harder (and therefore I need to go about 1) being dedicated and disciplined enough to do so, and then 2) start proving that I am; or, if it’s just some fluke that has no meaning at all and I’m just overthinking things (who me? Surely, you gest). Regardless, I do recognize that thinking about it too much just makes my brain hurt.

I recently reread one of my favorite series ever – the House of Night books. I. Adore. Them. They’re just plain fun. And in re-reading them, I’ve found I want to write again. Unfortunately, my desire to write wasn’t the only thing that rekindled.  The smoldering ashes of my fears and doubts that I tried to deny before burst back into flame. I had previously attempted to at least dismiss their importance while still working toward my goal: “I’m not a good enough writer to write a book,” “I’ve researched writing seminars and workshops in my area and haven’t even found any so how can I even improve my writing so that I could eventually write a book?” “I don’t know enough (period – as in, about anything) to write,” “I probably average maybe 3 people visiting my blog on a daily basis – obviously what I have to say is 1) at best not very attention-grabbing and interesting for other people or 2) at worst, so poorly written (in addition to being uninteresting) that even the people who do come here don’t make a point to return,” “And what about that whole idea of finishing my damn post-Masters degree – how does that fit in to wanting to write a book?” etc. Blah, blah, blah. Ad nauseum. You get the gist. There they all were, huddled together, burning as brightly as ever (and making a great deal of noise) in the front of my mind. The discouragement I felt at not having my laptop and my hard drive thus suddenly had annoyingly frustrating company.

In the midst of the blah-ness I had been feeling during the semi-forced/semi-voluntary hiatus I’d taken, I was barely even checking my emails. So the other day I finally went through my inbox and deleted a ridiculous amount of crap. During said pruning, my eye caught on some post notifications from a couple of the blogs I follow. One in particular drew my attention. I hopped on over to Courage 2 Create and began reading Ollin’s post. I was as stunned as Ollin, I imagine, when I read about the quote from the Tao te Ching having been mistranslated. The quote is probably one you’ve heard before, except here it is with the accurate translation: “A journey of a thousand miles begins beneath the feet” (not “…with a single step”). Huh. Now, it’s not the whole individuality, self-reliance thing Ollin describes that I’ve typically gotten caught up on when previously reading the mistranslation. It’s the pressure Ollin writes of regarding that first step that resonates in my belly. That potential (and not kinetic) energy waiting and pushing on my insides, warring with feeling overwhelmed and unsure of the what/where/how/etc. of the step itself. Not to mention desperately needing to NOT misstep (I really hate making mistakes). So, the correct translation of the quote seems to be advocating not doing as the first part of this thousand mile journey but being. Ah, hell.

Thus do I recognize another lesson that has spiraled back around. Be. Don’t Do. Or perhaps more accurately, be before you do. This has been a difficult lesson for me to breathe in and internalize to the point where I know it all the way deep down in the center of my bones. I’m much more comfortable doing. Probably because I recognize that being has long been a weakness of mine, wrapped up in that whole knowledge of and intimacy with self/identity.

I’m (like, I imagine, most other people) not a fan of psychological or spiritual pain. When I’ve spent any time withbeingbefore, I’ve ended up drowning in a stagnant, dishwatery hot mess of gross and fearful emotions. The other night was the first time I’d ever been able to put some words to this historical emotional experience. You know those little grow-your-own pots of herbs of flowers that come with the dirt and seeds all their in a neat little package? In the analogy I worked up, it’s like those little pots are people’s identities and the different herb or flower seeds in them are the different pieces of our identities. What it’s felt like for me is that my little pot didn’t come with seeds. Like somebody got sleepy on the job and just forgot to put them in there. And all around me I see all these pots with seeds that have created beautiful and strong and healthy herbs and plants and flowers. And I just have dirt. So I’ve cut flowers or herbs from around me and stuck them in my pot so that it looks like I’m just like everyone else. Except that whatever I take eventually dies and I’m left with only dirt once more.

At this point, I’ve historically gotten completely discouraged and felt so utterly defective that I’ve just turned to do something else to distract myself. But the other night after reading the quote from the Tao te Ching on Ollin’s blog, I forced myself to continue sitting and being.  And then something pretty awesome happened. I re-membered that I have the power to create my Self each and every moment. I (and I believe all of us) have the power todecidewhat seeds I want to plant within me. Just like a mail-order catalogue, I can simply ask Momma and Papa (or the Universe/Goddess/God/Divinity/Whatever language you want to use – insert here)  for whatever seeds I want, plant them, and then work to cultivate them and help them grow.

So let’s say maybe you haven’t ever felt like what I have, but maybe you’ve struggled with or don’t like some of the seeds you were given. The beauty of all this is that you have not just the freedom, but the amazing opportunity to determine for yourself that perhaps you don’t want to grow chives, for example, anymore. Maybe you feel like growing mint or hibiscus or calla lillies or catnip. Awesome! Dig up those suckers up, chuck them in the Universal compost pile, and go get you some new seeds.

We just celebrated Beltane here at our house – a time of supreme and Divine fertility and also the halfway point through the year. Each year, I usuallly procrastinate and wait until October 1st to begin really working on my shit in those last 30 some days before Samhain and the end of the year. I’m going to try something different this year. Instead of putting all that work off (which makes for a miserable October, by the way), I’m going to commit to stop being a lazy Witch and start doing that work now. Litha (the summer solstice) is a little over a month away, a time of fullness and abundance and blooms. Let’s see if I can get some of these new seeds I’ve ordered to show some of their glorious colors by then!

What blooms are you working on coaxing to life and fullness? Do you have some seeds or plants you’d like to exchange? What’s stopping you?