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.

Exes and Ohs

I had a dream last night that my ex was in. Not just any ex. You know, the ex. I think most of us have (usually) one of these. Whether it was the one who broke your heart the most, the one who made you the craziest, the one who got away, etc., (or perhaps some combination of all of the above). When I was talking to my wife about my dream and my ex’s resurfacing in my subconscious this morning (he has a habit of doing that every once in a while, and I have yet to concretely figure out why), our fourteen year old came and sat down with us. As we were trying to explain why this particular ex was a bigger deal than any of my other exes, my wife seemed to sum it up perfectly.

“He’s like her heroine,” she told our daughter. I’ve talked about this ex -we’ll just call him J here – with my wife in great detail, so she knew exactly what the dream had stirred up for me and a good idea of where my thoughts were wandering.

I sat with that idea for a few minutes and decided it was probably pretty accurate. While it’s true that my “relationship” with J ended almost a decade ago and I like to think I’ve gotten smarter since then, I got stupid around him, just like people do on heroine. Heroine is not one of those drugs that you can try once and only do occasionally. Smart people check themselves into rehab after doing heroine once.  I was not smart then. It took me a long time to get smart.  One look from him, and I would be gone. I had melted into a puddle on the floor.  I paid for witnessing and sharing in the infrequent bursts of brilliance when his true self emerged by letting him play me and treat me poorly. He broke my heart more times than I remember, and I willingly submitted to it until I decided not to anymore. I used to say that he would be amazing if not for that small personality flaw of being an arrogant asshole. Those moments of brilliance were pretty incredible. It took me a little while to realize I was completely in love with him and then it took me even longer to quit him cold turkey. Even after I had, I would know when he was near or in town. I would know shortly before he tried to contact me (which he did several times, despite my having said I never wanted to hear from him again). The connection I had with him was one for which I have few words. And I knew him. I realized years later after I began studying Witchcraft and Paganism that I have known him life times upon life times before. I’m not sure what lessons we were meant to teach each other and help each other learn this time around, but it feels like we still have unfinished business. I will forever be grateful to him for helping me to find my Fire – because it took a shit ton of it for me to be able to leave him and cut myself off.

So when I woke this morning from the dream with visions of his dark, shoulder length wavy hair, turquoise and hazel eyes, broad shoulders, chiseled cheek bones, and heart-shaped lips in my mind, I just shook my head and chuckled. This was an atypical reaction for me. When I’ve dreamt about him in the past, I’ve woken up angry or frustrated or sad (and, of course, horny). But this morning was different. As I sat with the difference, I realized that, Oh, despite all of the shit he’d piled on top of who he truly was and how much he had hurt me, I was still in love with him. And not the “in love with him to the point where I would allow myself to get stupid again” kind because that is not love. It can get tangled up with love, but it’s not the same thing. And I certainly was not, nor am I now, in love with the shit piled on top of his essence. It’s his essence that I will probably always be in love with.  And the packaging for that essence this time around just flat does it for me. I’m a total sucker for dark hair and light eyes to begin with but add in the broad shoulders, put some wave in the hair, and toss in some sculpted cheekbones, and I’m done. And in that moment of realization, probably for the first time, I did not try to fight being in love with him. I just accepted it. Accepting didn’t mean I had to contact him, to try to rebuild or recreate some kind of relationship with him on any level. I just sat with it and acknowledged that it was.

After I’d gotten myself coffee, I looked him up on facebook for the first time without feeling guilty or like I was betraying myself. He doesn’t look very different. I did not message him or friend request him, much to the disappointment of our 14 yr old. I don’t remember what I told her when she asked why – that might have been when my wife pointed out he was my heroine. As I drove to work, though, I thought about it. The only reason at the moment I would have for contacting him would be an ambiguous curiosity, and while flirting with the idea of doing so in my head is one thing (and mildly entertaining), I’ve decided without clearer intention than that, the only possible thing I could create from doing so would be a hot mess. I certainly don’t need any of those right now. So instead, I will enjoy this knowing that I am still in love and that I can simply accept it. And I will marvel that I can indeed be in love with two people at once (I hadn’t been sure this was entirely possible for me). And I will enjoy this reignited spark of my sexuality that visions of J stirred up. 😉