Saturday, November 27, 2010

Getting involved in the community instead of taking classes

At the simple living group, a young woman gave a presentation about the time bank project she is starting. I don't know what she does for a living, but here she is active in the community, doing something with her life. Why don't I do that? When I try to figure out what to do with my life, I think of a new career field to try and take a class in it. Why don't I just do stuff -- jump in and get involved, and see where it leads me?

But then I remembered about getting tired and sick all the time. For the next three days after attending the simple living group, I lay on the couch whenever I didn't have to be at work. When I was at work, I had a lot of trouble focusing. I do think that I've caught a virus, and it's not solely that the simple living meeting wore me out, but the reality is that when I do something a little extra, whether it's go to a simple living meeting or spend an hour gardening, it's not unusual for me to feel sick for a few days after. I'm doing better than I was four years ago, but I still have to keep reminding myself that all these enthusiastic thoughts about all the things I want to get involved in need to be tempered by reality.

So, don't beat myself up for not being the young woman at the simple living meeting who is organizing projects in our community. I have to live with the bounds of what I've got. But within the bounds of what I've got, I can think about how best to use what time and energy I have, and maybe thinking of this young woman will provide some inspiration, by reminding me that there are other things that can be done besides taking classes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Holidays today and tomorrow

I did not really observe Thanksgiving, but today I am observing Buy Nothing Day, and tomorrow I will observe Small Business Saturday.

What I want: a community that shares my values

In my town, there is a simple living group that meets once a month. At each meeting, a speaker presents about a topic of interest, and there is discussion time when they go around the circle and each person talks about how they are doing on trying to live simply. I recently joined this group and have attended their two most recent meetings. I'm excited about being part of this group. It made me realize that what I've always wanted is to be a part of a community that shares my values, to be working toward something in community with others who are working toward the same thing. I loved my job when I first started it because that's what it was. When that changed is when I became unhappy at my job. I think more important to me than what task I'm doing is whether I'm doing it for a purpose I believe in, and in support of a community I believe in.

For the long-term, I can continue to seek a job in a community that shares my values. In the meantime, within my workplace I can seek out people who share my values, and try to work with them to build a community that expresses those values. (That is, to work toward our shared purpose of serving students and treating all with respect, as opposed to the institutional culture that the purpose of faculty is to bring in wealth and prestige, and that staff and students are useful when they contribute to that goal, but otherwise, when they call for teaching or advising, they are an unwanted distraction.)

I think it would be useful to develop that habit of seeking out likeminded people and building community with them, regardless of the prevailing climate.

But I also can't forget the goal of finding a better place. I have a tendency to think that I should make it, regardless of circumstances. I try to do everything I'm supposed to do even when I'm sick. Then I get healthy, and it's amazing how much easier it becomes to do things. I don't have to spend my life fighting uphill battles. Tying in with yesterday's post about working with nature, I don't have to try to garden in the desert. I need to seek out fertile soil for my endeavors, and I need to choose aspirations which match the soil I've got.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Working with nature

I don't want to follow the approach of conquest of the earth -- build bigger houses, bigger roads, fly in airplanes all the time, own many cars. Nor do I want to live in the wilderness, with no shelter or clothing other than what I find in the woods. What I want to do is to work with nature, to create the life that I want in a way that respects nature. For example, in gardening, we work with the laws of nature to coax the growth of the plants we wish to cultivate.

With my health, the conquest approach would be to fill myself with caffeine and medications, to try to keep going regardless of what may be happening in my body. The wilderness approach would be to let sickness run wild. Neither is what I want. I want to work with nature to make my health what I want it to be. I want to give my body the rest, exercise, and nutrients which best suit it, just as I try to give my garden crops the soil, water, and sunlight which best suit them. When sick, I want to do things that will drive away the illness. I want to work with nature to grow my health.

In figuring out what to do with my life, I have to realize that it's not realistic to do everything I dream of. My aspirations are many times larger than my time and energy. I also have to accept that I have a certain temperament and certain abilities. There are some things that would be cool to do, but they just aren't for me to do. But that does not mean I am just stuck with who I am right now. I can learn new skills. I respect the nature of who I am, but within that, I can shape my life to what I want it to be, just as within the laws of nature, I shape my garden and my health.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Walk in the light

We had some mild weather last week. Monday evening, I sat out on the balcony. The balcony of my apartment is just above the entrance of the first floor apartment, and there is a bright outside light to illuminate that entrance. The light also illuminated a part of the nearby boxelder tree. It was like a spotlight on just one bit of the tree, so that one part was lit as if in sunshine, while the rest of the tree was in darkness. It gave me the inspiration to try to walk in sunshine, whatever darkness surrounds me. This connects with my choice of the name Evergreen, representing maintaining vitality through the dark and cold time of year. It also connects with something from Quakerism. One of the first things I learned when I joined Quakerism as a kid was a song with a refrain that says, "Walk in the Light, wherever you may go." It also ties in with the druid ritual in which we imagine ourselves surrounded by a sphere of light.

Sometimes it's too much -- the stresses at work, the fatigue, the illness. But sometimes I can find the strength to retain the spirit of sunshine within myself, whatever goes on around me. And sometimes it takes no strength to retain it, because sometimes life offers such beauty that the sunshine just beams within me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Community moderation

Some of the e-mail lists I'm on are, in my opinion, over-moderated, while others are under-moderated.

What happens in over-moderated lists is I join a group all new and fresh and excited that I've found like-minded people, I put a lot of thought into crafting a message, and I daydream that they will be impressed by my insightfulness, only to get a harsh slap in the face when they tactfully tell me that my contribution not only fails to be insightful, but is in fact inappropriate.

In under-moderated lists, a list may go on happily for some time, and then someone comes in and stirs up all sorts of bad feelings, driving away the people whose contributions I valued most.

Is there no middle ground? I don't think that groups (on-line or otherwise) should be a free-for-all, in which anyone can do whatever they want, no matter how destructive it is, but I also don't think that that things should be decided by authoritarian rule. I think that community members should be able to participate in deciding how the community should be run. I think that if a person's words might hurt others, rather than silence those words, let them be said, and then let the community members express their feelings if they are hurt. In that way, the community learns and grows together. That is actually how it has happened a number of times on one of the e-mail lists I'm on.

It seems to me that Quakers have a good way. Quakers believe that God speaks to all of us. In the unprogrammed branch of Quakerism, there are no designated ministers. Instead, we are all ministers. Anyone in attendance may stand and deliver a message. However, it is also expected that things will be decided by consensus within the community. If you think that God has told you one thing, but everyone else in the community thinks God has told them something different, then you all better sit down and listen to God together for a while.

A nice thing about blogs is you can say whatever you want. You don't have any moderator critiquing you. If people don't like it, they don't have to read it. Similarly, I don't have to deal with the negative people who in my opinion ruin e-mail groups -- I just ignore their blogs.

The same sort of thing applies to real life -- one aspect of getting along with people is leaving them alone. Basically, the amount of time we spend with a person should correspond to the amount of compatibility we have with them. In dealing with other people, enjoy the parts you like, and let the rest be. (There are exceptions, for example, intervening when someone is being a bully.)

Loss

Bob -- my supervisor, colleague, mentor, friend -- told us about three and a half years ago that he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. For a while, he was beating it. A month ago, it started beating him. Thursday morning, we got the news that that day would probably be the end. He lasted until 8am Friday.

In my more noble moments, I think of what is to be learned from the experience:
  1. In seeing how I feel about people's responses, I can learn what does and doesn't work, so that I can respond more appropriately to others who are experiencing loss.
  2. Awareness of the finiteness of our time here brings an appreciation of the time we do have -- the moments of feeling sunshine warming me, seeing the brilliance of autumn leaves, time spent with friends.
  3. How do I want to use my time here? I want to use it to treat others with kindness, to knit people together into harmonious communities, to build communities based on sustainable living and on treating all with kindness and respect. I want to spend it delighting in the beauty of nature and in the sound of music. I want to spend it dancing. I want to spend it with family and friends. I want to spend it with sunshine on my skin and my bare feet on grass.
In my less noble moments:
  1. I cry.
  2. I get annoyed with everyone. I'm annoyed at the people who go on with their lives as if nothing is wrong. I'm annoyed at the people expressing their memories of Bob who were not even close to him. I'm annoyed at the people who do not offer me sympathy. I'm annoyed at people who offer me sympathy in the wrong way, or sympathy from the wrong people. That is just about everyone, since no kind of sympathy will make it better.
  3. I'm listless at work. How can I do my work when I have no supervisor?
  4. I annoy my colleagues. I feel like I want to do something, and all I can do is to get the news and tributes out there, so I hover too much over colleagues who are trying to do something about it.
  5. Usually at the end of the day, I write down on a calendar what I did that day. I left Friday blank on my calendar. Usually I call my mom often, maybe four times a week. I haven't called her since the news Thursday morning, and I don't want to call her.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Druid name

When I was thinking about what to choose for a druid name, the first thing that came to mind was Juniper. It is a name I have used before. I like the sound of it. It sounds cheery and woodsy. It's relevant to me because I pass many different kinds of juniper bushes on my way to work every weekday, and because there was juniper at a place I used to go as a kid, a place that holds a place in my heart.

I knew though that there were other druids named Juniper, so I figured I would have a second name as well. Juniper Sage came to mind. I've liked the name Sage for a while. It is another woodsy sort of name, and it represents wisdom. However, though it's a name I like, it doesn't necessarily feel like my name.

Trees are important to me. Maples are the most relevant. I am surrounded by maples at home, at work, and in between. I grew up around maples. But people often associate the word "maple" with maple syrup, so rather than just maple, I thought maybe I would use Mapletree as my name, or part of my name.

Then I thought of evergreen. I don't feel as strongly about evergreen trees as I do about maple trees, but what I liked about the name Evergreen was 1) "green" representing sustainability, so "evergreen" representing always trying to live sustainably, and 2) I love the summer, but in winter, I shrink from the cold. The name Evergreen would be a reminder to blossom all year round.

I am using Evergreen as my name now, but I'm not sure I'm entirely settled on it. I may change, or add another part to it.

Another name that resonates with me is Forester. There was a moment when I was about 11 years old when I was walking and looked down to see my sneaker against the grass and the dirt. It was perhaps early April -- a time when it was getting warmer, but the grass was not yet to its summer greenness. Somehow in that moment I felt connected with nature. The name Forester brings me back to the feeling I had in that moment. Sometimes I get caught up in a certain way of thinking, the lifestyle where you have to wear fancy clothes for your job or something. The name Forester brings me back to the way I feel when my feet walk upon the earth rather than upon pavement.

Perhaps I'll be Evergreen Forester.

But maples are also important in my life. Perhaps I'll drop the Evergreen and be Maple Forester. Or Mapletree Forester.

But "Maple" just does not sound like a name I identify with. If I think of someone calling that name, and me answering, it doesn't seem right. The names I can imagine myself answering to are Juniper and Evergreen.

Maybe I'll be Evergreen Mapletree Forester. That's a mouthful though. Or I could be Evergreen of the Maples.

Well, time will tell. I think to a certain extent, you just have to let your druid name come to you in its own time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pantheistic article in Quaker newsletter

A member of a pantheist e-mail list I'm on pointed out the article "I Found God Here," the first article in the Fall 2010 PYM Today newsletter. This article describes what pantheism means to me: that God is not a guy controlling us, but rather is the magic that pervades the world around us.

It's an article in a Quaker newsletter. I come from a Quaker background, and I think Quakerism and Pantheism are similar. The core belief of Quakerism is "that of God in everyone," so Quakers share my pantheistic view of God here among us.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Taking stock along the way

Where am I on my journey? Which way do I go next?
  • Things are not going well at my job. I should go. I should get a different job. But do I know what I want to do? There are so many possible jobs that I've contemplated, only to realize that I would like them less than the one I have. There is value in taking a risk, taking the leap to do something new, but there is also value in looking before you leap, in doing some research about what your options are.
  • I have an idea about what kind of job I'd like to get. I think I'm comfortable with it, and yet, I don't seem to be intrigued and enraptured by it. But perhaps it will become more interesting as I get more involved in it.
  • What I am interested in is reading and writing about things related to druidry, pantheism, and trees. These are the things that I fall into doing, instead of the things that I think I should be doing, things like homework for the class I'm taking, applying for jobs, paying bills, cleaning the house, and going grocery shopping. Does the fact that I'm drawn to these activities mean that they are my true passion, that that's what I should be looking to pursue, rather than what I currently hypothesize to be my career interest? Or is it that everyone desires time to relax, and that our work, as enjoyable and interesting as it may be, is actually work, and one needs a break from work from time time?
  • I know that there is more to be done for druidry. There is such a wealth of things to learn and practice. I wrote earlier about doing more related to the healing spiral, and about the nine natural history books I need to read. I practice meditation, movement meditation, and time spent outdoors, but I need to develop those practices, to focus them better. I need to learn to care for my bonsai tree, to see if I can sign up for some tree-planting, to memorize the rituals, and to take a first aid class.
  • I must remember that druidry is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It's not like school, where you just do the boring homework because the teacher says you have to. The goal is to grow in wisdom, knowledge, skills, and health, so that I can better put my values into action. The values I wish to put into action:
    1. To sow the seeds of peace in my interactions with others. To work toward a world in which all are treated with respect and kindness, and all have access to information and to opportunities for learning and growth.
    2. Is there a word that's the opposite of consumerism? Maybe community creationism? To work toward a world in which communities create what they need. In which entertainment is not everyone in their separate houses glued to TVs, computers, and phones, but is people coming together to make music, dance, tell stories, and perform plays. In which food is grown locally rather than shipped from thousands of miles away. In which as much as possible people know how to do things like sew clothes, grow their food, preserve their food for the winter, and build their homes and furniture.
    3. To work toward a world in which we live sustainably, caring for the earth, using renewable energy sources, and eliminating toxic chemicals.

  • So where am I? How do I earn a living, do the things that I enjoy, and put my values into action? It seems like I ought to be able to do all three at once, but maybe that's just a fallacy. In this culture, our stories are supposed to have happy endings, we are supposed to find our true love and live happily ever after with that person, we are supposed to find a career we love, it is supposed to be true that if we work hard enough, we can overcome any obstacle. But that is not reality. Some obstacles can never be overcome. Sometimes we never find our true love, or we love someone who doesn't love us back, or the person we love dies. Sometimes the thing we love doing is not a thing we can earn money at. Instead of trying to force my life to fit the fairy tale, how can I find a reality that works for me? I think I'm already doing my best. I'm exploring various career fields to find which I like best. Not that I will necessarily find the one true career that will be my ultimate fulfillment, but I will find which of the options out there fits me better than the other options do. I do the things I enjoy: spending time outdoors, reading, writing, Nia, and spending time with family and friends. And I am pursuing druidry in the hopes that it will help me grow in putting my values into action. And along the way, I am also working on things to help keep my life running smoothly, like laundry and groceries. Cleaning house is not something I'm a fan of, but I am a fan of making my home a place of peace and beauty, so that I can enjoy my time here.

Taking ownership of the healing spiral

In the druid curriculum I am following, one has to choose one of seven "spirals." I chose healing.

One of main things to be done for the healing spiral is to study a healing art. When I embarked on this path, I sent a couple e-mails asking about whether the things I wanted to study would count as a healing art. I wanted to study healthy living -- prevention of disease rather than the treatment of disease, including diet, exercise, and environmental toxins. I was also interested in practicing Nia.

I never got an answer to those e-mails. Rather than continuing to try to get an answer (I think it only took me a few weeks to figure out that the way to get questions answered was to post them to the e-mail list, rather than to send individual e-mails, so I could have posted my questions to the list), I decided I would just do tai chi. I knew that tai chi was acceptable as a healing art, and I did have an interest in learning it.

I have been learning tai chi, but I don't really have a passion for it. In contrast, I have been devoting the largest part of my druid studies to another part of the curriculum, called the Earth Path. For the Earth Path, I have been doing a lot of things that don't actually count toward fulfilling the requirements. We are supposed to read nine books about the natural history of our area. I have read one so far. I have also looked at thirteen other books -- ten on tree identification, and three on identifying other kinds of plants. These don't count because I did not read them in their entirety, I just used them as a reference and read sections here and there. I have also read five (and just started a sixth) about sustainable living. The curriculum requires that we try to live more sustainably, but not that we read any books about it.

For the Earth Path, I have been pursuing my interests. I have been learning the things that will contribute to my growth. Eventually, I will read the nine natural history books, and they are part of what I want to learn, but they are just part of it.

I should take the same path to the healing spiral that I take to the Earth Path. Just as I will read the nine natural history books, I will learn tai chi. And just as I have read parts of identification books that I will never read cover to cover, and as I have read books on sustainable living, I will also pursue the other things related to healing that I need to pursue for my own growth.

What do I want to get out of the healing spiral? I want to understand my own health problems, and do my best to alleviate them. I want to understand what can and can't be alleviated, and learn to live with that which can't be alleviated. As far as I can tell, Nia makes me feel better. I want to continue to practice Nia, and to continue to try to figure out what makes me feel better, and do do those things. I want to live a healthy lifestyle, to prevent future health problems as much as possible. When I embrace these things as part of my journey in learning about healing, I can embrace tai chi too, to see tai chi as one of many potential tools for maintaining health.

Druid robes

The traditional druid attire is a white robe. I do not want a robe yet, and when I do, I am not sure it will be white. For the day when I am ready for a robe, here is what I have found about where to get a robe.

Samhain, death, and renewal

The Wheel of the Year is supposed to remind us of how things in life change. It always seemed a bit off to me, because the Wheel of the Year is predictable. The seasons always arrive in the same order, and at their expected times. Life is not like that. A person can get an illness, and it never gets better -- there is no spring of good health to look forward too. Or a summer-like time of good health, time spent with family, and financial stability could last for many years, and then it could unexpectedly be over in an instant.

But as I performed the Samhain ritual on November 1, I saw it another way. Instead of individual lives, I looked at the bigger picture. There is a cycle of renewal. Someone in my circle approaches death, but someone else in my circle was recently born. In the even larger picture, stars and planets die, but new ones are born.

The Samhain ritual in the Druidry Handbook includes a part that goes, "The veil between the worlds becomes thin, and the ancestors come close to us. Their voices whisper in the autumn winds. As we stand among the falling leaves and the gray and golden light, let us remember the past and its lessons, and gather a harvest of wisdom to bear us through winter to the new spring to come."

As the old generations pass away, the new generations can seek to carry forward the wisdom passed on by the old generations, even as the new generations are forging new paths, and additional wisdom to pass on to the future.

I am grateful that my grandmother tells me stories about my great great great grandmother. My grandmother remembers knowing my great great great grandmother, but it will not be so long before no one remains who remembers her. However, now I have the knowledge from my grandmother, and I can pass it forward to the future generations.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Overly ambitious

I got lots of library books. I couldn't read them all before they were due, so I kept renewing them. Meanwhile, I kept thinking of more library books I wanted to get.

I'm taking a class, and feeling burdened by the homework. Meanwhile, I'm thinking of the class I want to take next semester.

I'm working on a druid study program, and there is lots to do. I never get as much done as I intend. Meanwhile, I am thinking about all the things I want to do that will be in next year's curriculum.

The world is so full of things I want to learn and do. I keep seeing more, even when I already have too much to do. But I can be like the sugar maple I wrote about yesterday. In the shade of the forest, it can't grow as fast as it would like, but it just perseveres, growing slowly.

New Year

Many modern Pagan and Druid traditions consider Samhain the holiday which marks the end of one year and the beginning of another, although what I've read by historical scholars indicates that this was likely not so for the Iron Age Celts.

I've been on an academic calendar most of my life -- first as a student, then as a university employee -- so it often has felt to me that a new year begins around the beginningof September.

Also, I feel that my year is divided into two seasons, summer and winter. Summer is when after work, it's warm and light, so I spend time outdoors, and when green leaves are all around me, while winter is when it is dark and cold when I get home from work, and the trees are bare.

It never made much sense to me to observe the new year on January 1, which it's not the beginning of anything, it's smack dab in the middle of winter.

Nor does Samhain feel like a new year. From the academic calendar perspective, it's smack dab in the middle of a semester. And while the falling of leaves indicates that an old year is dying, a new year is far from coming.

I think now as a druid observing the stations of the sun, it makes sense to observe winter solstice as the new year. That's the time when the sun has finished moving away from us, and begins to move toward us -- one year has finished dying, and another year begins to grow. From that perspective, January 1 isn't such a bad time to observe the new year after all. They talk about the 12 days of Christmas, so how about the 12 days of the new year, December 21-January 1.

Seasons

Sometimes I say that there seem to be two seaons here, summer and winter. Or in my more negative moments, I say the two seasons are too hot and too cold. But I think we do actually have spring and fall, I think they are just short. As I experience them, the seasons where I currently live go something like this:
  • Samhuinn to Spring Equinox: winter (5 months)
  • Spring Equinox to Memorial Day: spring (2 months)
  • Memorial Day to Fall Equinox: summer (4 months)
  • Fall Equinox to Samhuinn: fall (1 month)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Perseverance of the maple

Something I read about sugar maples in An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies by Glen Blouin:

Under the forest canopy, seeds germinate with as little as 2% sunlight, frequently carpeting the forest floor with seedlings. Some die because they have landed on a poor microsite; others are nibbled by mice, rabbits, and deer; but many survive, growing very slowly but otherwise healthy, patiently waiting for a clearing above so they can take advantage of the sunlight. When an older tree dies or is cut down, young maples seize the opportunity to fill the void.

To me this is about adversity, perserverance, and hope. The maple seedling does not give up. It does not get indignant that it faces adversity. It simply grows to the best of its ability, and waits for way to open.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Community gathering and wonder

For the past few weeks, I have been blessed with good health, so I went out twice. (I mean, usually I go out to work and grocery shopping, but when I'm not feeling well, I don't want to go places any more than I have to.)

First, I attended a meeting of a simple living group. They meet once a month. At each meeting, they have a speaker on a topic of interest, and a discussion. I liked being amongst people who share my values within my community. I'm accustomed to interacting with people who share my values on the internet, and reading books by people who share my values, but it's something else to be physically in a community. In the discussion, the comment that resonated with me most was about how the politicians talk about growing the economy, no one is talking about reducing consumption.

The other event that I went to was an organ concert. Many cities and towns in my area have one Friday or Saturday evening a month designated as "art night" or a "night out." Tonight was such a night in my town. The organ concert was part of that. It was short, because it was meant to be just one stop as people wander around the downtown. It was put on by a church. I think the people running it were associated with the church, and that the audience was a mix of people from the church and people not from the church.

The audience included people of all ages. There was a little girl (daughter of the organist) who would start crawling away, and the mother would call to her, and then the girl would come back. I was impressed that a child so little that she is crawling would come when called. Before the concert started, when the organist appeared in the organ loft, one of his older kids said from the pews, loud enough for all to hear, "Hi Daddy!"

There were some people dressed in Halloween costumes greeting people as we entered. Up front, there were candles and some of the fake spiderweb stuff people use for Halloween decorations. Also in the front, unobtrusively tucked between two columns, was a skull-like head. Near the end of the last song, a figure appeared. There was a head that was like the skull of a monster, with orange eyes, and the body was draped in sheets. This figure was suspended on a line, and had been mostly unnoticed in the back of the room, but at a particular time during the performance, the figure slid forward along the line to the front of the room.

What struck me was that people put themselves into creating this experience, into the costumes, decorations, and suspended figure. They did this to enhance our experience of the concert. It's beautiful when a community creates something in this way. That's the life I want. I don't want to be shut away in my apartment glued to a computer screen. I want to be a part of my community.

I wrote that the suspended figure had been "mostly unnoticed." The little boy in front of me, who was maybe 8 or 9, noticed it partway through the show. I saw him pointing to the back of the room, and I could tell that what he saw appeared wondrous to him, but I did not turn to look. I heeded the advice of his mother, who advised him not to draw attention, because it would spoil the surprise for other people.

At the front of the room, there was a screen, on which there was a projection of the organist playing. Normally, you just see the back of the organist, and don't see the keyboard, but the screen allowed us to see the keyboard and the organist's hands playing. Before the concert started, on the screen they showed a video clip from Phantom of the Opera. When the little boy in front of me arrived, he wanted to be sure that he was sitting in a way that he could see the screen. To me, the screen was slightly interesting, but not something it was essential to see. Seeing this boy reminded me to view the world with wonder.

Between songs, the organist introduced someone whom he said was going to make an announcement about chocolate. She told us that they had little squares of fair trade chocolate for all of us, and that the chocolate came with a card about why to choose fair trade, about the child labor sometimes used in producing chocolate, and that sort of thing. I thought that was lovely -- that the church used the concert as an opportunity to share their concern for others, that the concern for others was presented in the form of giving chocolate, and that giving chocolate was so fitting for a Halloween themed concert.

I hope my health continues, so that I can continue to be a part of my community. I want to support the people who make the effort to put these things together.

Wind

When I was a kid, I thought that wind was caused by the trees waving their arms. I still think of that sometimes when I see the tree branches thrashing in the wind.

Flying leaves

It was so windy, the leaves did not fall downward. Instead, they flew across the sky toward the east for many yards before they finally found their destination and started moving downwards. Trees stay rooted, but leaves soar through the air.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Autumn colors


Autumn has so many beautiful shades. The one below, a shifting, shimmering mix of browns and oranges, is a color I think of as "my color." If I could, I'd wear clothes in this color. I have some clothes sort of like this, but the trees create the color better than fabrics do I think. This color is most often found in oaks and Norway maple cultivars.




I also like the colors of the sugar maples in autumn. Now, they are a bit past their peak, but a week ago, they were exquisite.





I appreciate Norway maples in autumn because they keep the summer green which I love longer than some other trees. Below, we get the best of both worlds: the autumn brilliance of a sugar maple with the summer green of a Norway maple.


Like sugar maples, red maples are beautiful in their brilliance.


Sycamore's leaves are not brilliant in fall, but sycamore's branches curve gracefully all year round. Sycamore is a role model for maintaining poise and grace even as youthfulness (or leaves) drops away.


















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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Overbearing

I grew up Quaker, so I've always believed in looking for "that of God in everyone." Ideally, I'd like to look upon all with love. In practice, I can't stand overbearing people, slick people, people who don't listen. But if I was a tree, I wouldn't mind. I would just stand there serenely, solidly rooted, with beautiful green leaves dancing with the wind. Next time I encounter an overbearing person, maybe I can remember to be a tree.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living

Some quotes I like from Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew:
  • "If it is not safe it is not sustainable. If a rooftop solar collector falls through the roof, it's going to be even harder to keep the house warm."
  • Regarding the laws which prohibit composting toilets, "We look forward to the day when we will all be free to not poop in clean water."

The Education of Little Tree, Chapter 2

I think I read The Education of Little Tree a long time ago, but I don't remember it much. Today I picked it up and started reading. I realized that I didn't want to read it through all at once. At the end of chapter two, I stopped, because I wanted some time to ponder the things said in that chapter before I went on to read more. There were two things in particular that struck me:
  1. "It is the Way....Take only what ye need. When you take the deer, do not take the best. Take the smaller and the slower and then the deer will grow stronger and always give you meat....Only Ti-bi, the bee, stores more than he can use...and so he is robbed by the bear, and the 'coon...and the Cherokee. It is so with people who store and fat themselves with more than their share. They will have it taken from them. And there will be wars over it...and they will make long talks, trying to hold more than their share. They will say a flag stands for their right to do this...and men will die because of the words and the flag...but they will not change the rules of the Way."
  2. "Ol' Tel-qui is like some poeple. Since he knows everything, he won't never look down to see what's around him. Got his head stuck up in the air too high to learn anything."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Religion as opening your heart to love

Tonight I was listening to "Rich" by Neal and Leandra. I used to think of it as a song about romantic love, but tonight I realized it could be a religious song. It says,

"Let the world go on believing
It can dry up all my dreams
Your love is the water
And I've waded into the holiest of streams"

It reminds me of "Morning Song," which I quoted in last night's entry. "Morning Song" says "I will go with beauty round me."

To me, both seem to be about finding an inner peace, regardless of what is going on around you.

It also reminded me of a blog post I read recently regarding how people who don't believe in God as a separate, sentient entity participate in Quaker worship. Using the concept "God is love" the author substituted the word "love" for "God" in a quote from George Fox (the founder of Quakerism), "that is it which must guide everyone's mind up to love, and to wait upon love to receive the spirit from love, and the spirit leads to wait upon love in silence, and to receive from love." The blog author goes on to say, "there is no object towward which our worship is directed, toward which we proffer reverence. We're simply waiting to feel the motions of love directing our lives. Thus do we avoid the error of attempting to objectify, to reify God."

That blog post, and the two songs, explain what religion is to me. Religion is a set of practices which help us to open our heart to love. And God is what we experience when we do open our heart to love.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Morning Song

I wrote about "Morning Song" by Daniel Dutton just over three months ago. I need to remember that song today. I feel sick, the cold and dark season is arriving, and many people around me are afflicted with illness. Somehow, through all the hardship, can I find a path?

The song says:

Sun I pray, let me life begin today
I promise I will go with beauty round me
Dark nights and cloudy sorrows
Will turn at last to the sunny skies of love
Troubled dreams, fold your wings and vanish
All the fears fade and pass

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fluid identities

One would think that a person either is or is not Christian, Pagan, etc., but it's not so simple.

A Jewish person, seeing that my ancestors were Christian for centuries, and that I celebrate Christmas, would call me Christian.

A devout and conservative Christian, seeing that I don't consider Jesus to be my personal savior, nor the Bible to be the word of God, would say that I am not a Christian.

Some, seeing that I practice an earth-centered religion inspired by pre-Christian traditions, might call me a Pagan.

Others, seeing that I don't believe in gods or magick, might say I'm not a Pagan.

Sometimes we change, but other times, we stay the same as the words attached to us shift, depending on who is doing the attaching.

If a person sees who I am, I don't really care if they call me Christian or not-Christian, Pagan or not-Pagan. If they see who I am, then the words they choose to apply vart depending on how they define the words.

Trying to solve the problems of the world

The problems that face us humans include:
  • How to live sustainably, so that we can live well for many generations to come.
  • How to get along with each other, replacing violence, oppression, and poverty with freedom, equality, kindness, respect, and integrity.
We humans come with many different interests and abilities and perspectives. If we could all work together, maybe we could solve these problems. But, I think in order to all work together, we need to solve the poverty, violence, oppression, and so forth, so it's a bit of a chicken and egg problem. Other things that we need in order to be able to all work together on solving these problems:
  • For everyone to have education and access to information. The internet helps a lot with access to information, though we are still a long way from everyone having access to all information they should have access to. I don't think we are doing such a good job with education, based on the lack of wisdom and knowledge I see. Actually, I think certain aspects of our society (e.g. Glenn Beck) foster ignorance.
  • Health. It is hard to focus on solving the problems of the world when we are exhausted or in pain.
I don't have the solutions to poverty, violence, oppression, and sustainable living. What appeals to me is working on the second list, on education, information access, and health, empowering people to work together on the items on the first list. We need engineers, architects, scientists, policymakers, and activists to work together to transform our world. I could never do a lot of those jobs. But I can work in education, helping students grow into becoming the people who will be able to transform our world.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mercedes Lackey's early Valdemar books

I don't like Mercedes Lackey's books quite as much as I like books by Robin McKinley, Cynthia Voigt, Tamora Pierce, and Frances Hardinge, but they are solid. They do the job of engaging me, and have more positive than negative attributes. And the big advantage is there are a lot of them, so they can still provide me with fresh entertainment. I've read the books by the other authors I mentioned multiple times already, and sometimes I like something new.

I read a few Mercedes Lackey books, enough to know they were good, and then I decided to read them all in chronological order. That is, in the order in which they happened, not the order in which they were written. She has actually written books about several different universes, but so far I've only been in the Valdemar universe.

That universe starts out with the Mage Wars books. They held my attention, but if they were the first books I read by her, I probably would not have bothered to read any more.

Next were the Last Herald Mage books. Those were good. Very gripping. A young man lives through bullying, isolation, and loss, and emerges to devote himself to serving humanity. Actually quite good, the books in this trilogy are on a par with books by Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley.

Last night I read Foundation. The other books were in trilogies, and this book is clearly not a standalone book. It is as if a whole book is divided into multiple bindings. (I don't know if this will be a trilogy like the others, so I'm not sure how many bindings the book is divided into.) The sequel will be published three days from today, and I ordered it on inter-library loan a week and a half ago.

One nice thing about this book is that the main character does not come from privilege. For example, they say they are overcrowded, and apologetically ask if it's okay if he sleeps in a heated, furnished room that's in the stable. They think it's treating him poorly to make him sleep in the stable, while he thinks it's amazing to be able to sleep in a heated, furnished room.

There was a nice description of a winter solstice observance. People gather together and take turns sharing stories and songs on the theme of hope in darkness, or something good emerging after a bad time. There is a container of earth, and each person plants a seed in it. The container will be placed outside, and in spring, plants will grow.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Solstice Wood

Solstice Wood by Patricia McKillip.  A bit of Midsummer Night's Dream to it, a midsummer night with magical and non-magical people meandering and mixing around the forest. Four hours tonight spent in that world.  With Sylvia, hiding her self because she is afraid they will hate her if they know who she really is.  With Iris, furiously stitching away, trying to create walls to block out the unknown which she fears.  With Liam, unafraid of the unknown, opening himself to the mystery, finding beauty all around him.  With Tyler, numbing his pain by escaping into computer games.

These are the people that I am.  And then the book comes to an end and I return to the world.  The world of hacking against a boring job, struggling with incompetent and uncooperative people, the world of people treating me with scorn.  I started the book to escape this world.  But I had to come back to it.  Sylvia escaped to a magical world, and when she returned from it, she was healed.  But when I returned, it was all still there.  How do I move forward? I live in a dead end.

Friday, September 24, 2010

How to get through the winter?

What is it that makes the summer feel better? If it's daylight, maybe I should get one of those lights they use for people with seasonal affective disorder.  If it's the fresh air from having the windows open all the time, maybe I should leave the window open a crack even in winter, and be sure to spend time outside.  If it's the warmth, maybe I should keep the windows closed, stay inside, and turn up the heat.

Weather this September has often been in the 60s, but now we are having a wave of warmth, with 70s the past few days, and 80s today.  I feel the way I do in the spring -- I wasn't conscious of feeling oppressed by the colder weather, but when the warmer weather comes, I feel the oppression has lifted.  It's the same way that I'm not conscious of feeling oppressed in the city, but when I go out to the country, I feel the oppression has lifted.

What exactly is it that makes me feel better in the warmer weather? It seems to have to do with feeling warm fresh air blowing on my skin, feeling the warmth of sun shining on me, seeing the leaves moving in the wind, walking barefoot, the freedom of movement permitted by summer clothing, and spending time outside.  I don't like hot humid days, but on those days, I like the cooler evenings.

Tree books

In order to learn about trees, I have gotten nine tree books out of the library. My plan is to figure out which I like best, and then buy those. I don't want to have to carry around nine books every time I go to look at trees! Here are some comments about the books I've gotten from the library, as well as some books that I have not yet gotten.

Books structured by identification keys. These books take you through a decision tree: i.e. if tree has this feature, go to this page, if a different feature, go to a different page.
  • Arbor Day Foundation. What Tree is That? A Guide to the More Common Trees Found in North America.
    I have not seen this book yet, but it says it covers more than 250 kinds.
  • Symonds, George W., and Chelminski, Stephen V. Tree Identification Book: A New Method for the Practical Identification and Recognition of Trees.
    The way this book is arranged makes it easy to use for a beginner. However, I ended up not being able to find some of the trees I was trying to identify. I think it's good, but should probably be supplemented by a more comprehensive book. Lots of black and white pictures.
  • Watts, May T. Tree Finder: A Manual for the Identification of Trees by Their Leaves.
    This is the smallest book physically, and would fit in a large pocket, which makes it easy to take with you. Uses leaves only to identify trees. Includes about 150 trees.
  • Watts, May T. Winter Tree Finder: A Manual for Identifying Deciduous Trees in Winter (Eastern US).
    The winter counterpart of Tree Finder.
Books in which identification keys are secondary. These books do have identification keys, but they are just a few pages of a big book. Book is mainly pages of information about specific types of trees.

  • Grimm, William Carey. The Illustrated Book of Trees: The Comprehensive Field Guide to More than 450 Trees of Eastern North America.
    Includes line drawings.
  • Petrides, George A., and Peterson, Roger Tory. A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs: Northeastern and North-Central United States and Southeastern and South-Central Canada.
    Covering 455 species, this book is more comprehensive than the other books in this category. However, I found it harder to use, especially for a beginner. In order to identify trees, you choose your path through the identification key by determining things like whether end buds are clustered, or whether leaves are feather-veined, and I don't always know things like that. Another thing that I didn't like was the way the pictures were separate from the text, so you had to keep flipping back and forth.
  • Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Trees.
    In order by taxonomy. Includes more than 600 species. With color illustrations. Has a few paragraphs about each family, and then just the basics for each species.
Books which group trees. In these books, you leaf through the appropriate section in order to find the tree you want.
  • DeGraaf, Richard M., and Sendak, Paul E. Native and Naturalized Trees of New England and Adjacent Canada: A Field Guide.
    There are 14 sections, for example, "palmately compound." Each type of tree has about two pages which give details of things such as leaves, bark, habitat, etc. Has line drawings.
  • Farrar, John Laird. Trees of the Northern United States and Canada.
    Similar in structure to DeGraaf and Sendak book, in that trees are divided into 12 groups, and many species have two pages about them (non-native trees are given less space), telling about leaves, bark, habitat, etc. However, this book seems better because it includes more kinds of trees, and because it has color photos. I could see myself reading about a few trees each night before I go to bed, enjoying the beauty of the photographs.
Photo identification.
  • Little, Elbert L. National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region.
    Front section includes photos of green leaves, fall leaves, flowers, fruits, pods. Find the photo that matches what you are looking at, and then turn to the page number given for details about what kind of tree it is.

Books to read. Not so much for identification, but books you can read to learn more about trees.
  • Blouin, Glen. An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies.
    Has several pages on each of 50 kinds of trees.First page for each tree gives the basic facts: leaf, flower, fruit, twig, bark, wood, heigh, diameter, longevity. Following pages tell interesting things, such as how used by humans throughout history and how used by wildlife. Includes color photos.
  • Fergus, Charles. Trees of New England: A Natural History.
  • Kricher, John C., Peterson, Roger Tory, and Morrison, Gordon. A Field Guide to Eastern Forests: North America.
  • Wells, Diana. Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History.
    Tells about history and mythology of 100 kinds of trees.
  • Wessels, Tom. Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England.

Trees

I have been learning about trees as part of my druid studies.  Trees have been around me all my life, and they did not seem particularly noteworthy.  But now that I have started learning, I realize there is so much to learn.  It's not like I can just read a book and then I'll know trees.  It's like a wealth of things which will continue unfolding for years.  Now, as the leaves change colors for fall, there are so many things to learn which were not there in summer.  Did you know that sugar maples turn red or orange, while Norway maples turn yellow? And sugar maples turn earlier than Norway maples.  Did you know that locust trees turn yellow, and they turn earlier than many other trees?

Now, walking down the street is an experience of wonder.  There are so many trees to be seen.  And, when driving, I have to be careful to pay attention to the road, because I tend to get fascinated by the trees.

Fatigue and Health

Reading over the posts I wrote in August, I see how affected I was by fatigue, and how it caused me to be irritable and antisocial.  I have been feeling better for the past week.  When I am ill with fatigue, it is so hard to imagine that I will ever feel any differently.  I once read something that described chronic fatigue syndrome as walking around carrying a refrigerator on your shoulders.  When I have that refrigerator, I feel that is just what life is like, life is that hard, and I just have to keep on going anyhow, have to do my job, do my chores, and try to carve out some happiness.  And then the refrigerator goes away, and I feel so much lighter.  Suddenly, it seems pleasant to go out and be around people.  Suddenly I just do things, I'm not forcing myself to do them any more.  Always I am looking for a cause for the presence or absence of the fatigue.  If I go to bed earlier will the refrigerator go away? How about if I exercise more? Or exercise less? Have caffeine? Quit caffeine?  Go out more? Stay home more?  There are no easy answers.  I work hard to live a healthy lifestyle, but the refrigerator comes and goes according to its own whims.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wrinkled trees

Looking at maple trees, I see that younger trees have smoother skin, while older trees have deeply wrinkled skin.  Trees don't use skin cream to try to hide their wrinkles. I hope that as I age, I can be like that tree, standing tall, unashamed of who I am.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fun with friends

Sometimes I go rollerblading or rowing or kayaking, and I feel, "This is wonderful! I should do this every day!"

Sometimes I don't go anywhere, and I think, "It is so great to have free time, to not have to go places.  I should stay home all the time!"

Lately, I mostly find people annoying.  And, I love having time to myself, to pursue my own agenda, whether it's kayaking, staying home, becoming a druid, or practicing tai chi.  Most of the time, I'm glad I don't have people around to take me away from the things I want to do.  Mostly I look upon social events as chores I'd like to avoid.  But I spent this evening with friends, and so now I'm like, "This was great! I should spend time with people all the time!"

The best part was when my friend and her toddler and I were dancing around the living room singing along to Chim Chiminy.  It has been a long time since I had that kind of fun, and I had forgotten what it was like.

A decade ago, I could be like that with my group of friends, and that's what I loved about being in that group of friends, but then that was over, and I was left hurt and cynical.

Connecting with people in that way is not something you can control.  Sometimes we are blessed to have something like that in our lives; other times, our lives are stripped of people we can connect with.  We do have some choice about to what extent we open our lives to other people, but we can't control what we get when we do open our lives.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sounds emerge from darkness

It's funny how sounds become louder in the darkness.  Often, I turn on relaxing music to listen to as I get ready for bed and then as I fall asleep.  I set it for a comfortable volume while I'm getting ready for bed, and then as soon as I turn out the light to go to sleep, I want to turn down the volume.  That one I've been aware of for a long time, but today I noticed a new one.  I tried eating by candlelight, with the lights off, and I found that suddenly, I could hear the crickets.  Usually I notice them when I'm on my balcony, but not when I'm indoors.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Druid, Quaker, Pagan, and Catholic

Since I became a Druid, I've felt closer to Quakerism, Paganism, and Catholicism.

I used to be a Quaker, and I always liked their values, but the main thing they did was sit in silence, and I didn't get a lot out of that.  Now, as a Druid, I practice daily meditation, so I've found how to get something out of silence.

For some people, Druidry is like a denomination within Paganism.  Others are Druids but don't consider themselves Pagan.  They may be atheist, monotheist, or pantheist.  I  do  not consider myself Pagan.  However, Druidry does have a lot of the same practices as Paganism, so now I feel closer to Paganism.

And though Catholics would probably find this quite alarming and heretical, I am finding, with my background in Quaker simplicity, that the use of candles, incense, rituals, altars, water, robes etc. in Druidry makes me feel closer to Catholics.  Druids even have a ritual very similar to the Catholic ritual of crossing yourself.

Indulgences

There are so many things I want to do.  My job takes up much of my time, and free time seems like a scarce resource.  There are far more things I want to do than I have time for.  They are things I truly want to do, things that I enjoy, things that are relaxing.  And yet, they are work, they require effort, thought, energy.  Sometimes I'm tired.  Sometimes I just don't feel like accomplishing things any more.  But maybe I should allow myself to include in each day more time spent on indulgences, time on just lying around, staring at trees if I'm on my balcony or listening to music if I'm indoors, time reading fantasy novels.

The things that I want to be doing include: gardening, tai chi, Nia, going to the farmer's market, taking care of chores such as laundry, ironing and bills; rollerblading, kayaking, clearing the clutter in my house in order to make my house a sanctuary for myself, reading blogs, writing blogs, writing emails, preparing playlists, spending time outdoors with field guides in order to learn to identify trees and other plants, figuring out what to do with my life, and reading books on topics like nature, sustainable living, qigong, tai chi, and druidry.  Those are just my current things. If I had time, I also would join a Morris dancing group, join the voluntary simplicity group, volunteer for the farmer's market and the community gardens, visit relatives, go to Nantucket, Maine, and the Olympic Peninsula, and take classes in various forms of dance, such as jazz and African.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Maya equivalent of a druid

The article "Learning from Don Juan" in the Spring 2010 issue of COA: The College of the Atlantic Magazine (go to page 11, or search for "Don Juan"), profiles Don Juan Witzil Cima of the Yucatan Peninsula.  The article says, "Don Juan is a farmer, counselor, judge, healer, basket maker, father, teacher, guide, knowledge keeper, and so much more." It seems to me that in his role as a h'men in the Maya community, he is the sort of person that druids aspire to be.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why I refrain from interaction

It seems I prefer  not to talk to people.  If I've observed someone for a while and have decided they are okay, then I will start talking to that person.  But most people don't get deemed okay.  It seems terribly elitist.  I think that part of the reason for it is because I'm hurt by the things people say (such as giving me health advice) so I don't want to talk unless I think it is safe.  Also, I think it makes a difference that I don't have enough people on my wavelength.  If I felt I was part of a supportive community, then I wouldn't mind reaching out to people even though they might say something I didn't like.  It's like, you don't mind eating a bad-tasting thing if it is only 1% of your diet so much as you mind having 100% of what you eat be bad-tasting.

Another factor is fear of awkwardness.  I usually don't know what to say to people.  If I start a conversation with someone, then after saying one thing, I'll have to say a second and a third, and a fourth, and I might run out after the first.  That ties in with the previous reason, because people who aren't on my wavelength say weird stuff that I don't know how to respond to.

Also, I don't know how to steer people away from the things that I don't like.   There's a way to stand up for yourself without hurting the other person, like if someone says something unsupportive, I can say, "Gee, you're supportive," in a way like I'm teasing them for how unsupportive they are being.   But it's only once in a while that I can come up with a good response on the spot .  That's another problem -- I usually think of what I want to say two hours later.

It seems like a negative trait to be so withdrawn from other people, but I don't want to push myself to talk to people just for the sake of it.  To a certain extent, this is a winter time in my life -- a time of quiet, stillness, retreating inward, and yet growing.  The growth that is taking place within is what will be my strong roots when my blossoms are ready to burst forth.  To try to go forth now would be going forth without being ready, so it would not bear fruit.  I used to be more sociable in the past, and a more sociable time will come again, but now is not that time.  I have many great people in my life now, but now, a time when fatigue brings me a feeling of sensory overload just from being around other people, is not the time to add new people.  At least not people who I would have to see in person and go out and do things with.  I don't have the energy for that.  However, I do have many rewarding interactions by computer and phone.

Continuing easing of irritability

As I wrote on Aug. 7, I've been feeling sick, and that has produced considerable irritability.  For four days now, the sick part has been over, though there is still much fatigue.  With the lifting of some of  the physical symptoms, it has become easier to cope with the irritability.  Today was a very frustrating day at work, with many causes for irritability, and yet on many occasions, when I felt the irritation flare, I was able to rise above it.  I thought of calmer, more peaceable attitudes toward other people.  I put a positive spin on it by thinking that today provides us with many opportunities to work on our patience.  I am grateful to the health which has allowed me to return to the disposition that I feel is more myself.  I must remember compassion when those who are sick do not take a positive attitude.  When I do feel irritability, I want to observe it and identify its cause.  It seems to me that the causes are:
  1. Frustration.  Not being able to work on tasks that need to get done.  Working under people who make detrimental policies which I then have to enforce.  Working under people who don't tell you they've invented a new policy, and then act like the policy has always been there and criticize you for not following the policy they never told you about.  All of these are about a mismatch between what I want to do and what I'm able to do.  The solution is to look at the reality of the situation, and consider what I can do within that reality.  Can I change the circumstances to better allow me to do what I want? Or can I change to new goals that better fit my circumstance?
  2. Overload.  When I am very tired, then any task before me becomes annoying.  Even sounds and sights become annoying because they demand sensory processing.  The solution to this is rest, stillness, quiet, darkness.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Melting the black cloud of irritability

The past 16 days or so have been hard.  I've had this sickness residing with me.  Except for one day, it has not been bad enough to keep me abed.  However, it is something that makes me miserable while I keep on doing things.  I hack away at trying to fulfill my responsibilities, and yet I wilt in that role.  I just don't have the impetus to do things.  Along with the physical symptoms comes a black cloud of irritability.  Just hearing people have conversations annoys me.

I think that what would help me is to make sure I get plenty of sleep, and to spend some of my waking hours relaxing.  That's what I have been trying to do as much as I can.  However, sometimes I can't fall asleep.  And I have responsibilities and commitments to fulfill.  I did take a couple days off from work, and I did spend some of my evenings deliberately turning away from chores and relaxing instead, but so far, it has not been enough.

I find my peace in my practice of meditating every evening out on my balcony.  Being outdoors gazing at trees and sky helps a great deal.  During this time, my irritability melts away.  I am grateful that my discovery of druidry has brought me this meditation practice, which in turn has brought me relief from the black cloud of irritability.  Of course, that is not all it has brought me.  In the past, I had various strands of interests strewn about here and there, with little direction.  Druidry has drawn those strands into a coherent whole, and given me the inspiration to pursue those interests.

My responsibility as a druid is to serve the earth and to serve society, but my third (or perhaps first) obligation is to care for myself, so that I can better fulfill the other obligations.  The past fortnight has been a good example of that.  I can't do a good job of serving humanity if I get annoyed every time a human speaks within earshot of me.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Plant mages, qi, and pantheism

I find Tamora Pierce's Circle novels to be a good source of inspiration for my druid path. In these books, she writes about what she calls "ambient mages," which are different from "academic mages." Academic mages are like Harry Potter. Academic mages have power within themselves, and they seem to rely more on things like spells, potions, and wands. Ambient mages find power in the world around them. Each has a particular element or craft in which they find magic. It's plants for Briar and Rosethorn, thread and cloth for Sandry and Lark, metal for Daja and Frostpine, weather for Tris, vision for Niko, stone for Evvy, dance for Paco, cooking for Jory, wood for Nia, and glass for Keth.

When I was reading Street Magic recently, I was struck by how Briar draws power from plants. As I walked to work, I looked at the trees and bushes all around me, and imagined that magic was flowing into me from them. Not that I was taking power away from them, just that I felt stronger for being in their presence.

Then I took a qigong class. The teacher talked about drawing in strong, healing qi energy from the world around us. It was very much like the drawing energy from plants which I had just been thinking of.

It also fits with pantheism. We pantheists see the divine as something which pervades the universe, and we feel the presence of the divine when we are out in nature, which is sort of like drawing magic from plants.

I don't believe in literal magic. Briar's drawing magic from plants provides a good metaphor for my pantheism, and having that metaphor strengthens my spirituality.

Connecting earth and air

As part of my druid path, I've been practicing the Sphere of Protection ritual. In so doing, I've noticed a lack of connection between earth and air. That is, I have lots of ideas of things to do flying around in my head, but they lack connection with the realities of my energy and time. Having noticed this, I've tried to connect them better. In summer, I always think about going to outdoor concerts, going to county fairs, going kayaking, going to Maine, and visiting my family. But the reality is, I don't have to do all those things to be happy. The reality is, if I did all those things, I would be tired and my house would be a mess and my laundry wouldn't be done. The reality is, those things are not necessary for happiness. I can find happiness sitting on my balcony in the evening, listening to the crickets, and watching the leaves move in the wind.

On the other hand, I do find I great deal of joy in the more adventurous things I've listed. My paternal grandmother once made a comment that when you look back on your life, you'll be glad of the adventures you had, and you won't care so much whether or not you kept your floors clean.

I don't want to spend all the time that I'm not at work doing chores. But I would like to put some time into making my home into the kind of environment that I like to be in, and I would like to live at a slow enough pace that I have some peace of mind and am not constantly pushing myself beyond my energy level.

Lughnasadh of my life

This is the time of year when we observe Lughnasadh. It occurs to me that where I'm at in my life now is at Lughnasadh. That is, Lughnasadh is the peak of the thermal summer (as opposed to the solar summer, which peaks at solstice). We still have a lot of summer ahead, and yet we know summer is waning now, rather than waxing. If the year parallels life, then spring is childhood and adolescence, summer is the middle years of childrearing and career, fall is when we retire from work and our kids are grown, but we still have a vibrant life, and winter is when we decline and die. And so, I'm at the point in adulthood when I'm no longer starting out. And yet, I feel as if I still am starting out. I feel as if I haven't yet found my path. As those who know me will attest, I am always wondering, "what should I do with my life?"

What do I want to do with my life? Over the past few years, certain values have emerged. What has not yet emerged is what I can do to enact those values. What I hope to do with my life is to live those values myself, and to support others who are seeking the same things.

As I see that my life is finite, that I have limited time to do whatever it is I will do with my life, I also see that my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are older than I am, and I probably won't be able to be with them my whole life. I want to take advantage of the opportunity to be with them while I still have that opportunity.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Heat wave

"Horizontal Hold" by Peter Ostroushko is a song about what to do when there's a snowstorm -- get in bed with popcorn, board games, etc.

This week, we have the summer variation, with temperatures in the 90s predicted for at least four days (I know, that's nothing to the Texans, but here in northeastern US, it's an event).  Stephen and Bridget said they were planning to stock up on popsicles and lemonade, and stay in with the air conditioning.

I like the way Stephen and Bridget, just like Peter Ostroushko,  make unpleasant weather into a cozy adventure.

Nevertheless, mostly I like weather when I can comfortably be outdoors.  Sometimes it seems winter is better in that regard, because you can be outside if you bundle up and keep moving, while in summer, sometimes there is no way to be comfortable outside.

But at least in summer, it cools down at night.  Tonight after sunset I sat out on my balcony.  It had cooled down to the mid 80's -- warmer than I prefer, but bearable for sitting outside in the dark.  I gazed at the leaves on the trees.  I think that is what I love about summer -- being able to sit outside and gaze upon leafy trees.

But there is no point in choosing a favorite season.  Though we do have some choice about where to live, the seasons are the seasons, and the weather is the weather, and hopefully we can find joy in all seasons, because life is too short not to find joy in every moment.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fireworks

Usually I say that I like to go to the fireworks for the atmosphere, not because I like fireworks themselves.  I like the coming together of the people in the community.  I like being outside on summer evenings.  Last night, as I waited for fireworks to start, I thought, "Maybe I should just go home now.  I've been here since 5:00 and enjoyed it, and now I've gotten what I wanted to get out of it, and now I'm tired.  The fireworks will just be loud noises assaulting my eardrums."  But I waited, and I enjoyed the fireworks.  The experience I had with them was similar to what I recall from 1998.  When it seems like I'm directly under them and I gaze up at them, it's like getting entranced by a magical world.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Morning Song

A great way to begin every day is by singing "Morning Song," written by Daniel Dutton and recorded by Atwater Donnelly.

Cooking

After what I wrote yesterday about consumption vs. making things myself, especially with regard to cooking, it was interesting to read James Beard's introduction to The Fannie Farmer Cookbook:

The decades following Miss Farmer's death in 1915 were not a particularly distinguished  period in American cooking.  Perhaps it was because the average American woman suddenly found herself with no help at all and, instead of wanting to learn cooking, she was interested in liberating herself from the kitchen.  Perhaps Prohibition had its depressing influence.  Whatever the reason, for a long time, the emphasis was on oversimplification, shortcut methods, bastardization of traditional recipes and, as more convenience foods came on the market, there was more reliance on them.  The magazines were full of casseroles covered with a condensed soup or packaged sauce and ersatz products like flavored salts dulled the palate.  It seemed that the spirit and influence of that great woman was drowned in a sea of jellied salad.
One thing that strikes me about that is that James Beard's idea of too much reliance on shortcut measures is still more elaborate cooking than I want to do.  If I cooked according to his idea of shortcut methods, I would feel I was doing my own cooking and did not have to feel guilty.  Which goes to show how much such views of how much to rely on convenience is a result of the time and the culture.

I think for my own life, I should not feel guilty for not being a more elaborate cook.  Compared to many people around me, I buy less.  I re-use more.  I bring my own lunches to work, sandwiches made at home.  But it's not about comparing myself to other people.  There is a part of me that values reducing consumption.  I need to explore that part of me, and make my own choices about what I actually want to do.  Maybe I never will get into cooking, but maybe I'll find other ways to put that value into practice.

Right now I'm happy to have just had a simple lunch made at home, consisting of salad, tofu, and bread with hummus.  The salad ingredients and bread were from the farmer's market.  The tofu and hummus were organic.

Sometimes though, I feel I don't have the time or energy to prepare food.  That's okay.  It's up to me to decide how I want to allocate my finite time and energy. I don't seem to be entirely happy with my allocations now, so it's something to think about.  However, I will never be entirely happy with my allocations, because the amount I want to do always exceeds the available time and energy, so I will always be frustrated about the things I'm not doing.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dark times, healing, health, and prevention

Healing is the attempt to alleviate ailments.  It is good because it directs care and nurturing to other people.  However, what is even better is health.  To be in need of healing is to have discomforts which impair your ability to do the things you want to do.

I read about how observing seasonal rituals reminds us of the changing nature of life.  I read that there is no life without death, and no light without darkness.

But it is not really true that we must get equal measures of both.  I was reading about how we must have a season of darkness and a season of light, but in the tropics, people get the same amount of darkness and light all year round.

Though we all die, some live to be 100 while others only live to be 5.  Though most of us have some times of health and some times of sickness, some of us live with chronic illness our entire lives while others are rarely sick.

The changing of the seasons is beyond our control.  However, we live with them as best we can.  Here in the northern U.S., we cope with the dark time of the year by heating our homes, enjoying cozy indoor time, and enjoying winter sports such as skiing and sledding.

So too are illness and death often beyond our control.  And so too must we live with them as best we can.  But at the same time, there are things we can do.  We can research the causes and treatment of illness and injury, and then we can apply that knowledge for prevention and treatment.  This is the role of healers.

The same thinking applies to the earth.  The earth may be sick with contamination, but we can research and apply methods to heal this contamination.

And the same also applies to the problems of humanity, such as poverty, prejudice, and violence.

Life will bring us dark times.  To a certain extent, this is beyond our control.   But healers are those who seek to lessen these things.  And my focus as a healer is on prevention.  Illness and injury can be prevented through healthful practices.  Harm to the earth can be prevented through sustainable living.  Poverty, prejudice, and violence can be prevented through education and opportunity.  We can never prevent all negative things, and we should not condemn ourselves for failing to do so.  And because we can never prevent all negative things, we also need the skills to alleviate the bad things once they happen.  I think I need to learn these alleviation skills, but I think that my own personal calling is to focus primarily on prevention.

Consumption vs. making your own

Specialization of work makes us more efficient and productive, and yet, it can be taken too far if we pay for someone to do every personal chore.  There seem to be certain cultural attitudes, and certain ideas which I've internalized, about what is okay to buy and what I should do for myself.

I have no expectation that I should spin my own yarn, weave my own fabric, sew my own clothes, wash my clothes by hand, grow all my own food, make my own flour, bake my own bread, make my own dishes and silverware, or build my own house.  However, I feel that people should not hire housekeepers or cooks (although exceptions may be made in the case of disability).   I feel that I should cook my own meals.  It doesn't have to be fancy -- it can be frozen vegetables, canned beans, and rice.   I feel I should avoid eating prepared foods such as frozen dinners or something from a restaurant on a regular basis, although prepared foods are okay when sick or unusually busy, and a restaurant is okay when going out with people for a special occasion.  I don't have kids so I don't have to decide about that, but it seems that people who put kids in day care are frowned upon, while it is expected that kids will be put in school.

These rules in my head are arbitrary and arise from my cultural circumstance.  I can choose to make new goals for myself.  I don't yet know what those would be.  In a way, I want a life that is based more on making things than on consumerism.  But on the other hand, I don't like cooking.  I often eat prepared foods or buy food at coffee shops, but then I feel guilty about it.  So I want to relax my rules so I don't have to feel guilty about not cooking.

Maybe I can find a way that suits me.  Maybe I can relax the rules about cooking while putting more time into making things that I actually like making.

Do I like making anything? It seems I mostly like reading, writing, music, and movement, rather than working with physical objects.

Figuring all this out will be part of my druid journey.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kill them with kindness

There's an article at http://www.bc.edu/publications/chronicle/TopstoriesNewFeatures/features/Dalton052710.html about someone who helps out those in need in a variety of ways, including growing out his hair and donating it to Locks of Love. 

It shows how an ordinary person can make a difference.

I like the motto he learned from his mother, "Kill them with kindness." 

I think often if faced with someone who is not being nice, if you treat them as if you assume they will be nice, they will try to live up to your expectation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Serving Others, Serving Yourself

They always say it should be about serving others, not about serving yourself.  Instead of trying to advance your career, you should try to help those in need.

But, you also have to take yourself into account.  If you have phobias of needles and blood, you probably should not serve others as an EMT or nurse.

I read Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer some months ago.  He said something along those lines.  He said that you shouldn't try to do what is most noble, instead, you should listen to hear what your calling is.

I am always asking myself what should I do with my life.  I think in terms of what would be a match for my skills and interests.  I never seem to find the answer.  Sometimes I think it is because I am framing the question wrong, that if my goal was to respond to what others need rather than to find the niche I match, maybe I would do better.  But I'm not looking selfishly for wealth and prestige.  I'm looking for a niche where there's a match between what I have to offer and what is needed, and I'm trying to figure out what I have to offer.

Maybe it's not that I am framing the question wrong.  I don't have to pathologize myself all the time.  It's okay to still be looking.  It's part of the cycle of life.  Sometimes we are at a phase of life that is right for us, and we throw ourselves into it.  Other times, we find ourselves in the wrong place, and keep looking for the right place.  People tell me I should stop looking for something and just be happy with what I have, like there's something wrong with me for looking too much.  But I have had times in my life when I was at the right place and could embrace what I had.  I know what being in the right place is, and where I am now is not it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pantheist Prayer

Why would pantheists pray? We don't believe there is a sentient entity listening who is capable of choosing to grant our wishes. 

Prayer opens my heart.   Normally, I go through the day trying to be functional and content.  In prayer, I open my heart to my yearnings, and realize what I truly wish for, that what I wish for is not to get through my to do list, but for health and family and peaceful moments.  In prayer, I wish well to people I care about, and to people unknown to me.  Doing so opens up my compassion.  I feel sadness for the hardships of others.  When I open myself up to feel that sadness, I hopefully will be moved to act more kindly toward others.  In prayer, I express my gratitude and joy for all the beauty that surrounds me, things that I otherwise might not pay attention to, things like friends, kindness, trees, and music.

My druid path

Druidry is different things to different people.  We must all find our own paths.  My druid path has three elements:
  1. Druids served their society as diplomats, judges, advisors, keepers of history, healers, and priests. A druid path is a path of service to humanity.  I seek to sow harmony rather than discord, and to inspire people to act with kindness, compassion, integrity, and wisdom. 
  2. Druidry is an earth-centered spirituality.   In addition to service to humanity, my druid path includes service to the earth.  The earth is our home and the source of all our sustenance.  I will try to live sustainably and be a caretaker to our habitat.
  3. In order to give the best to humanity and the earth, I must grow into the best person I can be.  I will seek to continually grow in knowledge, skill, wisdom, and compassion.  Although illness and injury are often unavoidable, I will try to live a healthy lifestyle.  I will try to act with integrity and kindness.  To aid my spiritual growth, I will engage in spiritual practices such as meditation, movement, music, ritual, and spending time outdoors.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Trees as healers

I sit gazing upon a tree. It brings peace to my soul. In this way, the tree is a healer. The tree doesn't try to be a healer. Just by being, it heals.

I can be that kind of healer. By being true and kind and grounded, my presence can be healing to others. I don't have to try to change other people in order to heal them.

Druids as healers

Druids are healers.

I mean this in two ways.

Druids learn and share knowledge in service to their societies.  They cover many areas of knowledge. One of these areas is preventing and relieving physical ailments.  That is the narrower and more literal interpretation of my statement that druids are healers.

The broader and more abstract interpretation is that druids fix what is broken and heal what is hurt, and not only in the realm of physical ailments.  Following a druid path can mean approaching life with an attitude of helping and soothing. 

How are these two interpretations of druids as healers applicable to my own path? I view my own druid path as a path of service to humans, to the earth, and to myself.  (I have a draft of a blog about this, maybe it will be ready to publish before long.)  Thus, one way to look at it is that my purpose should be to serve in a healing capacity to humans, the earth, and myself.  For humans, I help those who are lost or in need to find their way.  For the earth, I try to live sustainably and heal the damage done by humans to our habitat.  And for myself, I try to grow spiritually so that I can live up to my potential, which will improve what I can give to the world.

It all sounds good in theory.  I'm a lot better with theory than with reality.  I'm standoffish.  I don't jump in to help.  Is this selfishness? Am I more interested in protecting myself than in healing others?

But on the other hand, we all have different natures, and we have to be true to our natures.  Some people are extraverted while others are introverted.  The world needs both types.  Different types of people make different types of contributions to the world.  What is my contribution? Well, that's where the part about growing spiritually comes in.  I'm still trying to find my place.

As for the other interpretation of healing, that which is specifically about physical ailments: I do not see myself as someone who would specialize in that area.  However, we all have bodies, and we all know people who have bodies, so in order to care for ourselves and our loved ones, there are some things we should know.  We should know about healthy living, including about nutrition, sleep, stress, toxins, and exercise.  We also should know when to seek help from medical professionals.  Those of us who suffer from chronic conditions, or who are close to people who suffer from a chronic condition, should understand those conditions.

And that is why I have chosen to study healing as part of my druid study: to learn about healthy living so that I can give good care to my body, to be able to help others with physical problems until they can get proper medical attention, and to develop a generally healing attitude in my approach to life.

Druid Pantheist or Pantheist Druid? Capitalized or not?

Some people capitalize Pantheist and Druid.  I think it is because they see these things as specific religions, so they capitalize them just as they capitalize Christian or Catholic.  I see pantheist as parallel to atheist, polytheist, and monotheist, which are not capitalized.  I see druid as a bit more complex.  I think that to say someone is a druid is like saying they are a vegetarian or an animal rights activist or a pacifist, so it is not capitalized.  However, I think it should be capitalized when used with a narrower meaning, such as to say someone has attained the rank of Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids.

So, I call myself pantheist and druid without capitalization.  I will not criticize anyone who uses capitalization when applying those labels to themselves.  I think we all have the right to choose our own labels.

But am I a pantheist druid or a druid pantheist?  In such a phrase, the first word is an adjective describing an attribute or state, while the second word is a noun, identifying what a person is.  For example, a person may be described as a wise woman or a happy child.  By this reasoning, I label myself a druid pantheist.  A pantheist is what I am -- I cannot change on a whim my fundamental beliefs about the nature of the world.  Druidry is a practice in which I choose to engage, but which I could at some time choose to stop doing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Solstice

Summer solstice.  It's a bittersweet time for me.  For me, summer solstice itself is a beautiful time.  But the fact that the sunlight has reached its peak means that now it will be declining.

The past few years, winters have been times of ill health, of fatigue and dreariness, of living with the constant tension of trying to ward off the cold.  Summers in contrast are joyful times of green leaves and bare feet and embracing fresh breezes as they waft across my skin. There is something about the sight of the lush green that opens my heart.  I think it has to do with it being a sight that was imprinted upon me when I was young.

This time of year, I enjoy soothing times working in my garden and sitting on my balcony.  This time of year, I go to festivals and fireworks and outdoor concerts.  This time of year, I see sunlight sparkle on the river.


Summer is a beautiful time for me.  Summer is when I can do things outside without being negatively affected by the weather.  But some people live in climates where summer is when you have to huddle in the air conditioning all the time, and lack of air conditioning can be fatal, while winter is the time of lovely weather when one can be outdoors.

Just as summer solstice has different meanings for different people, around the world at any given moment, people are in different states.  Some are joyous, some are grieving, some are lonely, some are overwhelmed, some are sick, some are strong, some are hopeful, some are hating, some are forgiving.

When we observe the holidays that mark the turning of the year, we are reminded of how things change.  I enjoy summer, but it will fade away and leave me cowering in the cold.  I cower in the cold, but the warmth will return once again.  In the same way, I will experience times full of family and friends, and times alone; times of health and times of illness; times of joy and times of depression; times of financial security and times of poverty.

But there is a difference.  The wheel of the year is predictable.  We know how long each season will last, and we know that each season that has passed will come again.  Life is not like that.  Sometimes people are never able to lift themselves out of poverty.  Some illnesses never go away.  And I don't believe in reincarnation.  We only get to go around once, and we don't know how long a ride it will be.  Tonight I listened to a CD by Woods Tea Company.  Two of their four members have died.  Tonight, someone I know witnessed a shooting.  I know several people with ongoing illnesses.

What do I want to do while I am blessed to have this limited time on this earth? I want to dance barefoot in the grass. I want to sing at the top of my lungs.  I want to laugh with my family and friends.  Every moment we can spend with family and friends is to be treasured.

 What it boils down to, less poetically, is the same list that I've made many times before: what I want in my life are time spent with the people I like, doing things outdoors, music, and dance/movement (the "/movement" is to include things like Nia, tai chi, and yoga in addition to dance).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Spiritual paths

It is as if there is a great forest, with many different paths through it.  Some paths are called druidry, some pantheism, some paganism, some Quakerism, some atheism, some humanism, some Catholicism, some Presbyterianism, some -- what's the -ism for Baptists? It's not Baptism, is it? --, some Buddhism, some Taoism, some Hinduism, etc.  Each of us has to find the path that is true for us.  Sometimes we will spend some time on one of these predetermined paths, and some time on a different one.  Sometimes we will forge our own paths.

For me, finding a path that is already formed helps me see things more clearly.  It is not that I must follow every step of that path exactly as the path was originally formed.  It's more like opening a window.  When I am not on a forged path, I have an idea of what I am looking for, but it is rather amorphous.  When I step onto a path that has been tread before, I can see more clearly the shape of the thing which I am seeking.  It also becomes clear to me which parts of this path are for me to tread on, and which parts of this forged path do not fit my own personal path.

I was drawn to paganism because I was seeking an earth-centered spirituality.  Paganism seemed to be in the vicinity of the path I was looking for, but it was not itself the path for me.  After wandering the forest in the vicinity of paganism, I came across first pantheism and then druidry.  Those are my paths.

The druid path is a wide one.  Not all parts are for me.  There are many different druid orders and groups.  Maybe I will walk a time with one or more of those orders or groups.  But they do not define me.  Each druid seeks his or her individual path.  Groups can help us to find our way, but they cannot entirely define our individual paths.  My commitment as a druid is not to meet the requirements of a particular group.  My commitment as a druid is to continually seek to learn and grow within myself, and to bring healing to the world -- healing to humans and healing to the environment.