Saturday, December 31, 2011

Helping others

I just wrote a post about helping others. When I talk about helping others, I mean being aware of and respecting their feelings and wishes. There are a lot of things people call helping others which are really not helpful at all.

When you say to a sick person, "You would be fine if you just exercised more," that is not helping.

When a person is trying to clear all the clutter out of their house and you give them some useless knick-knack as a gift, you are not doing them a favor.

When a person is struggling with something and you say, "It's not that hard," you are not helping.

The above three examples are all cases of making things worse. I hate when people make things worse like that and then expect to be thanked for their helpfulness.

Helping others is about listening. It's about attuning yourself to the wishes of others. It's about treating other people with respect. It's about appreciating what others have to offer.

Considerate

A lot of people seem to think American Beauty was a wonderful movie. I hated it. To me, it's about a man who quits his job, neglects his family, and spends his time lusting after a friend of his teenage daughter. Meanwhile, his wife brings in the family income, takes care of the kids, prepares the meals, and takes care of the house and yard. And, the movie portrays her negatively for being uptight and glorifies her husband for being such a free spirit.

Spending time with my family over the holidays, I was reminded of this movie. No, things in my family are nowhere near as bad as they are in the movie. I just felt that some people were working for the welfare of the family, while others were not considerate of the efforts being made.

It started weeks before, as I planned my travel dates. I tried to find out everyone's schedules, and plan travel dates that would allow me to see everyone. Once I made my plan, I notified my relatives, so that those who still had not formed their plans could plan accordingly. Then, weeks after I had made my plan, my brother informed me that he and his family would be visiting my mother's house on a day that did not coincide with my plans. I had to re-work my plans, and after considering the alternatives, chose to cut short my visit with my father, because it was the least bad of the alternatives.

My brother and his family said that they would be at my mother's place from supper on one day through supper on the following day. My mother and stepfather planned menus and bought groceries to accommodate this plan. Then, at lunch on the second day, my brother and sister-in-law announced that they did not plan to stay for supper after all. It made me mad that my mother and stepfather, who don't have a lot of money, had gone to the trouble of buying food for a meal, and then my brother and sister-in-law decided they were not going to show up for that meal.

The lunch on the second day was our big meal, our Christmas dinner. Usually at my mom's house, we don't have sweets. Sometimes my sister-in-law tries to avoid sweets, but other times she enjoys them. A few weeks in advance of the Christmas dinner, my mother asked my sister-in-law whether or not they should get dessert for the Christmas dinner. My sister-in-law said yes, so my stepfather bought pies. Then, on the evening in the first supper, my sister-in-law mentioned that she did not want any dessert for Christmas dinner.

What bothers me is that my mother and stepfather went out of their way to accommodate the family, and those efforts were trampled on. I feel I am often in the same position. I feel like I'm always looking out for other people -- my family, my friends, and the people I serve in my job. I look out for them, and they take what they want and then leave me behind. I had a friend once who always wanted to spend time with me when I had a car and he didn't. Then he got a car and a girlfriend, and suddenly he wanted nothing to do with me, and alleged that it was all because of my own flaws that he wanted nothing to do with me.

I stayed an extra day at my mother's house in order to see my brother and his family. After they left, I went to my father's house. As I prepared to stay overnight at my father's house, I found that I seemed to be allergic to the blanket I had been planning to use. I got a different blanket, and that one seemed to be okay. However, my father told me all the places I could look for blankets, jackets, etc., in case I should wake up in the night and find I was allergic to this blanket after all.

After all the energy I invest in looking out for other people, someone was looking after me. It was like after tightening my coat against the cold, I could bask in sunlight. And it was not only that it was that I was being looked after. It was that I had a partner, someone who shares my belief that looking after people is the thing to do.

There is some emphasis in our culture on being assertive, standing up for yourself, not being taken advantage of. There are people who think that if I feel I am helping others but others are not giving back, that's a sign that I should be more assertive. But for me, standing up for myself means standing up against those who tell me I should stop helping others. I will not stop looking after other people because other people tell me I ought to. Instead, I seek to build a community where everyone looks after each other. I will look after people, but I will focus that energy on people who are trying to build the same kind of community I'm trying to build.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Vandals or cultural representatives?

While I was away for the holidays, I went for a walk on a dirt road which is surrounded by forest and a lake. This is one of the places where teenagers go to do things their parents don't approve of, like drinking. The forest is full of boulders, and young people like to put graffiti on the boulders. We think of the people who put the graffiti on the boulders as vandals.

Looking at graffiti on a boulder, it occurred to me that maybe some centuries in the future, some archaeologist will look at that graffiti as they try to understand our culture, just as we now look at cave drawings to provide insights into the cultures of the past. At the time those cave drawings were made, were the people who made them rebellious teenagers committing vandalism?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sustainable living in past generations

Nowadays, sustainable living is fashionable. People buy more expensive products because they are better for the environment. But past generations were not like this. My grandmother told me that during the Depression, it was common for people to gather food from the woods. She said many people were skinny because they did not have enough to eat. Her family was relatively well off because they had a big garden and chickens, and because her father knew how to make furniture and had a regular job as a mailman.

My mother blows her nose on cloth handkerchiefs. They are not cloth handkerchiefs that were bought in a store. They are made from old shirts. There were some nice plaid flannel shirts that were secondhand when I got them. I wore them often, but at least 15 years ago, I stopped wearing them because they were coming apart at the elbows. I gave them to my mother. She cut the sleeves off at the elbows. She converted the shirts into short sleeved shirts, and converted the ends of the sleeves into handkerchiefs. She still wears the shirts and uses the handkerchiefs. How old are these shirts? She has had them for 15 years, but there were two previous owners. Maybe they are about 25 years old.

My mother has a nice soft t-shirt that she wears as an inner layer. This was something that I got secondhand, and then gave to her. How old is the t-shirt? Probably older than the flannel shirts.

When people take showers at my mom's house, there's a place where the water tends to land on the floor, because the shower curtain doesn't quite close the gap with the wall. In order to prevent water damage to the floor, my mother puts a folded up old towel on the floor. I asked her about the history of the towel. She said it is the towel she and her sister used to take swimming. "So it's about 50 years old?" I ask. She says, well maybe it's not the same towel, maybe it's another towel of the same kind, that her mother got at the same time but did not use as much.

I still wear a sweater that belonged to my aunt before I was born. I'm in my 40's, so that's an old sweater. It does look a little worn. I wear it as a middle layer, between a turtleneck and a newer looking sweater. It's wool so it's nice and warm. It's a small size for me, which means it fits well under my newer sweaters.

Instead of getting swept away by trendy, expensive forms of sustainable living, we need to remember to go back to basics. We need to learn to live as our parents and grandparents lived.

A fresh and joyful approach to life

In my everyday life, I get jaded and cynical, but my family reminds me to be fresh and joyful.

A few weeks before Christmas, my grandmother's cousin visited my grandmother and aunt in Florida. She wanted to get a stick to take back to Maine from Florida. When she got one, she seemed so happy about it that my grandmother or aunt asked what she wanted it for. She said excitedly, "I'm going to make a Charlie Brown Christmas tree!"

Every day, the first word my two year old nephew says when he wakes up in the morning is "Play." When he falls down and gets a bump, some kisses from his Mama heal all his hurts. He resumes running around the house, chortling with glee.

My grandmother's cousin is old and my nephew is young, but both find joy in life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Slower pace

The place where I work is closed for a week. Even if it weren't, I would have taken this week off to be with my family. There was much to be done before I embarked on my trip. It's a busy time of year at my job, and I wanted to tie up all the loose ends before our offices closed down. I wanted to send Christmas cards to 14 people, and to prepare presents for 12. I wanted to get my bills paid and my house cleaned. I did laundry. I packed clothes, toiletries, books, laptop, Christmas presents, and even bedding and a Christmas tree. (I have a two foot high artificial tree, an air mattress, and a pump for the air mattress.) I was out of vitamins so I had to go to the store for vitamins. I went to the post office to mail some gifts.

There was so much to be done. I couldn't finish it all. But finally I just had to leave. There's a saying, "What's done is done," but for me, it was, "What's undone is undone." I just had to accept that some things were not going to get done.

So now here I am in my hometown, staying at my mom's house. What's undone is undone. Those chores are behind me now. It's a slower pace. I sit and listen to my mom. I sit and listen to my grandmother. This is what we do. We stop and listen to those around us.

I am here in this small town, where families have raised their children for generations. My grandmother tells me of when she was young, how they would gather greens from the woods for food. It was the Depression, and people needed food. I see two teenage girls walking in the woods. It occurs to me that they may be the daughters of my high school classmates.

Life goes on. These houses have stood for decades and centuries. Generation after generation, children went to school, grew up, got married, had children, and their children went to school, continuing the cycle. Feel the age of these hills. Footsteps treaded these hills hundreds of years ago, and footsteps tread them today.

I stand outside at dusk, watching the crescent moon in the west. The bare trees are silhoutted against the sky. The trees in our front yard seem to reach much higher into the sky than the trees on the hill beyond them. The trees on the hill are actually on higher ground. It is only because the trees in the yard are closer that they look larger. And so it is with life. That which is closest to us looks so large -- the tasks at work, the house to be cleaned, the bills to be paid. But if we look beyond, we see that today is only one small part of a much larger pattern.

Christmas

People say that Christmas should be about celebrating the birth of Jesus, not about consumerism. But Christmas is many things. I'm not into either consumerism or celebrating the birth of Jesus, but I do celebrate Christmas. For me, Christmas means a number of things. For one thing, it is a part of my cultural heritage. And there is a Christian aspect to it for me. I'm not Christian in the conservative sense of the word. However, what I was taught growing up was that the message of Jesus was that we should love everyone. That's a message I do believe in.

The way I was brought up, and what I still believe, is that Christmas is a good time to remember that message. It's a time to reach out to others in love. It's a time to re-connect with family, to spend time with those who live far away. It's a time when we think about what our loved ones might want, and to give them gifts that we think they would enjoy. It's a time when we send cards to people who are not part of our every day lives, as a way to maintain connections with them. It's a time when we think of those in need and make charitable donations.

In my own family, we spend the day together. We start off by going for a walk in the morning. Then we have a meal together. Then after lunch, we sit around together opening presents. Opening presents is a way of spending time together as a family. We open our presents, and together we look at them and play with them.

Christmas is also a solstice holiday. The solstice was an already existing holiday, and then the birth of Jesus was put in as an add-on. Winter solstice is a time of cold and darkness. We bring warmth to this season by gathering together, singing songs, and lighting lights. It seems a good time of year to remember someone who brought us a message of love.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My dreams

Recently someone made a comment about a dream coming true, and the thing they had dreamed off seemed so far from anything I dreamed of, that it gave me occasion to ask myself what are my dreams. I came up with four (though the first two overlap).
  • Live in a solar house.
  • Live in an eco-village with my family and friends.
  • Feel healthy.
  • Not have to go to a job which drains my energy and goes against my values.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A world filled with splendor

In her October 3 blog post Fields of Flowers, Sherry Boas writes, "We live in a world filled with splendor. To enjoy it, all we have to do is open our eyes to the ordinary as well as the extraordinary."

It is easy to forget, and good to be reminded. I am reminded each evening when I sit out on my balcony for my daily meditation. Indoors, I get caught up in worries about work, chores, and health. When I step outdoors, I am immersed in the magic of trees and sky.

Soon, it will be too cold to practice meditation outdoors, but I hope I continue to find ways to see that we do indeed live in a world filled with splendor.

Struggling along the wrong path, looking for the right path

In my work, I see many people trying to pursue a particular path. Many succeed at it, but many others fail. With those who fail, it is often clear to me that the path they are pursuing is not a good fit for them. It takes them longer to see it. They have in their mind that they have certain goals, and they persist at those goals despite all the difficulties. That's what our culture tells us -- if you work hard enough, you can be anything. But the problem is, we can't be anything. We are ourselves, and can't be someone else. Sure, we can develop capacities in areas that are not our natural strengths through hard work, but there is only so far that hard work will take us. It won't change our fundamental natures.

I see these people pursuing a path that is not right for them, and I see them blaming the environment. They say it's the fault of the system for making it so hard. And I can't suggest to them that maybe this path is not right for them, because if I do that, they will see me as part of the broken system, they will say that the problem is that I don't believe in them, they will say it is not a supportive environment.

Then finally, they decide to change paths. They cast blame on the old failed path for not welcoming them. But that's not what happened. What happened was they did not fit the path they were pursuing. And when they change paths, suddenly they are gliding into success and happiness.

I have been through the same thing. At the first place I worked after college there were a handful of us who were recent college graduates, working as administrative assistants at an organization that did worthy things. We were there because we liked the organization, and because we needed jobs. We never wanted to be administrative assistants. And so we complained and crusaded about how poorly administrative assistants were treated. But those who really were career administrative assistants, they didn't have such complaints. The problem was not that administrative assistants were treated poorly. The problem was that we did not want to be administrative assistants.

Later, I had an internship that I was unhappy with. I complained that they did not let me take much responsibility, they did not let me get involved in interesting tasks, but relegated me to menial ones. In retrospect, I realized the work they did was not a fit for me. If it had been, I would have been drawn by it, I would have become engaged.

Then I was looking for jobs, and no one would hire me. Later I realized, I was looking for jobs in a field that did not fit me. I ended up with a job that I didn't have to struggle for, a job that I glided into easily, that I loved.

But now, many years later, I am still in the job I once loved, but I no longer glide into it. It no longer fits me. Now, some things have changed, and I think the place I work is poorly managed. But is it really poorly managed, or is it just that what I am doing no longer fits me?

I have been experiencing a great deal of fatigue at the office. After recently taking a few vacation days and finding myself feeling much stronger while on vacation, I became suspicious that something about my physical office environment was contributing to the fatigue. Then yesterday, I found that when I was at a meeting in another building, I did not feel as much fatigue as I do when in my office. Today, I kept my office window open all day long, and found that I did feel better that way.

So maybe the problem I have been having with my job is not that it is poorly managed, and not that it is no longer the right fit for me, but that I have been physically affected, and that has made it difficult to get engaged in what I am doing.

I am still struggling to figure it all out. It seems like it should be so obvious to us when we are on the right path and when we are on the wrong path, and yet it's not. I feel like we are all so blind about our own situations sometimes. Sometimes, the perspectives of others can help us see what we are blind to. But that is hard too. Different people have different perspectives, and we don't know which ones are right. We believe the people who tell us what we want to hear, and disbelieve those who tell us something else.

It has been more than five years that I have felt not right in my job, and have been looking for a niche where I can earn a living. Yet all the things I look at, it seems they don't welcome me. The activities which I glide right into, which I can do for hours and hours during my free time, are things I could never earn a living at. I don't think there is any rule that says that for every person, there exists a way of earning a living that is a good fit. Maybe it is a futile search.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Looking to the future

Every moment marks the point between the past and the future. Because we tend to forget this, we have seasonal holidays to remind us. When life events mark transitions in our lives, that's another occasion when we often reflect on what we want. One example of such a transition is that of getting a house. In recent weeks, I have noticed a number of related comments from family members:

My sister-in-law: When we get a house, can we get a piano?
My brother: When we get a house, can we get a new towel?
My mother: When we get a new house, I want to get a new mattress.
Me: When I get a house I want solar power, both passive and photovoltaic.
My sister: When I get a house, I'm going to have goats and chickens.

When my sister reported to my mother what I said about solar power, it came across as what I was going to do when I grow up. My mother thought of the things she wanted, and she said in her case, "I don't want to wait until I grow up."

Then she remembered, she is 64. It might not be such a long wait until she grows up.

We all have goals for the future. These goals change over the course of our lifetimes. Holidays remind us to take stock of our current goals and work toward them. Sometimes we do have to achieve our goals in a certain order. For example, moving out of a city apartment would come before getting goats. Sometimes we find ways to get around such pre-requisites. For example, someone living in a city apartment might make an arrangement with someone who lived on a farm to spend time on the farm caring for animals.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Following your dreams does not always work out

Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford has been all over the place since his death was announced yesterday. In his speech, he tells the graduating students to follow their passions, to trust that doing so will put them on the right path, even if they can't see what that path will be.

One of the many places that this speech was quoted was on tonight's edition of Marketplace. Also tonight on Marketplace was a story called "The economy as seen on a bus ride down Sunset Blvd." In this story, Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal speaks with a senior at UCLA. Upon learning that she is an English major, he says, "So you're screwed?" and she replies, "Absolutely." With regard to her choice of major, he asks, "What were you thinking?" and she says, "I feel like they kind of counsel you into do what you like, do what you love, if you enjoy it, you're going to be good at it. And so I just picked English and then later on realized that maybe that wasn't the best choice."

Kai Ryssdal also speaks to a single mother, raising her children and working full-time to support them. She tells him, "I want to go back to school, I want to make more money, but just not possible right now."

It's easy for Steve Jobs to say follow your dreams. Following his dreams worked out for him. But it doesn't work out that way for everyone. And if a person's life is not all they dreamed of, that doesn't mean the person failed to pursue their dreams. Maybe they did pursue their dreams, but it didn't work.

Occupy Wall Street and participatory decision-making

Yesterday on Morning Edition, there was a story called Occupy Wall Street: Where Everybody Has a Say in Everything. It described the decisionmaking process of the Occupy Wall Street movement. There are working groups for the various areas that need to be worked on, and those groups decide how to organize themselves. Every evening, there's a general assembly where everyone meets to discuss things. Anyone who wants to speak takes a turn speaking. They have no megaphones or sound system, so the way they carry the sound is that the crowd repeats each thing the speaker says, so that all can hear. When people are done speaking, they vote by waving their hands.

I want to be part of a community based on participatory decision-making. This is fundamental to my values. This is a very Quaker thing. Quakers believe that there is that of God in everyone. They allow everyone a chance to speak. Decisions are made by the community, by consensus.

Yesterday evening on Marketplace, I heard the story Movement on the March. They found an expert on social movements who declared that "the movement has to find leaders, create a structure and identify villains." It seems to me that is a very establishment point of view. The establishment says things have to be a certain way. A movement is something that shows they don't have to be that way.

I want to live in a world where you don't need leaders, structure, and villains. I want to live in a world where we all work together to make this better.

This is my ideal. In practice, I know it can result in a lot of disagreement and indecision. In practice, I don't think I really like to be haggling with people all the time about how things should be. But in spite of those practical concerns, I think this ideal is my fundamental value.

This is what I want to do with my life, to be part of a community that show its respect for all its members by including them in decision-making. Every time I go to my job, I put myself into a community that violates this value. I have applied to jobs at places that are consistent with this value. They have not wanted me. So, until one of those communities wants me, I am stuck here. What can I do where I am?

You can't turn an apple into an elephant, so you may as well not die trying. I am not going to overhaul the entire culture where I work. But in my corner, I can live according to my values. I can treat the people around me with respect, and ask them for their input. When I notice people who are a positive force, I can lend my support to them. And I can get involved with others who do share my values outside of work -- the Quaker Meeting, and the Transition group.

That's the ambitious version. But there's another factor. There's the reality that I'm tired, sick, and antisocial. Sure probably a bit of that comes from the fact that the negativity of my situation drains my vitality, so it would be alleviated as I did more positive things. But it wouldn't be alleviated that much. Tired, sick and antisocial are a reality of who I am. For years, I have been coming up with ambitious plans about what I want to do with my life, but the plans ignore this reality. As a result, the plans don't get carried out. So yes, I can seek ways to live out my values. It's something to remind myself of as I go through each day. But I also have to remember what is actually realistic.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Manifesting beauty

Today at the farmer's market, I paused to listen to a busker. As I stood there, a man in a suit passed by, looking happy and competent in his role as a professional.

I was thinking the other day that maybe if I dressed more professionally, I would be treated with more respect at work, not only because of how I looked, but because I would feel more professional, and would comport myself more confidently.

I saw the man in the suit, and I saw the busker, and I knew the world of the man in the suit is not the world where I'm meant to be.

The busker is named Thaddeus Gaffer Venar. His life is not what I want either, but he does provide inspiration, in showing that there are lives out there beyond the models of success inculcated in me when I was in college.

One function of a druid is to be a bard. Many modern-day musicians are so highly commercialized that they don't fit with my druidry. (There is no One True Way in druidry, so I speak only of my own druidry. Others may have a different way.) Gaffer exemplifies my vision of a bard. He says, "It's all about manifesting beauty. And there's so many opportunities in the corporate world to manifest ugliness even without consciousness about it that finding an opportunity where I can feed a lifestyle that abuses no one and simply exists to put beauty back into the system is tremendously rewarding."




It's a beautiful sentiment. I admire him for "manifesting beauty" in his music. I also admire the organic farmers at the farmer's market, for food is essential to life. There are so many ways that people can support themselves doing something positive, such as growing organic food, building solar houses, making clothing, mentoring and teaching others, collecting and disseminating knowledge, and making music that inspires people. I have only a finite time on this earth. I want to spend it doing something good for humans and for the earth. But I also need to survive, and I'm still searching for a way that I can earn a living that is compatible with my vision for my life.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book review: Halfblood Chronicles

I recently read the Halfblood Chronicles by Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton. I read the first three books, Elvenbane, Elvenblood, and Elvenborn. The fourth book, Elvenbred, has not been published.

I have read quite a few Mercedes Lackey books, but only one other Andre Norton book, so I thought of these books in comparison to other Mercedes Lackey books, rather than in comparison to other Andre Norton books.

Among the Mercedes Lackey books I've read, I liked the Last Herald Mage, the Collegium Chronicles, the Heralds of Valdemar, the Mage Storms, and Bedlam Bard. I did not like the Halfblood Chronicles and the Mage Wars as much.

I think my main complaint about the Halfblood Chronicles was that the characters were not strongly drawn. Sure they each had a different name and a different history, but they did not all have different personalities. Too often as I was reading and a name was mentioned, I would wonder, "Which one was that again?" The reason for that was not because there were too many characters, or because there were many minor characters, but because the primary characters just did not have sufficiently distinctive personalities.

I also felt the books were not well edited. There were typos, and there were some minor inconsistencies, or things that just didn't quite add up.

Also, I was annoyed that while both Alara and Valyn know something of Shana's parents, they do not share it with her. She has to live without knowing who her parents were, even though there are people close to her who have that knowledge.

On the other hand, the books did successfully hold my attention, and they offered an interesting commentary on how people are corrupted by both power and by powerlessness. It was interesting to see, especially in Elvenbane, how the oppressed can become focused on seeking the approval of the oppressor, rather than on questioning the system which they were born into. In systems of power inequality, those on the bottom may just want to get to the top, so they can oppress others instead of being oppressed.

Disparities of wealth and looking for my niche

Yet another NPR story made an impression on me. This one was from September 15, 2011, and the title was Making it in the US: More Than Hard Work. The point of the story is that blacks and whites may come from similar backgrounds as far as income goes, but whites have an easier time getting ahead because their families are more likely to be able to pass on assets. The white woman they interview says, "When I graduated, my mom had enough resources to give me her car so that I had a car to get to work so that I could earn money that I could then save to help put me into the next position." In addition, when this woman and her husband bought their first house, they used a $60,000 inheritance from her husband's great aunt.

I am white, and I did have some advantage growing up. Though my parents had little money, my mother's family had some money. I grew up in a home purchased and owned by my grandfather, and I knew that my grandparents would always make sure that we would not be hungry or homeless.

But, the wealth that benefited my mother stopped there. There is no wealth to be passed on to me. I went to college with people from wealthier backgrounds. I watched as my friends got summer jobs through their parents, got cars given to them by their families, or cars partially funded by their families. I watched as my friends were able to take a risk, to do unpaid internships, to pursue their dreams, because they knew that if things did not work out, they had their parents as a safety net. When I finished college, I knew that living with my parents was not an option. Both lived in remote areas, without public transportation, and I did not have a car. If I went there, I would never get out again. I would never get a job. Unlike my friends, I did not receive old cars cast off by family members. People in my family drove old, broken-down cars. The castoff cars which my friends received from their parents were in excellent shape compared to my family's cars.

My college classmates came from families of professionals. They thought is was normal to be a lawyer, doctor, professor, or businessperson. To me, the world of professionals was an alien world. I did not know how to act or how to dress in such a world. I could not imagine myself in that world.

When I was in my 20's, I thought the reason I was lost was because I was young, because I had not yet found my niche. But now I am still lost in my 40s. There are senators, lawyers, doctors, professors, and journalists who are younger than I am, and who are already prominent in their fields.

Would I have discovered my path by now if I had had the advantages my college classmates had? I don't want to dwell in self-pity. I just want to remind myself that it's not really fair to expect myself to be where my college classmates are today, because even though we came from the same college, there are other ways in which we did not come from the same situation.

Certainly I had more advantages than some people have. Certainly there are people who grew up with less than I grew up with, who have now gotten farther than I have.

I think there is probably no ideal background. Different personality types are suited for different courses in life. Some people are lucky to be born into a situation which fits them, which supports them becoming who they are meant to be. Other people find they need to turn away from the way they were raised.

I don't want to be a lawyer or businessperson. I was raised to detest the pursuit of wealth, and to value living off the land. I have adopted the values I was raised with. Perhaps that is part of my problem. People raised with privilege can afford to be idealistic. People raised in poverty desire to earn money so they can have a better life. Because my grandparents would make sure we were okay, when I was growing up, I did not feel the struggle for survival. Because my mother's family was well-educated, I was raised with idealistic values, values which said the pursuit of wealth is wrong.

My college boyfriend chose a practical major, and had multiple job offers to choose from before graduation. I chose the major that I liked, because I figured that studying what I liked would lead to working in what I liked. I finally got a job offer about four months after I graduated, and accepted it because it was my only option.

To me, acceptable careers would be in fields such as organic farming, renewable energy, wildlife biology, practical crafts, music, education, social work, library science, history, and journalism. These are fields consistent with my values, and yet, I do not have an aptitude for or interest in most of these fields. The challenge for me is to figure out if I have any skills that the world would find useful, and to figure this out while working full-time at a job which drains me of my energy.

Now I can just hear all the advice-givers saying that while holding a full-time job, I can still do things like networking, volunteer work, going to conferences, and taking classes. Believe me, I have been doing all that for decades. I suppose that even if I had had the luxury of doing unpaid internships during the summers when I was in college, I probably still would not have found my niche. Perhaps if I had been born into a family of lawyers, finding my niche would have been even harder, because being a lawyer is so far from what I want to do. Of course, if I had been born into a family of lawyers, I would have developed differently, so perhaps I would have grown into someone who did want to be a lawyer.

When we are young, they tell us that we can be whatever we want, we just have to dream big and work hard. But maybe that's a myth that just leads to bitter disappointment. I dreamed of things, only to find I was not cut out for them. I've worked hard. Now if only some serendipity would come to me. But serendipity comes from others, and as noted in previous posts, I've become more solitary because I've been getting more harm than good from other people. I know that I should go back to the more social life I used to live, because it is through connections that we find our way, and yet I crave more time to relax and reflect.

Too much advice

Another story I heard on NPR this morning was about the new movie 50/50, which is a comedy about how people react to cancer. It is based on the experiences and interactions of the movie's creators, Will Reiser and Seth Rogen, when Reiser was diagnosed with cancer six years ago. Reiser said in the NPR interview, "You have people just giving you tons and tons of advice about books you should read and foods you should eat. People would recommend getting oxygen injections and ... going down to the Amazon, drinking a tea from a shaman. You know, like, just all kinds of advice."

I have never had cancer, but I have experienced the onslaught of advice. When I tell people about any problem I face, they often respond by throwing advice at me. It feels as if they can't accept me in my present state, and so they want to fix me, to shape me into someone more acceptable.

That is why I have become more solitary over the past six years. Because so few people have been able to just be present with me as I am. They all just hasten to try to shape me into someone with more perfect circumstances. Such people drain my energy, so I choose not to interact with them.

Willpower

This morning on NPR, I heard an interview with John Tierney, co-author of a book called Willpower. The main point was that willpower can be strengthened by practice, but it also can get depleted.

I think depletion of willpower explains how often toward the end of the work week, on a Thursday or Friday evening, I feel the urge to stay up late reading fiction or surfing the internet, and the urge to skip tasks such as exercise. At those times, I feel I have been spending all my time working hard, and I want to rebel.

A point made in the interview was that we can help ourselves by not straining our willpower. One example given was that sitting next to a plate of cookies and not eating them depletes our willpower. I have removed strains on my willpower from my environment. Now it is only the computer and fiction that tempt me to stay up too late. In the past, there were also TV and computer games, but those are no longer available in my home, which has made it less of a strain on my willpower to go to bed on time.

The story also noted that we can strengthen our willpower by exercising it. Examples of exercises mentioned in the interview included maintaining good posture, using correct grammar, meditation, and prayer. I do practice daily meditation, and I think it has helped me with willpower. I don't think of it as helping so much because it takes discipline to do it. I think of it helping more because in meditation (as well as my other daily druid practices), I take some time to be aware of how I feel and what's important to me. I put things in perspective. I remember the long-term consequences, instead of only focusing only on the immediate urge.

It may seem contradictory that we can strengthen our willpower by 1) not depleting it, and 2) exercising it, but the same is true of our physical energy.

What can I do for my willpower? I think my druid practices help to exercise my willpower. I think that allowing some time to relax on a daily and weekly basis helps me recharge when my willpower is depleted.

I think one problem that I have is that the number of things I want to do is about 10 times the amount I have the time and energy for. I do try to set priorities on a day to day basis, but maybe I should apply some of my willpower to setting realistic goals, even though it will require letting go of some things that I really want to do.

I think another problem is that I don't like my job. Therefore, my willpower gets depleted because I have to spend so much time trying to force myself to stay focused on doing something I don't want to do. I think that's the reason I don't narrow my to-do list -- because what I really want to do is to not have to have a job that I don't like. If I could spend less time on doing what I hate, I would have the time to do the things I want. And of course my to-do list would be smaller if I had a job I liked, because right now a huge chunk of my to-do list relates to trying to get a job I don't hate.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Tribe's relationship to the Land

In The Apple Branch, Alexei Kondratiev wrote that the Tribe must establish a relationship with the Land:
If the Tribe is truly to become her kin, she must be accepted in all her aspects, not just the immediately attractive and 'useful' ones. Spiders, adders, and wasps, thistles, gorse, and nettles, are as much the Land's children as domestic animals and crops or the showier birds, butterflies and wildflowers....While the Tribe's economic needs will necessarily have an impact on the appearance of the Land, care must always be taken that the changes not lessen its variety, that no aspect of its being -- however unattractive or irrelevant to the Tribe's everyday life -- be lost as a result. If the Tribe comes to dismiss such concerns and places its need above that of the Land, the balance in broken, the Land's blessing is withdrawn, and before long the forces that sustain life cease to serve humankind, as we see today.
I like the way this makes clear why nature study and sustainable living practices are integral to druidry.

Spring: the emergence from winter's reflection

In Arianrhod's Dance, the spring equinox is described as the turning point when we move from the dark half of the year to the light half of the year:
The hearth work, the closeness of relationships, and the inner journeys we have made during the six months just passed will have taught us much that we can use to guide us as we step forth into a more physically active part of our lives....Those heady breaths of fresh, clean, spring air we take as we stand in the doorway are intoxicating harbingers of the Mabon -- the solar hero, Arthur, with all the wild budding world before him. There is a great and rising power here. The whole world feels it and celebrates. Each year, at this time, there will be a day when you know from the sunshine and the bird song, from the feel of the air, from the very vibrancy of the Land, that winter is at an end and a new power is coming.
In the past, I viewed the dark half of the year as a time of being cold, a time when nothing is happening, but in my druid studies over the past year, I've come to view it more as described as above. During the past winter, I would meditate by candlelight. When I think of winter now, I think of that candle, with its comforting light. I think of reading while wrapped in blankets. I think of snowshoeing in the woods on a crisp, bright day.

And what I've seen in observing the cycles of the seasons is how they remind us of the seasons in our lives. My life has been in a winter season for the past six years. It has been a very fruitful time. Six years ago, I did not know about either pantheism or druidry, and now both enrich my life greatly. In this time, I have learned to be more attuned to myself, to know when to rest and when to exercise, to know what is important to me.

The past six years have been a lovely time of winter in my life, but I worry that I will stay here forever. It seems to me that after all I learn from reflection, there will come a time to step out into the world again. Will I know it when the time comes? Or will I stay hidden, afraid of change, forever? I feel that I am on the verge of stepping into a spring-time phase over the next few months. However, over the past six years, there have been many times when I felt myself to be on the brink of spring.

One thing is that I have to live within my health. The times when I felt on the brink of spring in the past, it was mainly about hoping to be able to have my previous level of energy and health suddenly bestowed upon me. What I was waiting for was something beyond my control.

Now I see it differently. The way I see it now is that there are just a few more things I want to study, and then I want to choose to step out into the world. I want to step out with the same mind and body that I have now. I want to bring with me the growth from this six year time of winter. I want to live in accordance with my body's limitations. I don't expect to suddenly have the energy to do everything I want to do. But just as I have learned from reading and writing, the time is coming to learn from doing and from interacting with others.

Jesuit eduction

T. Frank Kennedy, Director of the Jesuit Institute at Boston College, made the following comments about Jesuit education in the 2011 Boston College Social Work magazine:
Jesuit, Catholic schools have at their core a mission to educate men and women for others....How do you become unselfish, how do you become a person who has a vision that's really common in the old-fashioned sense of the common good? That is the basic vision of a Jesuit education. It's a kind of spirit: to look at people not just as a job, to take care of them, to see them as our brothers and sisters....The school awakens in us a dimension of care and concern. It is an invitation to love....When you are invited to love, you don't exclude anybody....If you're a Christian or you're not a Christian, you are welcome....When you go through these exercises [The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius], that experience of learning to find love not only in other people, but also in a sunset, in a rock, in the sea, in your life as it is happening around you, you say, well, God is moving here....Finding God in all things is the way to sum it up....We belong to one another. If we could all agree on that, and agree to act that way, we'd be better off.
This Jesuit vision is so much in harmony with my Quaker vision and with my pantheist vision. Father Kennedy describes the ideal I long for. I am still struggling to put it into practice however.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Arianrhod's Dance and the seed of autumn

Tonight I read the autumn equinox section in Arianrhod's Dance by Julie White and Graeme Talboys. Some excerpts:
As with spring, the symbol of the autumn equinox is the seed. However there is a subtle difference between the seed planted and the seed harvested. That we planted seeds that we may plant them again may seem like an endless task without point, but it is only part of a much greater cycle. No seed is exactly the same as the seed from which it has grown. Each has within it the nourishment and the memory of the previous cycle....As individuals, we carry that forward in our own developing lives. However, we also carry it forward from generation to generation so that it lives beyond us....Genetically modified foodstuffs...break the cycle of development. If that should happen -- with food or in a wider sense -- wisdom is lost, our strength is gone, and we will wither....we must choose our path and work within it....Tomaotes are no better than fish. However, fish genes have no place in tomatoes.
At my job, I feel sometimes like a tomato trying to fill the role of a fish. At home on my balcony, looking at the trees and listening to the crickets, I feel like myself. I feel how I have grown from my parents, carrying forward their wisdom, while also being my own unique self.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The gift of charm

Where I work, we receive telephone inquiries. Several months ago, someone called with some of the usual questions. Two people he spoke to commented to me, "He's very charming." Usually, it's normal to get inquiries, and usually it pretty much goes routinely, and so usually there's no comment made about it. But this person was so outstandingly different that he inspired two separate people to remark about him.

Over the past few weeks, I have had occasion to interact with this person face-to-face a number of times, including one lengthy conversation. The effect continues to be the same. This person is charming. When I talk to him, I feel I want the conversation to continue.

I recently read Elvenbane by Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton. In that world, elves have the power to create a "glamorie." With glamories, elves can cause themselves to look different, cause someone to fall in love with them, or cause someone to want to do something.

It occurs to me that this charm that this person has is much the same. He seems to have some magic power to cause people to be positively inclined toward him.

I expect that it is most effective in superficial relationships. It's a surface behavior, and when you get to know someone really well, sometimes the surface behaviors become less relevant. But, it is a very useful ability to have.

Several of my relatives seem to have something similar. They travel, and they can arrive in a town with very little, and the next thing you know, people are offering them jobs and housing.

Charm is a very powerful gift, which can make it much easier to get many of the things we want. But just as in the fantasy novels, each gift also has its costs, and each person has different gifts. I admire the gift of charm and wish I had it, but I know that I have my own gifts, and I know that people blessed with the gift of charm may be unhappy or may wish for different gifts. There are people I love who are completely bereft of charm, and so I know that my lack of charm does not make me un-loveable.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Freedom of association, and freedom not to associate

I believe everyone should be free to think, to learn, and to express their opinions and beliefs. However, that does not mean that everyone should be able express whenever and wherever they wish. For example, someone may wish to loudly yell hateful rhetoric, but I do not wish to invite such a person into my home.

Most situations are more subtle than the decision not to invite a loud, hateful person into my home. Every time we deal with other people, there is the potential for conflict. But it is in dealing with other people that we find the greatest joy. We learn from other people. We are inspired by other people. We depend on other people for survival, for after all, few of us live in homes we have built singlehandedly, and eat only food we have produced singlehandedly. How do we cultivate the benefits of cooperating with others, while minimizing negative consequences?

There is an article called Weeding the Garden about what to do when a disruptive person joins your group. I think it's a good article. It includes points such as:
  • Groups have a right to choose whom to accept and whom not to accept into membership.
  • Deciding to ask someone to leave the group is a judgment call. You just have to do your best to make the right decision.
  • If your group is small, you may be reluctant to ask anyone to leave, because you need all the members you can get, but you may find that when the disruptive person leaves, your group will become more appealing to new members.
  • If you allow the disruptive person to stay, often the group will become consumed by conflict.
  • Sometimes people may have a legitimate complaint about your leadership. Consider that there may be truth in the views of those who criticize you, rather than immediately dismissing them as troublemakers.
This article was written for group leaders. I am a member of various groups, but not a group leader. How do I cope as a group member? I feel that the leadership of some groups is too restrictive, rejecting people's contributions for reasons that have no validity. I feel that the leadership of other groups is too welcoming, giving too much serious consideration to loony ideas proposed by group members, and failing to censure members who behave in a way that is hurtful to other members.

In a less restrictive group, I will 1) not engage in interaction with members whose behavior I find destructive, 2) speak to the group's leaders about my wish for the disruptive behavior to be controlled, and 3) take a public stand in favor of more constructive discourse.

In a more restrictive group, I face the possibility that if I speak up, I may be kicked out too. I may choose to speak up, I may leave quietly, or I may stay and look for more subtle ways to bring about a more positive climate.

I may choose to join a group or leave a group. I may try to change a group from within. I may choose to seek a leadership position in an existing group. I may choose to start my own group. When we choose to be a group member, we choose to live with that group's rules and leadership. Although the best leaders welcome input from members, it is not the responsibility of the group we have chosen to join to be exactly as we wish them to be.

And what of arenas other than group membership? If someone were to write a comment on my blog that I didn't like, I could delete it if I wanted to. That is not censoring their free speech. They can have their free speech on their blog. This is my blog, the place where I express my vision, not someone else's vision. If someone tells me that I should pursue a more lucrative career, that I should be more outgoing, that I should be more adventurous, I may consider their comments seriously, just as the group leader must give serious consideration before deciding to eject a disruptive member. But in the end, it's my own judgment call to decide what feedback to listen to and what feedback to ignore.

In living my life, my job is to seek the path that I believe is right. Everyone else around me is seeking their path, and the way that looks right to them is not the way that looks right to me. We learn from others. Others learn from us. But ultimately, we are each responsible for our own path.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The role of the modern druid

Heat waves. Drought. Famine. Floods. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Blizzards.

Climate change is here. What can we do?

That is one question I have been asking myself. Another question, as I read about the ancient druids, is what is the role of the modern druid?

It seems to me that these two questions are linked. It seems to me that there's a force in our society that values profit and image above all else. The media offer news stories that will titillate, that will make money, instead of news stories that will inform and enlighten. Politicians seem more concerned with projecting an image of toughness than with making things better for people. People voraciously consume the earth's resources. We buy food flown in from across the globe.

The role of the modern druid is to grow an alternative to the forces of profit and image. The role of the modern druid is to build a world based on caring for each other and for the earth, to build a world based on knowledge, compassion, respect, wisdom, truth, and beauty.

How do we build this world?
  1. We need to learn about nature. Learning about nature cultivates an appreciation of nature. Those who learn about nature take care of nature. And we need to learn about nature not only to cultivate our appreciation, but to gain knowledge so that we can figure out how to support the survival of our habitat.
  2. We need to cultivate attitudes of caring for each other. Such attitudes are cultivated in the words we choose to use, in music, dance, stories, and art, in meditation, stillness, nature, ritual, and religion. We need this because whenever people come together, there will be differences, and differences can lead to hurt and anger. Parents need to be gentle in raising their children. Often those who end up in our prisons are those who grew up in abusive environments. We need to come together in positive ways, because it will take the time and talent of many to build the world we want to create. I feel inspired to go out and do what is best when I attend a Pete Seeger performance, or when I read a book with a heroine I can relate to. We need to be conscious of our choices in our words and in our art, to choose messages that inspire compassion, wisdom, and courage.
  3. We need to be guided by knowledge. We need historians, librarians, and teachers to preserve and pass on knowledge.
  4. We need to develop the knowledge and skills for sustainable living. We need to develop organic farming, wildcrafting, hunting, shelter building, food preservation and preparation, sewing, weaving, spinning, renewable energy, first aid, and healing.
This is what I think is needed in our time. I think this is the role of the modern druid, but it is not only druids who will walk this path. We should welcome all who are working for a better world.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

To care for each other and the earth, in the name of any religion

I have started reading Priestess of the Forest by Ellen Evert Hopman. I am less than halfway through it, and will probably write additional posts inspired by it in the future, but here's the idea that is striking me about it now. In the story, Roman Christians are offering wealth to Celtic people if they will reject the traditional Celtic religion. The Druids fear that catastrophes (such as bad harvests) will come if the Celtic people turn their back on the traditional religion.

I emerged from the book to find myself living in the city, living where I hear harsh voices arguing, and sirens. And I thought, indeed, we have lost our religion and we are declining.

But I don't believe that it is the loss of pre-Christian religions that is at the root of our problems. When Jesus came and said don't worship things, but instead, serve only love, treat all with love, including those you have previously rejected due to their sex lives or their ethnicities, that was a good thing.

Problems aren't caused by one religion displacing another. Paganism, Christianity, atheism, or Islam -- any religion can be used for good or it can be used for evil.

In the book, the religion of the Druids taught mindfulness of the seasons and respect for nature. It taught that as we must harvest plants and animals in order to sustain our lives, we must do it in a way that allows plants and animals to continue to thrive, that they may continue to sustain us in time to come.

It doesn't matter by what name we call our religion or our gods. What matters is that we must remember to be grateful for all that we have, that we must care for other people and for the earth. In order to thrive as a species, we need to work together in cooperation rather than to kill each other, and we need to care for the earth if we are to continue to find resources for food and shelter. We have religion in its many forms because it helps us to remember to do these things. But sometimes we forget the necessity of caring for each other and the earth. Sometimes the forgetting takes place in the context of religion, as we re-interpret our religion and use it to justify selfish ends. Or sometimes it takes place when people turn their backs on all religion.

It does not matter what label of religion or lack of religion people apply to themselves. What matters is that they care for each other and for the earth. When that caring starts to slip, we are diminished.

Labels

Pantheist. Scientific pantheist. Universal pantheist. Druid. Hedge druid. Reformed druid. Christian druid. Pagan. Neo-pagan. Eclectic pagan. Naturalistic pagan. Humananistic pagan. Humanist. Secular humanist. Religious humanist. Religious naturalist. Quaker. Liberal Quaker. Unprogrammed Quaker. Programmed Quaker. Nontheist Quaker. Christian Quaker. FGC Quaker. Unitarian Universalist.

Labels. Some of the above apply to me, some do not. In one of the internet forums I follow, people were denigrating labels. Labels have a bad name. I think what's bad is not labels, but stereotyping, that is, assuming that because a person has one attribute, they will also have certain other attributes. Labels are useful. I searched for my labels, and it was only after I found the labels pantheist and druid that I could find like-minded people.

The many different labels help us find like-minded people, but do they fracture us as well? Would religious naturalism be more known and accepted in our culture if we cohered more? Perhaps, but I think it's okay as is. I think it's good that each of us can find our own unique identity. We do come together with people who use different labels. I'm not a Unitarian Universalist, but I am a pantheist and a druid, and there are Unitarian Universalists in pantheist groups and in druid groups. Thus, even though I am not a UU, I know that UU's and I are part of the same community.

And so it spreads. I am not a conservative, but some of my friends my high school are conservatives. Conservatives and I are part of the same community. I am not Latin American, but my sister lives in Brazil, and I work with someone who is from Colombia, and I have a friend with a Mexican ancestor, so Latin Americans and I are part of the same community. I am not a bee, but bees pollinate the fruits and vegetables I eat, so we are part of the same community. I am not an apple tree, but an apple tree has given me food, and I have planted an apple tree.

We use labels to find what we are looking for. We use labels to say we want an apple, not a peach. We use labels to say we want to communicate with other pantheists. Labels help us find our way. They do not diminish that fact that all of us here on earth are here together, one community.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Busy bees

A sea of flowers, and the constant swirling of bees visiting them, bees of many different species. As I watched them on my lunch hour, it occurred to me that in nearby buildings there are people dressed in suits, signing papers, having meetings, talking on the phone, in their climate-controlled offices, guarded by receptionists who won't let the riffraff in. The bees carry on, oblivious of these administrators who think they are so important. The lifespan of an individual bee is shorter than my lifespan, but nature is eternal.


Resources to do the job

The talk in the news of late is about negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. Isn't it Congress who passed the bills for the expenditures and for the taxes? They're the ones who told the President he had to do these things, and now they won't give him the money to do it? It actually reminds me of my job -- we expect you to do these things, but we are not going to give you the resources to actually do them. You're on your own to achieve the impossible.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Precious moments

My sister is visiting me for four days. Today we walked at the canal for about an hour and a half, and then hung out in a grassy spot by the river for about two and a half hours. While we hung out in the grassy spot, I frolicked about -- dancing, rolling in the grass, adopting various goofy poses. It has been a long time since I felt that way, felt that joy and silliness flow freely through me. I often visit the canal and the river, but usually in solitude. There is a certain vivacity that emerges only when in the presence of others.

Then we went home and had supper. I was worn out from the day's adventures, but my sister was not. As I lay resting in the living room, she washed dishes in the kitchen. I could hear her singing to herself, happily and un-self-consciously. She sang "On Top of Spaghetti," a capoeira song in Portuguese, and something about a bear with honey on his paws.

As I listened, I felt so blessed to have my home filled by her joyful presence. These are the moments that make life precious.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reaching for the sun

The weather forecast for a particular day may be uncertain, but overall, the seasons follow a predictable cycle. Life does not. We know that we have times of darkness and times of light, but there's no guarantee that summer will come to our hearts on an annual basis. Though we don't follow a predictable cycle as the year does, at times, we can identify our place in life as being similar to a certain station on the wheel of the year.

Last night, I was reflecting on the spring equinox. Spring equinox is a time when we are half in light, half in darkness, but we are turning toward the sun. That fits with how I feel. In the past few days, I have been thinking of all the things I use -- car, computer, cell phone, clothing, food, etc. I try to choose organic, locally grown, fair traded, recycled, and re-used products. Sometimes I succeed, and yet so many of the things I use don't fit these categories. I try not to use too much energy, but in recent days, I have felt it necessary to turn on the air conditioner.

In the same way, I try to devote my time and energy to making the world a better place, but too often, it seems that just surviving exhausts all my time and energy. I want to reach out to others in kindness and love, but too often I find myself discouraged and irritable.

And so, I live half in light, half in dark. I can never achieve all that I apsire to, but I can continue to reach for the light.

There's a song, "Every Flower" by Peter, Paul, and Mary:

Every flower's reachin' for the sun
Every petal opens when the day has just begun
Even in the city where they grow up through the street
Every blossom needs the sunshine to makes its life complete.
Some are torn out by the roots and cast aside
And some might be arranged for a bride
A flower's just a seed when it's young
And every flower's reaching for the sun.

Some are bent by fears they cannot see
And some are touched by love and set free
A flower's just a seed when it's young
And every flower's reaching, every flower's reaching
Every flower's reaching for the sun.

Sometimes I feel torn out and cast aside. Sometimes I feel bent by fears. Sometimes I feel I'm just a seed, not yet a flower. But still, I'll keep reaching for the sun.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Daughter

Some people struggle to overcome childhood traumas, but I was very fortunate in my upbringing. When I look at myself through my parents' eyes, I see myself as who I want to be, as my best, true self. My values grew from the examples set by my parents, so when I think of my parents, I am brought back to my values -- reminded that it's not important how I look, or what people think of me, and that what matters is kindness, integrity, simplicity, and living close to the earth. I don't have children of my own, but when I think of those who are the closest to being my children -- the siblings born when I was in my teens and 20's, and my nephew -- I realize that the way I feel about them, wanting them to thrive and live the path that's right for them, is how my parents feel about me. Thus, when I imagine seeing myself through my parents' eyes, my tangled doubts dwindle, I stop trying to be who I'm not, and I realize it's okay to be me.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The power of music

I recently read Mad Maudlin and Music to My Sorrow by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. Both speak of the power of music. In these books, the musical people have magical powers which strengthen the effect of the music, but music can be powerful even without supernatural abilities.

In Mad Maudlin, some journalists visiting the homeless shelter gave candy to the children. It was naptime, but, having had too much sugar, the children are not in a napping frame of mind.
Sure enough, it looked like the aftermath of a tornado. The mats the kids were supposed to nap on were everywhere, and so were the kids. Rather than trying to get their attention, Hosea just settled into a corner with [his banjo] Jeanette, opened her case, tuned her quickly, and started to play, softly, a medley of old lullabies his grandmother had taught him. The banjo notes fell among the screaming, running, fighting children like rain. And, like rain, at first the music just ran off them without any effect. But as he willed calm and peace and sleepiness into the music, gradually fights broke up, kids dropped down onto mats, the noise quieted. Some of them looked up at him in suprise, as if they hadn't realized that he was there; others dragged their mats over to his corner and flung themselves down to listen. Yawns began, and yawning was contagious. Eyelids drooped, heads went down onto arms. --p. 296
Another character in the book, Ace, has the ability to influence people with her singing. Throughout her life, her preacher father has used her in his services to inspire people to donate money. Now a teenager, she has escaped this manipulation by running away from home and avoiding singing. Then there comes a situation in which a bad person has summoned a magical being who has killed him in front of about 2 dozen onlookers. Ace's companions have rushed to the scene to remedy the situation. They use music to soothe the onlookers, and Ace starts singing with them.
The song's words spoke of love, of endless forgiveness and healing, and as Ace sang, everyone in the room felt those things, blending into the magic, soothing the frightened panicky people, making it easier for the spell to do its work. --p. 420
Her companions had been unaware of her abilities, so afterwards, Hosea asked her about it.
"It's what I do," she said bitterly. "I can make anybody believe any kind of lie."

"But you weren't lyin'," Hosea said. "You were helpin' them see the truth. Girl, ain't it true that there's love, an' love forgives? Ain't it true that God -- whatever name you want to call Him by -- don't want nothin' for us but what's right and good for us? It's a powerful Gift, if you use it rightly. Have you evern thought that if you were given a goodly gift, you could choose to do goodly things with it?" --p. 421
In Music to My Sorrow, the sequel to Mad Maudlin, Ace does choose to use her gift in a positive way. Her father once preached a message of love, but under the influence of an evil elfin prince, his message has become infused with hatred. He holds a concert for his followers, with a band which projects hateful energy. Ace and her friends sneak in and offer a competing performance. As Ace sings "Amazing Grace," the crowd responds.
...those thousands of listeners looked in the mirror of her song, and saw themselves....Saw, at least in this moment; and, at least in this moment, realized all the pain they were creating. Realized that the Grace that had sacrificed itself for them, had done so in vain, because in their hate, their fear, and their rejection of everything that was just a little different from them, they had turned away from that Grace, and into the Shadow....But it's never too late to heal, the music seemed to say. Let the anger pass when the time for it is done, and leave the hate behind forever....You have stood in the Shadow, now come to the Light, for the Light will still, ever and always, welcome you, forgive you, want you still. Flawed and ugly as your hearts and soul are, the Light wants you to come home and be made beautiful again. --pp. 304-305.
Reading these books inspired me to do more with music. I think music speaks to the soul. I'd like to choose songs for my radio show carefully, to choose songs which will minister to my listeners. I would like to plan religious services which use music. I would like to learn to make music. Learning to play a musical instrument seems doable. Learning to lead people in song seems impossible, since I can't carry a tune, and yet it seems much more appealing.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Called back to Quakerism

We all have our own paths, and it seems my path blends pantheism, druidry, and Quakerism. First I was a Quaker, but then I left it because it did not speak to me. Many years later, I found pantheism, then druidry. It was then that I felt drawn back to Quakerism. I think one reason is that when I was only a Quaker, I felt that something was missing. Now that I have found druidry and pantheism, I have found what was missing. And if I do only druidry and pantheism, then something is missing from that -- Quakerism is missing.

Last weekend, I was part of a Quaker group, and it seemed so right. I have certain core beliefs, such as a belief in treating all with equal respect. In my everyday life, I live in a world where it is assumed that things must be a certain way, a way that goes against my core beliefs. Last weekend, I stepped into a world in harmony with my core values. For example, in that world, everyone is assigned to a turn to help with washing the dishes -- everyone, right up to the executive director. In my everday world, the people at the top know they are above such tasks, and know that they are way above anyone whose job it is to do such a task.

In my everyday world, I am always thinking of things to do. In the Quaker world, I silence these thoughts and open myself to the light of the spirit.

In my everyday world, I worry that if I'm late, people will think that I am not working hard enough. In the Quaker world, I worry that if I'm late, I will inconvenience someone who is waiting for me.

Coping with moods

There are times when I slip into a depressed mood. It was more frequent when I was a teenager. Now it is not particularly common, but it has happened a few times in the past two weeks. When I am not in such a mood, I understand the following things:
  • Often, I become depressed when I am coming down with a cold. I don't realize it at the time, I just feel depressed. Then the next day when I wake up with a sore throat, it's like the dawn hits me: "Oh, the reason things seemed bad is not because they are bad, but because I was coming down with something."
  • During the times in my life when I regularly talk to someone I feel connected with, I don't get depressed.
  • I am also less susceptible to depression when I live with someone, even if it is someone I don't feel connected with.
  • I am most susceptible to depression in the evening, and when I'm home alone.
  • Getting lost in a fictional world for a long time (in the past, I watched TV, not it's only books) can cause depression, but it can also cure depression. It seems to me that during the absorption in the fictional world, there comes a time when I hit bottom or something, and after that, I come back from the depression.
  • Listening to music or doing movement such as dance or tai chi can be helpful.
  • I tend to be depressed when I come home from an event at which there were many people and I did not feel connected to them.
I have been more susceptible in the past two weeks because one of the people I normally feel I can connect with has not been available, because I came down with a cold, and because I went on a trip that was probably beyond my energy level. In times when I feel fine, such as now, I have been thinking about these things, trying to understand it, so that I can prevent depression, or can respond appropriately when it hits. And yet when it does hit, I feel no desire to apply wisdom to the situation. My desire at the time is to indulge the depression. But sometimes the voice of wisdom can overcome the voice of desire. One thing that helps wisdom to overcome desire in such a situation is the discipline of habit, and for me at this time in my life, that comes from druidry. Druidry is what tells me to meditate, practice ritual, and spend time outdoors. Sometimes I don't feel like doing them, but when I do them, they help to bring peace of mind.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A glum day of rest

Going on a trip tomorrow. Took today off from work. I needed to get things done -- laundry, pack, pay bills, find some maps of where I'm going tomorrow. But the day came and I did not wish to do anything. I did not feel well. I told myself to get going. I drank 20 ounces of coffee. No help. No work was squeezed out of me. I felt so wrong. Felt unworthy, depressed, knew I was not myself. Longed for escape. I went to the library. Got three novels. Read Mad Maudlin by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill. It was about 440 pages. I read it all the way through. So now, here I am, finished the book, past my bedtime, still nothing done to get ready, and I have to leave at 8am.

A line in the book:
I have no idea what I'm going to do when I graduate. I try to feel drawn to some particular course of action, but I don't. There must be something that's right -- but I just can't see it. Am I ever going to be able to see it?
It was as if that came straight out of my heart. And I have felt that way for years. Living a life that is wrong for me, but I can't find one that's right for me, and one must go on living, so if a wrong life is all there is, then I must live a wrong life.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Winter melts to spring

Where I live, during a typical winter, we'll have snow on the ground for a while, then it will melt and we'll have bare ground for a while, then it will snow again. This winter, we've had snow on the ground since December 26.

Now, slowly, winter is starting to turn to spring. I think the coming of spring is a good metaphor for many things in life. We see signs of spring, but then it snows. We have a warm day, but then it's cold. The journey is not a straight line, but ultimately, we do move forward from winter into spring.

I found the same pattern in recovering from illness. I think the pattern can also be applied to our entire lives. In general, we become wiser as we grow older, but we certainly have some lapses into lack of wisdom along the way.

For us, the snow that has been with us all winter started melting on Saturday, March 5. By the morning of Sunday, March 6, it looked like this:



It continued to melt through the day on Sunday, so by the afternoon, it looked like this:


That night, it snowed, so the next morning, Monday, March 7, it looked like this:


The snow remained the same for several days. The night of Thursday, March 9, there was some rain, so by the morning of Friday, March 11, it looked like this:


Friday, March 11 was warm, with the temperature getting up to 53, so there was a lot of melting. By the morning of Saturday, March 12, we had this:



Sunday, March 6, 2011

With branches bent

In my previous post, I admired a sycamore reaching for the sky and sun. Maybe I meant it as an exhortation to myself to try to make things better. But I think I am really more like this tree:



I reach for the sky with one branch, but other branches are broken. And my trunk is sideways because of the burdens pressing down on me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

A tree in winter

Another thing that I read in A Guide to Nature in Winter was, "winter trees already contain the coming year's leaves and flowers, continually respond to light and temperature in the environment, and in their silhouettes, graphically represent the reaching out to life to absorb energy from the sun."

I like to think that in times of dormancy and stagnation, I have within me the potential to blossom and grow.

Perhaps I live a more withdrawn life now because the world out there is not so hospitable. When I do find more hospitable conditions, I do reach out to absorb the sunlight (for example, enjoying time with friends and family).

The endurance of pine

I read in A Guide to Nature in Winter that pines are one of the oldest kinds of trees, and that they were around before the dinosaurs. The book said that the reason is because they have evolved to endure such hardships as climate change and forest fires. I hope that like the pine, I can remain strong through whatever tempest rages around me.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Three moods

I've been through three different moods in the past few days. I think I have something to learn from each:
  1. Late Friday afternoon, I got a call regarding the job I had applied for. It was a job that I thought I would love, and thought I was qualified for, but I told myself that that for all jobs, there are many candidates, so the odds of anyone getting a job they apply for are low. I was prepared for their choosing another candidate over me. However, that's not what they did. They found me so unsatisfactory that they decided to do another search rather than offer me the position. When I got the news, I thought of two other rejections I had experienced:

    One was that two days before, I had been to tai chi class. My tai chi teacher always tells me to drop my shoulders. On this day, she also told me open up my collarbone. She pressed on the places she wanted me to adjust, to show me the posture I was supposed to adopt. She demonstrated exercises to practice at home. Unfortunately, my body does not know how to adopt and maintain the desired posture upon command. She seemed quite exasperated, and went into scolding mode. She said, "If you keep doing that, you'll get frozen shoulder and you won't be able to move your shoulders at all." I was a bit shocked. She has always seemed like someone who is patient with beginners, who knows that we can't be instantly perfect. I assumed that she teaches because she likes to teach. I take the class because I want to learn. In our society it is, unfortunately, considered acceptable for adults to scold children, and some supervisors actually seem think it is appropriate to scold employees, but in an adult education setting, when students and teachers are both there because they want to be there, why would scolding come into it? In scolding me, she deflated my interest in tai chi. I thought about quitting the class. I had been practicing tai chi almost every day, but after that day, I went for three days without practicing it.

    The other thing I thought of after hearing about the job was something that happened some months ago, when I joined an e-mail list. I was excited about joining a new community. I fantasized that they would be impressed by the wisdom in my contributions. Instead, they hated my contributions so much that the moderators blocked my posting.

    What these incidents told me is that no one wants what I have to offer.
  2. Friday evening, I went to a friend's house. I enjoyed family time with a couple, their toddler, and their dog. The dog was very excited to see me. Being with them, I was restored to feeling like a normal person, rather than like someone no one wants.

    In addition to enjoying the warmth of the chaotic family time, I also enjoyed the more reflective time I had talking with my friend's husband when my friend took the toddler upstairs to put him to bed. My friend's husband mentioned that he never had to look for a job. He has had two jobs since finishing school, and in both cases, someone told him, "Hey, you are needed over here. Apply for this job."

    I know a lot of people in his career field, and I've always been jealous of how they are in so much more demand than people in my career field, jealous of how they are wanted, while I am not. But when he mentioned the way he had gotten his jobs, I didn't take it that way. The way I took it was that it's hard to get jobs by applying to them and being chosen from a pool of applicants, so hard that he's never done it successfully. And I also know that his wife came to him -- he did not have to learn the skill of courting, and apply it until he won someone over. She chose him first to be her boyfriend, and later to be her husband.

    I felt that all that stuff -- looking for a job, looking for a mate -- is really hard, and I am not skilled at it, but here is someone who is also not skilled at it, and he has a good life, and he is not some loser that no one wants, so maybe there's hope for me too.

    I left their house feeling inspired. I knew what I wanted to do. I realized that networking is the way that people get jobs, and that I should do things that get me out there involved with other people. I realized that everything I do, I do on an individual level. I don't work with others to create something together. At the community garden, I talk to the other gardeners, but they have their gardens and I have mine. At the radio station, I have made some friends, but they have their shows, and I have mine. At tai chi class, I talk to my classmate (there are only two of us in the class), but I'm learning tai chi for solo practice. It's not like a dance troupe where you coordinate with others. In my job, I do what I do, but no one is really a partner with me, and one one really understands what it is that I do.

    After visiting my friends, I wanted to do three things: a) Get involved in the local sustainable living community to co-create something with others, b) Get involved in the professional association for the type of job I'm trying to move into. Participate in something related to conference organizing. c) Apply to graduate school.
  3. Saturday, I was tired and depressed. I was fed up with doing chores all the time. I'm always getting groceries, preparing food, washing dishes, doing laundry, reading nonfiction for my druid studies, and trying to work toward doing something other than the job which is sucking the life out of me. I wanted to rebel against chores and indulge myself. I was standing in line at the library to check out a nonfiction book. I got out of line and headed for the fiction section. I checked out Fire by Kristin Cashore, and spent the rest of the day reading it. It was very good. What it conveyed was that life is difficult. We can't live the peaceful life we wish for, because we have responsibilities to fulfill. People get injured. People die. People we believed in turn out to be imperfect. Within ourselves, we have the capacity to hurt others, and to kill others. Life is difficult, but we get through it by loving each other, not only through romantic love, but through the love of friends and family, and family is not limited to our biological family. After reading the book, what came to mind were the words from the refrain of a traditional song:

    The water is wide I can not get o'er
    And neither have I wings to fly
    Give me a boat that will carry two
    And both shall row my love and I

    What that means to me is that life is too hard alone, but love gets us through it. Also, the song has a captivating sadness to its sound, which expressed the sadness I was feeling when I finished reading the book.
That was my Friday and Saturday, a journey through feeling 1) discouraged and unwanted, 2) encouraged and inspired, and 3) rebelling against chores, indulging in relaxation, and sad for all the hurts of life. Now where am I? I hope that yesterday's vacation from chores has restored me, and that I can return to the inspiration I felt Friday evening, but I'm not there yet. I'm still tired. Thus is my life -- my body is rarely up to the ambitions of my mind.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shaping nature or letting it run wild

I currently have four books out of the library. Three are about bonsai. I have been reading about the ideal shapes, and how to use wire, pruning, and re-potting in order to work toward creating bonsai trees that match one of the shapes that has been deemed ideal.

In contrast, in The Urban Homestead, Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen say (on page 40):
...bread dough made from wild yeasts and given time to raise slowly is a living thing. It is not cookie dough. Real bread dough crackles and pulses between your hands, full of invisible life. You want that kind of quality in your garden: full of crackling, invisible life and secret happenings. There's bugs in the soil, bees in the flowers, roots being formed, compost breaking down, all sorts of things you can't see going on, but you feel it. This kind of state comes in one way only -- by you doing as little as possible. When leaves fall, let them lay. They're mulching!....Are you getting the idea that your garden is not going to look like Martha Stewart's garden? Good.
I prefer the approach taken in The Urban Homestead. I think bonsai is not really for me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

God is Love

The song "God is love" by Steve Gillette says

God is love, only love
Nothing more, nothing less

The song also says

Stories of faith sustain us
As long as we don’t claim that they’re true

(For the full lyrics of the song, go to http://abouttheman.com/wp/the-music/ and search for "God is.")

I believe in love. Sometimes it helps to conceptualize an abstraction by telling stories about a God, or about many gods. I think this can be useful. Any mythology or theology which inspires us to live a life of love is good in my book.

Today, one of my Facebook friends posted the question, "what do you think of a secular humanist, non-deist, who is deeply, and profoundly spiritual?"

My reply: "I don't care what someone's theology is. Whether it's monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, humanism, atheism, etc. people have done good in the name of every religion, and people have done bad in the the name of every religion. If a person's theology moves them to hate, that is bad. If it moves them to love, that is good. Like Fred Small said, "the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you're done."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Druids as members of the intellectual caste

I think I got about 16 Christmas presents, of which about 8 were from my dad. Among the things he got me were two books about the history of druids. So far, I am partway through one of them, A Brief History of the Druids by Peter Berresford Ellis. One of the things this book says is that the Druids were the intellectual caste of the Celts, comparable to the Brahmins as the intellectual caste of the Hindus. (The book notes many similarities between the Celts and Hindus, indicating these peoples had common origins.)

Druidry means different things to different people, but I think that this is an important part of my own personal path. To me, Druids should collect and pass on knowledge and wisdom. If Druids are members of the intellectual caste, then the Druids of today are the teachers, librarians, and historians.