My truth about happiness

“I am a free moving vertical spiral of joy, I am a happy heart sending forth blessings, I am the catalyst, I am the alchemist.”  ~ Allou Guthmiller

When I was younger and far more cynical than I am now, I used to say that those who were happy were just too stupid or too naïve to see the world’s pain. Now that I am a bit older and hopefully wiser, I see how our society has enforced the image that happy equals simple. Yet maintaining your joy in the face of all the horrors in our world is far more challenging and far more important than sixteen year old me would have ever believed.

Our society enforces a pattern of martyrdom, of wisdom and peace only being attainable by suffering. I would challenge that notion. I believe that we grow both in times of scarcity and times of plenty as long as we are continuously seeking growth for ourselves and our community.  When things are easy, we have a tendency to slide into indolence, indeed, we are encouraged to do so, to watch television or to play a video game, rather than continue to strive. Not that either of those things are bad, or unenlightening, but we are pressured to lose ourselves in them, to ignore ourselves and “escape”.

There is no escape from yourself. There is no escape from pain. There is no escape from this moment. There is only what is in front of you and your choice of how you face it. When you are faced with a challenging person or situation, do you find yourself wallowing in the toxic miasma of the situation? Unable to let go of the muck. Do you find yourself complaining to your spouse or friend or relative? In a way, what you are doing is scooping a little of that sludge and flinging it at someone you love, hoping some of it will stick. Misery does love company.

Oh, I will complain about my day, about the rude person that cut me off, or the annoying phone call I had to deal with, but it will be done with a laugh and a smile, this was a moment I faced, it was a thing that happened, it was a bit of the swamp that I walked through but the sinkholes didn’t get me!

None of this denies the real challenges going on in the world today. But think about how much more capacity you would have to deal with the real horrors of the world, if you didn’t let yourself get mired in the swamp of petty bullshit.  

We forget when we are stuck in the moment that we are more than the unpleasant stench of the swamp. We think that is what we are, rather than what we are in. We define ourselves by our situation, rather than define ourselves as we are and the situation as it is. We must liberate ourselves from feeling like we have to react, like we have to play out the drama of the role we may have been cast in. We don’t have to participate in the stories we are told. 

Follow RSS

Triumph over fear

Imagine a 15 year old boy, one who knows himself, but lives in constant fear of the world. Everywhere he looks he sees images of hate and rage, people murdered for their beliefs, people murdered for the sexuality, or the color of their skin. But this boy cannot live a lie. So he tells the truth, at first to close friends, and eventually everyone knows. He pays for his truth, getting thrown against lockers, being punched in the stomach or other places where the injuries won’t easily show, getting called names and threatened with death. But he refuses to lie, refuses to hide, or be shammed. He suffers for his truth, but he persists because there is no other way.

That 15 year old boy was me, and in the wake of the Orlando shootings, the little seed of fear that lived in my heart and never left me, has blossomed, and all the hurt seeks to poison me again.  But the fear has been transmuted in to rage. I am not a child anymore. I will no longer allow myself to be bullied.

I read these quoted in the news:

 

                “If we lived in a righteous government, they should round them all up and put them

                against the firing wall, and blow their brains out.” ~Pastor Roger Jimenez

               

                “These people all should have been killed, anyway, but they should have been killed

                through proper channels, as in they should have been executed by a righteous

                government that would have tried them, convicted them, and saw them executed.”    

                                                                                                                  ~Pastor Steven Anderson

                “People were killed in an act of terror. Fine. If an Arab did it, good for him! God hates             Sin. They deserve to die. I have no mercy for people that god has no mercy for.”             

                                                                                                                                ~Yosef Edery

 

And I feel rage, but I am an adult, I have been through this fire before, I have burned away my fear in the crucible of repeated sacrifice. But what about that 15 year old boy? The one who faces his fear with courage. Again and again he is told that he is sick, he is evil, and he is broken. Even though he shouts out, “I am here, I am valuable, and I am good.” He is confronted with hate and disgust. Is it any wonder LGBT teens have a significantly higher chance of committing suicide?

 

How do we triumph over fear? How do we triumph over hate? We love, we reach out to that 15 year old boy. We stand up and we speak or truth, “My love is greater than your fear.” Because the truth is, they do fear us, not because of our sexuality, but because of our willingness to always live our truth. Even when we are threatened, even when we are reviled. We decided, each and every one of us, that the truth is more important than being safe, than being accepted, that our love will not be denied. We make a statement just by living our lives. A statement about love, about self, and about power.

We are powerful, we are unique, we are beautiful, and that makes them afraid. But we will not be confined by their fear, we will not be held down by their hate. We will rise above and in our rage, show how beautiful and powerful our love can really be. 

Follow RSS

Giving In not Giving Up

I have been quiet here for the last month. It was not my intention. I had initially planned on posting at least once a week. This is not entirely realistic. I have a very full life and I want to give this blog the attention it deserves. That requires that I have the time and space to make each post something worth posting.

You cannot move beyond where you are until you have accepted where you are. I lost track of the old idiom “The only way out is through.” My life is full, very full. I made big plans before I had a real grip on all of the work that I had already committed to as well as the vicissitudes of having a husband with long term health issues.

That said, this is more than an apology for my silence. It is an honoring of the fact that sometimes, we just have to accept what is in front of us and work from there.  I am committed to making this blog work. I am committed to making all of my commitments. But I am also prioritizing self-care.

I will post, I already have a few pieces in the works. I have many things to say. I just need time and space to get them out of my head and onto paper? Screen? I need to go back to writing by hand as ‘on to paper’ sounds so much better.

Follow RSS

Losing Hope and Finding Happiness

We all know the story of Pandora. She had a jar containing all of the evils of the world. She opened it and loosed horrors. But left the last horror in the jar, “Elpis” which can be translated as hope or expectation. What would happen if you gave up hope and expectation?

Hope is reaching for an outcome without doing any real work to get there. It’s a platitude we tell ourselves and others when we are unwilling or unable to commit to working towards the desired result. Yes there are times when there is nothing left to do but leave things up to fate. But I think more often than not, we give up far too easily.

Expectation likewise is a belief that something will happen in a given time or way. Expectation leads to disappointment, if you go through life with no preconceived idea of what should happen, based on your opinion or experience. You find yourself enjoying things as they are much more readily.

Expectation is a privilege. Expectation is based on a sense of entitlement, as if the universe somehow owes you the outcome you desire because you exist. Honestly there is only one thing all of us are guaranteed and that’s not something I think most of us want, but it is all we can expect as a certainty. I’m talking about death.

Letting go of expectation is not an easy thing. We all have wants and desires that we seek to fulfill. How often have you heard someone say “I will be happy when ‘X’ occurs?”  As if the only way to have a positive experience is for it go along a specific path defined by your expectation.

Happiness is a choice, certainly influenced by your environment, but it is still controlled by your conscious will. I wake up every morning and I make an effort to choose happy. People often assume I am naive, or a sap. But why would I want to choose misery?

I face each day without expectation, without hope of an outcome. I just experience the things in front of me. This is not to say that I do not have goals, that I do not work towards the world that I desire. I just don’t assume that it’s going to be any certain thing. I have found that, with a lack of expectation, I experience far more joy in all of the things in front of me.

The attachment to hope and expectation restrains our potential for joy. Maybe Pandora had it right in keeping the jar closed.

 

Follow RSS

Life is good...

Life is good. Life is sexy. Remember this is your chance, possibly your only chance to enjoy the pieces of the divine whole around you.

Indulge your senses. Indulge your passions. But not blindly, oh no, but with great reverence for the gifts you have been given. For how can you truly appreciate all of these things if you do not take time and quiet to think and dream.

There is darkness here also. There is pain. There is suffering. But these are like the salt on caramel, the sharp sting that reminds you to enjoy this fleeting life. When you hurt, hurt, it’s ok, pain and sadness do not make you weak. They make you human. Turn to your brothers and sisters, family and friends, they will lift you up. They will hold you when the world becomes too much to bear.

There is but one destination in this life, do not be in such a hurry to rush to it. Enjoy the now. Take a few minutes every day just to be. Sit in the sun and breathe. Sit in the darkness and think. Sit at your altar and pray.  Ground yourself in the moment. Things go by very fast, and you don’t want to let the storm of the day to day minutiae to take you too far from yourself.

Most importantly, LOVE. Love yourself first, for all other loves come from this love. Love your family. Love your friends, your lovers and partners. Love all the people around you even if you do not know their names. Each is a piece of the divine whole. Love your enemy, not only does this cause you to rise above the petty vindictiveness that guides too many people. It releases you from the painful connection of hate.

Love shapes the universe. It changes minds, and it opens hearts. It is the lens through which we define all things in life.

Follow RSS

Compassion and Othering

“We can learn the art of fierce compassion - redefining strength, deconstructing isolation and renewing a sense of community, practicing letting go of rigid us vs. them thinking while cultivating power and clarity in response to difficult situations.’ ~Sharon Salzberg

Compassion is both one of the easiest and one of the toughest topics to discuss. Compassion for your family and friends is easy. Compassion for the person spewing venom and hate at you is much, much harder. We as people have a tendency to ‘other’ people that we have strong ethical or emotional disagreements with. For the sake of clarity I will produce the definition of othering here:

“Othering is a process that identifies those that are thought to be different from oneself or the mainstream, and it can reinforce and reproduce positions of domination and subordination.”

When we separate those we disagree with into a category of ‘other’ they are no longer part of our community, they are no longer subject to the same humane treatment or concern. They can be vilified and attacked with a lower internal emotional cost and less self-evaluation.

We all do this, whether consciously or not. When we view the horrors of mass violence or war, we attempt to separate ourselves from the perpetrators. “I could never something like that.” “They are a monster.” When we do this we are attempting to protect ourselves from the brutality of a portion of human nature.

Compassion, especially universal compassion requires that we know ourselves. That we turn the eye of compassion inward and acknowledge the weaknesses we see there, and that we strive to do better. Compassion is not about forgiveness, it is not about excusing that which is wrong, it is about acknowledging the shared experience of all beings.

I spent 10 years working in warranty customer service, the kind where they’re only calling  because the product manufactured by the company I was working for broke. These people generally started out angry and only descended from there. After one particularly bad call, my manager at the time told me something that still resonates with me to this day. “It’s not about you.”

At first blush the statement ‘it’s not about you’ bruises the fragile ego. It strikes as a denial of the special snowflakeness that our society is so attached to. But when you start to go a little further and set aside your ego your realize that phrase is a gateway to compassion.

If it’s not about you, then what is it about? What is going on in this person’s life that is leading them to a place of this behavior? How can thinking about their experience, and how it may relate to mine, connect me to understanding?

That is the truth of the matter, the responsibility for compassion comes from the truth that we are all interconnected. Let’s move that into a place of simple understanding, how often have you been on a friend’s social media page and seen someone you know listed as their friend that you didn’t know they knew? If you trace those connections, all connections, eventually you will see that we all know someone, who knows someone, who knows everyone. They are someone’s friend, someone’s child, someone’s lover. Nothing exists in a vacuum.


When we stop attempting to distance ourselves from the atrocities of the ‘other’ we confront the fact that we are all capable of great beauty and great horror. That the impact of our actions, though seemingly small, reflect into the universe.

Follow RSS

Joyful Service or Obligation

I have recently stepped up to a larger responsibility in my community. Taking on more work and a big project that is time consuming. I have been repeatedly asked, “Isn’t it hard?” To which I respond “It’s a big responsibility, but it’s not heavy.” That got me thinking about the why of my explanation. Why don’t I find this to be a burden

I think the truth of it lies in that I don’t see it as an obligation. I don’t do this work out of a sense of owing my community, I don’t do it because I have to. I do it because I love my community, and I love the work I do. It is the work that speaks to my spirit and fulfills my personal need for joyful service.

Joyful service, that’s a great term isn't it. It directly ties to the community and why we do what we do. None of us get payed for what we do, we do it because we love it, and our community. We do it because we see the need for it to be done, and when we feel it overwhelming, when it becomes an obligation rather than a joy. We step back and let some of our work go to others until we find the balance that is right for us.

The term obligation has always felt like it carries a certain burden. That you aren't doing the thing because you want to, but because you have to. Possibly due to a sense of duty, or due to custom, or due to the simple expectation of others, “well you always did it…” When something is done out of obligation, there is, to me, much less pleasure in the work.

When you don’t enjoy your work in your spiritual community, you don’t give your best self. Not to say that we don’t all have off days, or very packed schedules where things get difficult. But if the balance falls towards obligation, maybe it’s time to rethink your responsibilities. In paganism, we are all very individual, we are often geared towards taking personal responsibility to “make it happen” but when making it happen comes at the cost of our joy, maybe it just doesn't need to happen.

In our community we put on approximately 40 public rituals a year, and there around 25 active members of our clergy. We are lucky that we have such a large and diverse group to make all the things happen. But even then, things can get challenging. When it gets too much, our clergy may step back and take a sabbatical or they may just scale back on their responsibilities.

But in smaller communities that isn't always an option. But even then you must ask yourself. If this work doesn't bring me joy, if it isn't fulfilling the need of my spirit, then why I am I doing it?  I know most of us seek community in some form or another, but if said community in whatever form it takes, is only taking and not providing and your service is not joyful, then maybe it is time to move on, or to let go.

But back to joyful service. I have a full time day job, I have a family to take care of, I share responsibility for making a weekly devotional happen, I will help put on at least 10 rituals this year, with all the attendant planning. I took up the work of teaching the new people to our community, as well as our initiates, and due to all this work, I find myself with more energy, more drive, more want to create and to grow, to make and experience.To me, this is what joyful service brings.

 

Follow RSS

Pantheacon 2016

This was my 10th Pantheacon. For those of you who don’t know, Pcon, as it is called, is a yearly Pagan convention in the Bay Area that draws 4000ish people from across the world. This was the year that I felt my experience came full circle. At my first Pcon, everything was new and exciting. It was the first time I had experienced a large group of practitioners with different paths, where I experienced magic in community, and where I felt like I had a place with my spiritual practice.

Over the intervening years, my love of Pcon has waxed and waned.  I have felt both powerful connection and intense frustration. I was almost not going to go this year. What a mistake that would have been.

This year, the wonder and magic that I felt the first few years at Pcon came back. Though this time instead of being a newbie on the sidelines. I was right in the thick of the making and the doing. I also got to really experience how other communities make ritual happen. I will speak of two of these experiences in particular, one I was grateful to be a ward and tender for, the other I was able to attend as a simple participant.

The Order of the Black Madonna had their Sacred Mass in Celebration of the Dark Mother. Last year I attended this ritual and bawled like a baby through ¾ of it. This year I was working as a ward and tender. Which meant that while I experienced it I was in a position where I was not able to let it pull me in.  At the beginning of the ritual they read the names of people of color harmed by institutional violence, as well as trans people harmed by violence that occurred in the last year, there were 1400+ names, the weight of 5 people reading names for over 5 minutes each ending their list by repeating “Unknown” until the full list was finished was chilling and cathartic. There is something profound and profoundly beautiful about an entire room full of people being given a space to grieve. I think that the transformative power of the ritual is something that cannot be denied or properly captured by words.

The other ritual I would like to take a moment for is the Ritual of Awakening done by the Reclaiming Tradition. CAYA, the community I priest for, has a ritual we do called Wake Up to Spirit, that shares a lot of elements with the Ritual of Awakening, but is different enough that rather than feeling weird, felt like I was visiting a longtime family friend, where you know you are welcome, you know where everything is, but it isn’t your house. It was wonderful to experience and see where the differences were. I have been trying to get to a reclaiming ritual for years, but their schedule falls, most of the time, in the same time frame as we are doing our rituals. I am so glad I got to finally experience the magic they bring.

I spent most of the con doing what I always work to do. Making space for others to make magic happen. I was a ward for 4 rituals. I love being able to help create a safe space. It fills a great space in my life. I am proud to have been able to do so for people I honor greatly.

I have come a long way in 10 years. From almost lapsed solitary practitioner, to priest in one of the larger bay area covens. I am glad to find that there is space at Pantheacon to have both of those experiences, and have them be joyful. I would thank all the people that made my experience an amazing one, but that would be a blog post in and of itself. I think I will just leave it there, those who have touched my life know my deep love for them.

 

Follow RSS

On Privilege

Accepting that you are privileged, as I am, by being a white male, isn't about losing your voice. I feel a lot of fear from people. People being made aware, maybe for the first time in their lives, that the deck is strongly stacked in their favor. Their voices are heard, their needs are catered to, because the color of their skin or their perceived gender. They feel threatened with the realization that they have been given benefits that weren't earned, but granted by a society built for them.

Imagine being in a room with 50 other people, all of you having conversations about things that are important to you. Let’s say 10 of those people have megaphones that they talk through, so when they talk, their volume cuts through the voices of everyone else. THIS IS YOUR PRIVILEGE. You are the person with the megaphone, you always have been, and you have become so used to having the megaphone that you think it’s unfair that people are telling you that you should turn it off.

Once you realize this, it’s not just a matter of turning down your volume. When you accept that you have had the megaphone, and your parents had it, and their grandparents had it, and on and on. The question isn't whether you have the megaphone, but what are you going to do now that you know that your voice has been drowning out the meaningful conversations of others. This is the lesson I am learning.

Accepting that you have the megaphone (and sharing it with people who don’t) doesn't make your experiences and feelings less valid, you are still a person, and you are still valid. It just means that your needs and your feelings aren't the only ones that are heard. Take a second to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has never had it, can you blame them for being pissed at the structure? At the megaphone? At you? Can you blame them for getting together as a group and making you shut up for a minute, so their voices can be heard?

Yes, in an ideal world, no one would need the megaphone. But in reality, it’s not just a megaphone. It’s a history book, it’s a home, it’s a job, it’s a bank, it’s a government, a society, and an entire culture that has been built to glorify the person with the megaphone AKA the white male. Stating that “all lives matter” devalues the struggles of all the people whose lives have been treated as lesser for generations.

As a good person, how can you let this stand? How can you not work to fix what is broken? How can you not step back and be led by those who know what it is to experience racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia? How can you still think that your voice is more important?

*please note, this is a VAST oversimplification of a complicated, systematic problem. And yes I dragged out a metaphor for far too long, but I really liked it.

Follow RSS