Spiritual Thinking, Part 2

In Part 1, I bitched about sensors and feelers and how my spirituality doesn’t work like theirs. And it doesn’t. Not at all. But I get what they’re saying. I, too, have an unbearably beautiful vision of the world. I just come at it backwards compared to a lot of sensors and feelers.

Spiritual advice mostly starts with creating the right experience. For a senses-forward people this makes sense. Experience is easy for them. They’re awash in sensation and the memory of sensation. What they’re trying to learn is how to filter and focus that experience, bring it to a fine point, and use that point to punch through the surface of things and find what they’re looking for. And what they’re looking for is usually either above or below everyday reality–either lightness and freedom or groundedness and connection.

Me, I already have that vision. That, in many ways, is my inner reality. At times it’s so strong that I’m overwhelmed and paralyzed by it. My spiritual problem is not finding that vision, it’s connecting that vision to my everyday life and communicating it to others. I’m terrible at this, but I’m desperate to do it, which is why I go looking for spiritual advice. It’s also why I’m so bitterly frustrated when I can’t find it.

Anyone else out there with this problem? Is there any hope for me?

Featured image through mememaker.com

Spiritual Thinking, Part 1

Once upon a time, I took a “build your own theology” class at the local UU church. It was a disaster. Everyone was super duper nice and supportive, but I felt so misunderstood and out of place that it really turned me off from spiritual searching for a while. Instead of making things clearer, that class confused the hell out of me and made me doubt my own sense of meaning and spirituality.

Every person in the class, and every reading I was assigned, presented spirituality as a series of “peak experiences.” They talked about feeling one with the universe, being emotionally connected, of fully experiencing the present moment.

I didn’t get it at all, and I thought it was my fault. Ever since then I’ve assumed that I have to be more like those people. I’ve tried to be “in the moment” and in touch with my feelings, and I’ve become madder and more stuck than I’ve ever been.

I am not a feeler. I’m not a “present moment” kind of person. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean I can’t be deep or spiritual or one with the universe and my fellow humans. All it means is that my ways of doing that will look different from the most common ways.

If you’re familiar with Myers-Briggs personality typing, I’m an INTJ. It’s a less common type, a bit rare in women and seemingly quite rare in spiritual and self-improvement circles. Most people in general (and therefore most people in churches and spiritual movements) are Sensing and/or Feeling types, while I’m an iNtuiting and Thinking type.

That class and everyone in it was about either Sensing or Feeling. Yes, I have feelings and yes, I enjoy sensory pleasure, for for most people feeling and the senses are the entire point of life. If you’re a Senser (which, like, 70% of humanity is), your health and happiness kind of depends on a steady flow of interesting sensations and satistying in-the-moment activities. If you’re a Feeler (something like 75% of women are Feelers), you can’t thrive without emotional connections, and learning how to keep those healthy is vital for you and the people around you.

With so many Feelers and Sensers in the world, it makes sense that so much spiritual advice is about finding what feeds your senses and connects you emotionally. I get it. But it doesn’t work for me at all.

Next I should talk about what makes me such a frickin’ special snowflake, but I’m pretty sure that’s another several paragraphs so I’ll save it for part 2. For now, the most important bit is this: I’ve always felt a bit out of step with the crowd and I’m now sure that a)this is not my imagination and b)there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t need to be more like everyone else, I just need to be a better me.  

Featured image thing from personality-central.com through Google images. Please don’t sue me for being too lazy to make my own word meme.


It’s All Connected

A friend of mine used to play a game of faith. She’d look at an object–a spoon, a book, an old tire by the side of the road–and ask “how does this testify of Jesus.” It sounded silly to me, but it helped her feel grateful and connected to Jesus.

It must have made an impression because I’ve played a version of this for years now. Instead of Jesus, though, I look for connections. Who made that spoon and where did they live? What did she get paid? Who built the machines she made it with? Who designed the machines? Who designed the spoon? Who mined and refined the metal? Who marketed that spoon, who shipped it to the store where I bought it? Do I remember the cashier who rang it up for me? What was she like? What are her hopes and dreams?

This game can go on and on, because it’s all connected. Well-connected, held tight in a thick web of association and interdependence and history. And I, sitting here thinking as I stir my coffee with this spoon, am part of that web. This web constrains my movements; sometimes it feels impossibly tight. But it also magnifies my tiny struggles and triumphs, ripples them across time and space.

Some people just sit and meditate and feel these connections, but I’m not a feeler. I’m a thinker. I have to concentrate my thoughts and trace those connections and see them with my conscious mind. It seems an unusual method, at least among pagans and pantheists, but it’s all I got.

It’s humbling and sometimes awe-inspiring, tracing this web, and probably a lot like what feelers do, but I end up at a slightly different place. Most feelers I know, when they say everything is connected, they mean everything traditionally seen as natural and good. They don’t mean microwaves and skyscrapers and old tires by the side of the road, but I do. These are also connected, human, a part of nature. They have to be dealt with, may have to be minimized or worked around, but they can’t be ignored or cut out without damaging that thick and beautiful web in which they’re bound.

It’s all connected. All of it. I just don’t know what it all means yet.

Moments of Mourning

It’s been four years since Sarah died. Long enough that I forget the day. This morning I asked what the day had in store and pulled the Three of Swords and couldn’t fathom what it meant until I looked at my calendar. Then it all made sense. I had to make time, at least a little, to mourn and remember.

I kept things very simple, but still more than I usually do. I laid out some paper, toothpicks (wands), water and salt and called the corners for the first time in a long time. I lit a candle and said hello, shared with her spirit some memories and thoughts. It was clear to me once again how different we were. I’m all air and earth, and she was all fire and water. We fought. She fought with everyone. But she’d do anything to work it out if she thought you were worth the effort.

There are things we could have done together–were beginning to do together–that I just can’t do alone. Her warmth and inspiration were irreplaceable. She was the center of a tight-knit and wonderful group that has broken apart without her. We move on, as the world always moves on, but we lost our beacon and hearth and have had to make do in a world a little colder and a little more lonely.

I don’t exactly believe in an afterlife and neither did she, but I believe in memory and love. Sarah is still loved and I promise to keep her in memory for a long time to come.

Holy Crap I Suck at Tarot

On a quest for something entirely different, I came across a fascinating tarot deck and just had to indulge. Their creator is out of town right this second (I stumbled on them the day before her trip started) but might be worth watching if you love unique tarot. It’s called the Antiquarian Tarot and features vintage/antique photographs with overlaid symbolic artwork.

bag and bookMe, I’m as interested in the book as the cards. For me, tarot is mostly about storytelling and psychological insight, so what people think of the tarot is as important as what cards I might pull. This time, my reading made me realize I haven’t been reading the tarot enough. I’ve gotten rusty, and this is a great review. Maree Bento, tarot creator, has a much more mystical bent than I do and that’s great. It gives me a perspective on the cards I wouldn’t come up with myself.

I’m also really into “old timey” photos right now (it’s an ancestor thing–I’ll show you when it’s ready) so this deck really speaks to where I’m at right now. I did a one-card reading on a whim and pulled the Tower card, which was sort of scary but also totally speaks to my renewed spiritual yearnings of late. So if you believe tarot is actually magic (instead of a psychological tool) you can make of that what you will. And buy accordingly. antiquarian 2

This same Etsy shop sells Lenormand cards, which I had never ever heard of but am now very intrigued by. My googling hints at a continental divide–it seems tarot are popular among Brits and Americans, while Lenormand cards are French and more popular among continental Europeans. I ordered a couple of cheap-ish decks on the internet to experiment with and I eagerly await their arrival. If any of you have experience with Lenormand decks, please share. I’m so curious.

antiquarianAll images my own, of the tarot deck I bought. For informational and review purposes only. 

How Moral Should I Be

I worry a lot about wasting time. Part of it is my upbringing, I’m sure. I was raised to strive for moral perfection, to always be anxiously engaged in our Lord’s cause, to push as hard as I can and then push a little more. I doubted many things early, but not that moral work ethic. Never that.

This mindset is not exactly helpful when my goal is to flow with the rhythm of the seasons and the harmonies of family life, but it’s a deeply rooted impulse and so far very resistant to change. My goals have changed radically over the years, but my moral perfectionism, not so much.

A couple weeks ago, though, I read something that’s really got me wondering. In a comment thread about ethical systems (and how useless they can be for day to day life), someone asked “how moral should we be” in any given situation? It’s such a basic question, and so thoroughly ignored by pretty much everyone I’ve read or listened to.

How moral should I be? The most moral. Moral to the power of ten. Just give me like, all the morality. Right? What kind of monster wouldn’t want that? A huge part of me strives for this, even though I know it’s not possible. Principles are complicated things to live in the real world, and living one principle to the max often means living others to a lesser degree. Improving one part of myself might leave others neglected, while striving for perfect balance might make me rigid and unable to move. We decide all the time “how moral should I be,” whether we know we’re doing it or not. I decide this all the time, all while obsessing over my need to do more and better at every single thing.

Which leads me to my minor epiphany, the one that might help me with my perfectionist problem. I realized that this striving I was taught, this constant effort to do All The Moral Things, is really a way to avoid decisions and set priorities. It’s a great attitude if you’re part of an end-times church that wants to set your priorities for you, but it’s not suited for excellence and fulfillment in this life.

It’s not that I’m haunted by damnation, though. I’m haunted by the promise of transformation. Part of me still believes that I need to be remade into something better than human, that we all need to transform the world into something better than it is. I thought I knew better than that by now. I thought I was all about dealing with this live and this world as it is. In my head I am, but my heart, as always, is lagging behind. Now that I realize, maybe I’ll make better progress bringing the two together.

Ask Not for Whom the Bird Tweets

I have a fairly big back yard. For suburbia, anyway. I have this fantasy of making it into a bird sanctuary, with berry bushes and birdhouses and maybe a nice birdbath or two. Of course, I’d have to get better at gardening, and fend off the neighbors’ outdoor cats, and get my kids to stop swinging on the tree.

I don’t mean that we have a tree swing, I mean that they use the branches for gymnastics routines. Which is pretty cool, but also swings the branches so wildly that I just know they’re going to snap on off and probably break an arm or leg in the process. And I’m sure all that racket is scaring off the birds.

But I still hear the birds everywhere, even if they’re not all right in my yard. Being a (very) amateur birdwatcher, I notice these things. Familiar calls, unfamiliar ones. Last week I got to watch a woodpecker hammer away at the phone pole in the corner of our yard. This morning I listened to the dawn chorus.

It’s transcendant. And sometimes annoying. OMg it’s exactly the way I feel about my kids! But really, this morning I just wasn’t feeling it. My spring allergies are in full gear, I didn’t sleep well last night, and the mom stuff just never ever stops. I dragged myself out of bed this morning and pretty much straight outside to enjoy the birds and I just . . . wasn’t moved that much.

All I got was another humbling dose of perspective. The birds don’t care about my stress. They aren’t tweeting for me. The birds, and the sun, and the faint fading stars? They don’t even know I exist. It was good to be there, to use a moment of my life to appreciate this majesty and abundance, but I can’t expect it to fix my life or my mood. So left the birds to their morning hunt and made breakfast. And the birds and I, we both got on with our work.

I Need to Be a Better Bard

Yesterday my son asked me about Passover. I told him that Easter weekend was also a Jewish holiday, which led him to ask about Easter. (He was pretty sketchy on the religious bits of Easter–as far as our family’s concerned, Easter is when we pay tribute to Cadbury and their delicious candy eggs.)

I spent dinner explaining the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and explaining the traditional Easter season, from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Sunday. I got hung up on a few Easter details–I couldn’t remember where Palm Sunday fit in and I can’t name all the Biblical plagues–but it was pretty easy to recount the myths and traditions from memory.

You know what I can’t recite from memory? The geneologies of the Greek gods. The sagas of the Norse pantheon. I can spell “Mahershalalhashbaz”* without looking it up, but I can hardly name two or three of the Tuatha de Danann. I’ve read them, but they aren’t settled into my bones the way Christian and Mormon myths are, and it makes me sad. I know that with time at least some of them will sink in that way, but I wish they were already there, rolling off my tongue and into my kids’ lives.

At our house we tell all the stories, and that’s good. I want my kids to grow up in a world alive with stories. We celebrate all the holidays because there is so much worth celebrating.** But I can’t tell all the stories equally, and I wish that I could. I wish I hadn’t wasted quite so much time rereading the Bible and hearing its stories and instead been immersed in some other mythologies for a while.

Pagans with kids often come from a background of Judeo-Christian indoctrination like I do, and we hesitate to force too much religion on our kids. I agree with that to a great degree, but I think when we don’t tell our pagan and secular stories we miss a great opportunity and we may leave our kids feeling disconnected and alone. Stories–of your family, of your culture, of the world–are the roots of our lives, and while I expect my children to grow beyond these roots and choose their own paths in life, I think they need strong roots to support that.

All of which means that I need to be a better bard. Right. I’ll get on that.

*Book of Isaiah. Nailed it! If I couldn’t get behind the Bible (which I couldn’t), it wasn’t for lack of trying.

**Like, all of them. All the Pagan holidays, U.S. cultural holidays like Presidents Day and Labor Day, Christian-Secular stuff like Easter and Christmas, local stuff like Pioneer Day and Summerfest, Pi Day . . . we kind of treat holidays like Pokemon. Gotta catch ’em all.

Daily Practice with Kids Underfoot

I get most of my spiritual advice, reading-wise, from people without kids. They’ve either never had ’em, they’re all grown up, or in several cases they’re guys whose wives clearly handle the household stuff (which counts as only sort of having kids in my book). But I am the wife, I handle the household stuff, and my kids are all still in elementary school. You know who writes spiritual blogs from that point of view? Evangelicals and Mormons. People in big, organized, conservative church systems that heavily stress missionary work and raising children in the faith.

Pretty much all the more liberal and DIY paths–humanism, pantheism, paganism, Unitarian Universalism and its like–are pretty much for grown-ups. Kids are, at best, a problem to be solved. It’s not that helpful to me, it doesn’t speak much to my life, but I don’t blame them. Sometimes kids are a problem to be solved. No matter how early I get up for some peaceful morning devotion, some kid or other just . . . senses the energy and wakes up to pee. And then doesn’t get back to sleep. Or they all stay in bed but the moment they get up they’ve got problems to solve and fights to mediate, which totally harshes my spiritual mellow.

It’s pretty hard to be all deep and enlightened with a bunch of kids in your face needing things all the time. Which is why most of the biggest, most accomplished writers in this area are childfree to varying degrees.* I get it. But it makes for a shortage of articles and blog posts about fitting your spiritual practice around your kid’s ADHD or meditating while watching your kid’s sports practice. And while conservatives have loads of children’s Bibles and fun little morality tales so they can share their faith with their little ones, I find myself wishing there were more solstice tales and exciting retellings of pagan myths.

On the one hand, I love the DIY of it all. Learning to retell the stories on my own, struggling to explain the virtues of excellence or hospitality, and adapting pretty much everything to my own family’s needs forces me to really engage with my beliefs. On the other hand, it’s exhausting, and I would pay cash money for an engaging children’s book on pagan virtues or a book of Greek gods that isn’t the same old sort-of-dry list of deities. Cash money. Somebody start writing that, ‘kay?

*Where are my down-to-earth pagan mommy bloggers? Who’s telling it like it is? Maybe they’re out there and I’m not looking hard enough. 

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