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This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Goddess, part 3

My son suffers because he misses his dad.  It breaks my heart.  Sometimes I worry that he will be permanently disadvantaged. He already shows signs of anxiety, which might just be due to his inheriting high sensitivity from me.  But I wonder if he is going to be OK.

Yesterday he was feeling anxious, grumpy, and jumpy, and I took him into my arms to try to calm him down. I didn't know what to say.  I thought back to my reading about having goddess energy flow through me, and I asked myself, "what would goddess say?"

An image came to me of the earth and the plants that grow in the earth, and I started telling my son about the dandelions he loves to play with in our yard.

"Did you know that if you pick a dandelion it will grow back?  In fact, you can pull all the leaves off of the dandelion, or mow it with the lawn mower, or step on it.  You can even pull out part of the root.  And in the winter, all the leaves will turn brown because it's so cold. And guess what always happens?"

"What?" he asked with wide eyes.

"The dandelion grows back. It always grows back."

He smiled really big and clapped his hands. "Really??!!"

"Yes!" I was feeling relieved that this was working. "And you know what? We can do that do.  Even if something bad happens to us, we can still grow back and be pretty and be alive."

Goddess, I hope that's true.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Goddess, part 2

There was an offer for a free mini-reading by a Kabbalistic astrologer lately. Gotta admit, a lot of articles on that site go right on over my head, but I signed up for the free mini-reading.  What she said resonated with me in many ways.

Your north node is in Cancer in the first house. You are here to reconnect with the goddess and to channel the divine feminine through your own strengths and gifts. Jupiter’s transit through Cancer will increase the goddess energy in the world at large. You have many planets in the fourth house which could indicate strong past lives of a more masculine nature. With Venus in the 8th house in Aquarius, you are being guided by great women and sacred muses of the past to bring forth beauty in this age. You have gifts of creativity and a strong individualistic streak. You are motivated by a sense of service and have a strong work ethic. With the moon at your midheaven in Pisces, your career will involve sharing your creative gifts through the world....  On a deeper level north node in Cancer could also be growing towards nurturing or teaching others, or opening to unconditional love as a source of musical inspiration. With Jupiter at 6deg13′ Scorpio in your 5th house you have some heavenly assistance with your music. ...

I liked this reading.  There's a lot to unpack there, but I was particularly curious about the "goddess" part. 
As I said before, I'm ambiguous about the goddess idea (and the god idea too), but I do feel that our society needs more variety in what is considered "feminine."  So I'm not particularly offended by the word "goddess." 

The person doing this reading didn't know I am, in fact, deeply creative, so it was encouraging to read her telling me to develop my creative gifts, and that "great women and sacred muses of the past" could help me in this.  In fact, I have been strongly inspired by great women of the past, such as Hildegaard von Bingen. 
(Did you know, 350 years before Da Vinci made his Vitruvian Man, Hildegaard, a woman, created this:
Incredible.)

I wrote a choir piece using some of Hildegaard's text a couple years ago, and it's my only published piece so far.

And sometimes when I compose, I do feel I rely heavily on "heavenly assistance" (a term which I only say to quote the reading, and because there's really not a good replacement term for it yet. I prefer to reference the ancient Greek concept of "muses," which I don't believe in literally, but it references the mysterious, transcendent quality I sometimes feel when I create art.)

Anyway, imagination is a powerful tool, and maybe imagining goddesses helping me through life could be beneficial.  If I suspend disbelief just enough to let it help me, maybe...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Goddess, part 1

I haven't been too sure what to think about the goddess movement.  I'm not a fan of deities of any kind, really, so I just ignore most paganist stuff. Not really my bag, though I'm happy that others find it useful.  I will say, I was happy to free myself from a masculine-only concept of God, when I was identifying as a Christian, but all my years of being steeped in traditional Christianity made me uncomfortable addressing God as "she" in my prayers. I don't have that problem anymore... but then again, I rarely pray with words anymore, except as knee-jerk reactions to anxiety, or in social situations where it is appropriate. (I do find myself in wordless prayerful attitudes, where I imagine connecting with a higher energy, and flowing thoughts of love or peace to the people I'm praying for.)

However, at a symbolic level, a mythical level, goddesses are fun to think about.  They provide a validity for femininity, a rich and varied set of models for what it means to be female.  They can be a refreshing break from the extremely narrow definition of femininity in our society.

Who knows, maybe there are powerful spiritual entities that are mainly feminine, that can influence us.  I'm not ruling out the remote possibility. 

Several months ago, while shopping at the Dollar Store (of all places!) I saw a piece of art that called to me.  It was irresistible, and I still don't know why.  It's not my normal preferred style of art, and I'm neither Catholic nor Mexican, but I just had to get this painting.  And it was affordable. Here it is on my bedroom wall:

 My logical brain finds the story behind Our Lady of Guadalupe suspicious. It provided a convenient way for the conquering Spaniards to convince the pagan locals to adopt their religion -- the Marian apparition wore the blue-green color considered divine by the indegenous Aztecs, her face was originally dark like theirs, and many other subtle cues in the icon were meant to provide a bridge for the locals to be able to look favorably on Catholicism. Personally, I doubt the apparition actually happened.

Phenomenologically, though Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a huge success.  She has been a cultural "rubber-band" to unite the disparate entities in the country of Mexico.  Wars have been fought in her name, yes, which is bad, but she was on the side of those seeking to overthrow oppression and dominance, which justifies it, a little bit.  But she has provided comfort, solidarity, and reassurance to thousands of people over the centuries. Overall, I think, she has been a positive force.

I'm not sure what any of this has to do with me, but I find myself mysteriously inspired, still, when I see this (otherwise tacky artistically-speaking... it's very pop-art-ish...) painting on my wall.  Do I have a goddess trying to speak to me?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Depression and Uncertainty

I've been thinking about the idea of uncertainty lately, and here's why.

I had a depressive-anxious episode last week.  It was probably largely influenced by hormones...it was that time of the month... (I haven't been good about drinking my red raspberry leaf tea lately, which usually helps me sail through PMS with hardly a problem.  So I'm getting that tea started again.)
But it was probably largely influenced, as well, by the stress of my life situation these days.  I don't know what's wrong with my health, why I suddenly got anemia out of nowhere.  My last paycheck arrives in a few days, and I don't know what my job will be after that, and I've been too tired to put more than a few hours here and there into efforts to find one. Thus, I don't know where the money to pay bills will come from.  And SRS wants me to know all these things, plus they suddenly told me I have to work 28 hours per week instead of 20 hours to continue being worthy of continuing to receive state assistance (even though I'm in school).  I have to make a decision about what Kindergarten to send my child to.  I dropped one of my summer courses, because it had so much work, I didn't think I would be able to keep up, since I'm not at full energy yet, and I have other courses to take.  But the university doesn't want to give me a refund--their refund window is only 1 week into the course, and I was 1 day too late with my drop request.
So I'm struggling mostly with questions of survival these days, to be honest.  And I am very uncertain about what to do, how to walk into the future.

When I write it out on (virtual) paper, it makes sense that I would feel depressed-anxious, though cognitively, these things haven't been what have gone through my head.  Anyone with depression-anxiety can probably attest to the fact that when you're having an episode, you aren't consciously thinking about your problems most of the time. Usually, there's just this lack of motivation, and a feeling of a heavy cloud around your brain. You can't really even think very well about anything.  That's how I felt for several days last week, (and am in the tail-end of it now).  It was really hard to go through with my daily duties. In fact, when I buckled down and forced myself to work on stuff, like research for a class, or whatever, my head literally, physically hurt from the effort.  So even though I had good incentives to take action on several things-- for example, if I asked my doctor to forward a note to the university vouching for me on the health issue, I might be approved to have my tuition reimbursed, which is around $1,000 for that class-- it took me several days to actually do them. In fact, I still have some phone calls to make that I am avoiding.

And that's what is frustrating and curious about depression.

During a time of stress, it seems like the most advantageous mechanism for the mind to employ would be a heightened awareness, an arousal level for dealing proactively with the situation, and clear sharp thinking.  But the opposite happens.  And for someone who highly values achievement and action, such as myself, it is very annoying to have my brain just shut itself off when I enter seasons of high uncertainty.

...At least, in my case, I am linking my depressive episodes with seasons of heightened uncertainty...  The reason I am making this personal link is because it seems to be a pattern.  (Though, there have been other factors that have kicked off depressive episodes too, like break-ups or giving birth.)

There was a season in life several years ago when I felt like I'd really beat my anxiety and depression, and that was when I went on a personal campaign to remind myself constantly that God had a plan for my life, a reason for me to be here, and things were going to work out OK eventually.  I said it often, I felt like I believed it, and tried to pound it into my own head (not literally, though!)  Connecting with that idea made me feel like the future was certain, even though it looked uncertain at the time.  That certainty boosted my mood and increased my confidence.  It didn't last too long, though.

I can't rely on that mantra anymore, unfortunately, because I know it is bull***. 

Theodicy is one thing when it's an abstraction, something to argue about in a theology class or read about in a book.  It's another thing when you have personally lived through "evil."  There is just no way to convince myself, rationally, that it is certain that God has a good plan for my life, and things will work out eventually.  As much as I want that to be true, there's no way to prove it, and in fact, my life situation so far hasn't pointed in that direction. Kind of odd, considering what a fan I am of astrology, but... that's the case.  Right now, I'm suspending judgement on the question of whether or not God has a good plan, (or whether or not God even exists, and if so, what that even means.) I simply won't commit to a decision either way.

All I can really fall back on these days is the foundational "I think, therefore, I am" concept.  I can't prove much, but I do think that there is an "I" who exists. That is something certain. Kind of an odd comfort, I know. It's not as helpful as the certainty offered by religious ideas of "God's plan," but it doesn't create a cognitive dissonance either.

And anyway, back to depression and such... the practical question I wonder now, is why does this happen? Why does my brain shut off when I think I need it the most?  Is it a "learned helplessness" response?  Very possible, since I've lived in poverty most of my life and have faced a lot of frustrations that haven't yielded to my efforts.  (But I won't give up, don't worry.  At least, I don't think I will.)  Is it a call from some metaphysical force, trying to get me to connect with and operate from intuition rather than cognition?  Is it ineffectiveness in dealing with my emotional responses, causing them to get "stuck" instead of flowing through me as they arise?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Substance. Style.

Three different things happened this past week that caused me to pause and think. My mind connected the dots to form a muse on the topic of "style versus substance."  (Or maybe I should say style "and" substance. "Versus" implies a competition between the two, when actually they are mutually dependent on each other. Or maybe just "style, substance."  Or maybe substance should come first... Someone slap me...) Anyway, here's what happened in the past few days:

1) I randomly stumbled upon a YouTube video of a recent interview with the singer Carman. 

Carman was my favorite singer for over a decade. (He shared the #1 slot with Sandi Patti on my list.)  I no longer subscribe to his brand of Christianity, but I was, nonetheless, extremely sad to see that he is now terminally ill. This interview touched me in a number of ways. (Maybe exploring that will be an upcoming post.) The one I want to bring out for this post, though, was how impacted I was by the revelation that his music still… well… impacts me, even though I'm not on-board with much of his lyrics.  His new song "The Flag" smacks of xenocentrism and the narrow-minded brand of American Evangelical Christianity that, though it has its good sides, is also extremely dangerous in other ways. And yet, I found my heart feeling stirred and uplifted, just from hearing that short clip of "The Flag" in the interview.  I'm sure part of that is due to sentimentality about hearing Carman again. I haven't listened to his music in ages, and his music shaped my younger years quite profoundly. 
And yet, part of it is, I'm sure, due to the production value of his music. There was that huge choir, the high fortissimo strings, the rumbling bass drum causing sympathetic vibrations in my physical heart. Carman has an incredible artistic talent-- that magic dust that many powerful performers have, that draws the listener in and invokes reverence.  He is also quite picky with his productions, demanding high quality players and engineering. All of his songs are finely crafted works of art.  (Art that relies on production and musical clichés, sure, but my point is about his dedication to his craft. Many Christian musicians are sloppy in their production by comparison.) So even though I'm not a fan of the overt message, the art of his music still moves me. Substance and style.

2) I was in a conversation with a guitar player who is self-taught, and I showed him some of my music. He mentioned that what he likes in music is the "groove" and the melody, and I said, "that's pretty much the opposite of what I look for in music.  I focus on lyrics, chord progressions, form, and melody." It truly surprised me that he scarcely even considers a song's lyrics when he listens to music.  Whereas, I really tend to prefer vocal music over instrumental, because lyrics are so important to me.  Style and substance.

3) I visited a UU church yesterday. The building was lovely, the people were nice. One thing I noticed, though, was: little diversity.  I saw one person of color there, and the age demographic was skewed towards the older generations.  I understand that's the case for many other UU churches as well.  Why?  The UU has such great things going for it.  They are passionate about justice, service, humanity.  They are not positivistic but embrace the mystery of transcendence.  They are on the "good" side of many issues that my generation, overall, as well as many in the non-white demographics, overall, care about.  So where is the diversity?  Maybe it's because I'm in the middle of white Americana Kansas...  Maybe the younger church members were on vacation... (The person who talked with me after the service said usually there are more 20s and 30s there.) But still, it seems they should be bursting at the seams with young people looking for fellowship.  And yet… The stained glass. The candles. The canned readings.  The bad singing along to the studious pianist's clompy chords.  The standing and sitting at prescribed times.  It felt so… white mainline.  It made me think that perhaps, as much as I hate to admit it, style may be more important than substance, when it comes to making people feel comfortable in a place or movement. 

Again, I recognize that this is somewhat of a false dichotomy. Each affects, evokes, and embeds the other.  I'm separating them for sake of discussion.

I think what style can do, that substance can only whisper at, is provide immersive experiences, especially emotional experiences.  And emotional experiences speak to us at primal, unconscious, or semi-conscious levels.  Whites of a certain generation feel at ease in a place with stained glass, musty hymnals, and candles on a stage. All these peripheral cues, and more, form a gestalt that translates to "sacred" to them.  Someone growing up in churches with blaring organs, an old drumkit, and a screaming preacher echoed by "Amens" yelled from the congregation, may need different peripheral cues to evoke the "sacred" feeling in them.  Yesterday's UU service may have felt inhibiting to such a person, even if s/he agreed, theologically and philosophically, with the content of the sermon (which was about persevering through impossible situations. Who doesn't agree with that?)  Background is so powerful.

To deal with this from another angle: even if the style isn't familiar, a work of art can pull people into its message if it is created by an artistic genius.  For example, I'm not a hip-hop fan at all, but I remember my brother making me listen to a song by Tupac, back when I was in high school, and I found myself in tears. I could hear his heart, and though I wasn't a fan of the style in general, his genius made the music effective anyway.  I can also hear genius and a substantive message in Phillip Glass, even though I detest minimalism.

Art/style can also provide the compelling power to an idea that logical words seldom can.  Many years ago, while taking a 20th century music class, I listened to "Sinfonia" by Luciano Berio for an assignment.  I had never read a word of existentialism in my life. I probably would have found it really dry at that time. (It's still kind of dry!) I'm sure I would have disagreed at the time with the message that "life has no intrinsic meaning."  But the third movement of that piece ("in ruhig fließender Bewegung") pulled me right in to the heart of existentialist meaninglessness. I was so there. Alone. Irritated by a perplexing array of choices. Forced to sit with my own agency. Resigned to the absurdity of life. (By the way, run, don't walk, to find a copy of that work and listen to it!  Make sure you're sitting down… somewhere where you don't mind if people see you get emotional.) That's one of the pieces of music that changed my life forever.  Eight years after that experience, I read the Wikipedia article about Existentialism, just out of curiosity, since I'd never actually learned what it is.  I recognized it in a flash. I had already traveled to that land back in college. Berio had taken me there for a little tour, shaking my world in unspeakable ways.  (This time I decided to stay.)

I do think-- to put a bow on this-- that ideally we should strive to have style and substance both be of highest quality.  Myself, I'm pretty good with substance but weak in creating style, and that's where I know I need community, people who are stronger in that area, to help me out.