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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Flashes of grace

"Suddenly it hit me, what these men were doing," my aunt explained. "I stood up, walked out of that room, and told myself that I'd never go back again, and boom, that was it. I never did. It was so easy."

My aunt spent years in a large, well-known cult. She left a few times, but always felt guilty, due to the brainwashing she had gone through, and went back to them. I was talking with her the other day, and she was explaining how she finally was able to break free.  She had spent a couple years of independence from the cult, but felt guilty and contacted the leaders of her particular church again to ask about rejoining. These men told her she had to come in and be interviewed by them, to see if she was worthy and had repented adequately, to be allowed back into the fold.  They interrogated her for over two hours, asking her about every detail of what she had done while she was away from them.  They were especially interested in her sex life, asking for minute details on every move. 

At first, she was ashamed and so desperate for their approval (which they had managed to conflate with the approval of God), she gave them everything they asked for.  But at some point at near the end of the conversation, for reasons mysterious even to her, she suddenly just saw what was going on.  She saw the reality of the spiritual and emotional abuse, and she saw the greed, lust, and authoritarianism of the men who were trying to control her.  Boom.  The revelation hit her with such force, it filled her with the strength to do what she had not been able to do before--leave the church forever.  It was so easy, once she had that revelation.  But she didn't work for it or try to make it happen. Her intent originally was actually to go back to the church.  But suddenly -- boom -- awakening.  Where did this come from?

Let's call it grace.  (Kind of a funny term for this story, since my aunt is an atheist now, and the term "grace" is usually assumed as coming from God. Funny!)

I had a similar experience, but on a much smaller scale.  I bought my first car when I was 16, and it was a beater. There were always things breaking down on it, and my parents were the type to make me pay for my own expenses (which I think is a great lesson and plan to raise my kids the same way). Money was always tight, though.  Eventually i developed a pretty strong anxiety about the car and especially the money around the car.  I had several quite large (for me) car repair expenses pop up over the course of my high school and college years, and they were hard for me to deal with.  I bought books about car repair, to try to assuage my anxiety, so that I could feel like I knew what the mechanics were talking about and that I wouldn't be taken advantage of.

There was one time, I think it was shortly after I graduated college, when I got news of a car repair needed, and I was worried about how I was going to pay for it.  I was driving down the road, worrying, trying not to worry, trying to think, trying to pray, when suddenly out of nowhere--boom-- an incredible peace.  It was like a voice filled my entire body and mind, "Don't worry about the car. It's going to be fine, and you'll always be able to afford it."  It was like a huge weight on my shoulders just dissolved, and I knew everything was going to work out.  The anxiety was completely gone.

Ever since then, I haven't had anxiety around my car issues.  Things come up, and I'm able to handle them.  Not always easily, of course.  Large repairs have still come up to be dealt with.  Decisions have to be made.  Insurance is a convoluted mess.  I have duct tape holding my rear bumper on at the moment.  But I'm just not worried about it.  I'm able to achieve the right balance of spending the cognitive effort required to handle car issues, without falling into anxiety. 

The thing is, I totally can't take credit for this, except that I'm a responsible adult who does adult things like buying insurance and maintaining a car.  I mean the anxiety part.  The release from that was just plopped into my lap out of nowhere.  Boom.  Gone. "Don't worry about the car," and I never did ever again.  I didn't have to try not to worry.  I didn't go through any kinds of rituals to release the worry or cope with it better.  I just didn't worry about it anymore.  It was 100% a gift. From where? Who can say? Grace.

I'm grateful for this.  There have been a few other flashes of grace I've experienced, including a physical healing, and they are amazing when they happen.  I know several other stories of other people experiencing these powerful flashes of grace, and they are inspiring to hear.

But I also find them problematic as well.  Why are they so rare?  Why do we have to struggle with so many things, while others are just handed to us?  Why do some people experience more grace than others?  Is there actually a formula to these flashes, that we all just accidentally used without knowing it... Could we find a way to force them to happen?  What's going on?

If grace were coming from an intelligent consciousness of some kind, that consciousness would have to be an evil one, like an abusive parent or partner.  The vast majority of people who commit emotional abuse are not awful and cruel 100% of the time. It is actually more cruel to be sometimes kind and warm, and other times terrible, because it confuses the victim and takes away more of their power.  If you're horrible all the time, people can predict what's going to happen, and have a measure of control over their lives.  It's much worse to be cruel only some of the time, and make those times random.
A consciousness powerful enough to provide support and relief  for life's problems, but only does it some of the time, is not a good one.  Aaaannnnd, we're getting into theodicy again...

Back to grace.  What's going on?   Is it something related to alternate universes and boundaries on how far alternate realities are allowed to branch out?  Alignment of the stars? A higher self or unconscious deep mind?  Wouldn't it be great to know?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


I finally unenrolled myself from a couple online mom-forums I've been part of for awhile.  I decided I couldn't take it anymore.  There were many interesting and rewarding conversations along the way, but I think I'm done now.  There are recurring themes that get posted so often that really stress me out, and I'm tired of reading them.

Things like:
  • OMG look at this pee stick. Am I pregnant????  (You'll know for sure in a couple weeks.  Like, it'll be obvious.  You'll have no doubts. Chill the hell out.)
  • Is there a good, part-time work-from-home job I can get that isn't MLM or a scam, and doesn't require me to have a degree? (Nope.)
  • I really want another baby! I'm getting baby fever! (My god. Weren't you just here complaining about how tight money is, like yesterday?  So irresponsible to bring a child into the world if you can't afford to care for it.)
  • Oh golly gosh gee, I accidentally got pregnant, and we can't afford it. How am I going to tell my husband, and what are we going to do? (Um, get an abortion if you don't want to be pregnant. Take control over your life, ffs.)
  • What should we name our baby? (What names do YOU like? Why do you think random strangers on the internet should fucking name your child?)
I don't usually post these responses, because, well, they are considered abrasive.  (I actually like to troll the "name" posts by offering ideas like "name him Bratwurst!  Or I love the name Beelzebub!")  But god, I THINK them, ha ha.  And I'm tired of thinking them and getting mad at people for being dumb, or refusing to take power over their lives, or refusing to think for themselves.  But the one that really makes me furious, and which comes up almost daily is some long, rambling, frustrated narrative that basically boils down to this:

I'm so exhausted.

I'm not mad that women are exhausted!  Far from it.  I'm mad because the vast majority of the time, these women have husbands or boyfriends they are living with.  And when you bring up the question of "why doesn't your partner help out with chores / parenting / home management / stress?" there's always some explanation.  Some of the time these women make excuses for the men, but most of the time they are angry with them but end up saying, "what can I do? He just doesn't get it."

Oh, this pisses me off.  So much.

What can you do?  Woman!  Where is your warrior spirit?  Where is your dignity?  Where is your self esteem?

Listen, it really is as simple as this:

If you are exhausted, and your partner isn't exhausted right along with you, it means he doesn't love you.  (In most cases.  I know-- there are cases where he's deployed or works away from home, or she has some kind of chronic illness, etc.  But the vast majority of the time, he's just choosing not to pull his weight.)  And if he doesn't love you, why the hell are you with him?  

Love has many definitions, but all of them include at least the general desire for the well-being of the beloved.  And exhaustion is the opposite of well-being.  Especially chronic exhaustion.  Exhaustion erodes your mental health, it erodes your physical health, it erodes your ability to connect with who you are and why you are alive.  Exhaustion is not something to take lightly.  If your partner is reporting being exhausted, you should be very concerned!  You should be right next to her asking, "how can I help make this better?  What needs to be done?"  You should be working yourself until you are as exhausted as she is, or finding a way to reduce her load so she isn't exhausted anymore.  That's what it means to love someone.  To care for their fundamental well-being.  If that's not happening, that's not love.  It's possession, or lust, or something else. It's not love.

I really don't understand why the idea that men should share equally in the parenting and household responsibilities is so goddamn controversial.  (I mean, I do, because I was raised religious, but ... if you think about it, it's so fucking illogical!) I don't understand why people make excuses for this behavior or throw their hands up and say they can't do anything to change their man's mind.  How about discussing it thoroughly with him to explain how unfair it is and how exhausted you are, and trying to come up with a plan?  Like, each of you has an equal number of chores you're responsible for.  Or each of you works on chores for an hour per day, and you trade days where you cook dinner.  Or, or... There are plenty of fair arrangements that can be made.  If discussing it doesn't work, your relationship is really screwed... because it means he doesn't listen and doesn't care how you feel.  But you could always try ultimatums, I suppose.  Or, since he's acting like a child, treat him like one and don't give him dinner if he doesn't do his goddamn chores.  And if none of that works, you should make a plan... and you should leave him.  I know it's complicated to leave, and I'm not making light of that, but that's really what you should do, woman.

I'm a single mom, and yes, being single sucks in many ways.  The loneliness sucks, the lack of support sucks, the vulnerability sucks.  But at the end of the day, I have my dignity, my self-respect, and my integrity. Quantitatively it might seem better to "settle" and have at least some support with life stuff than to have none.  But qualitatively, it's better not to settle.  I need to be able to look myself in the mirror and say that I stood up for myself and refused to be made a doormat.  If I'm exhausted, and I am often, at least I don't have added to my already heavy burden, the rage of looking over at a "partner" who is sitting there NOT exhausted, and feeling how unjust it is.

This opinion seems to be controversial, for some reason, judging from how people react when I post things like this. It just seems logical to me. So I'm not going to raise my blood pressure any more by exposing myself to these posts on a regular basis. I'll go on living my awesome, exciting life, mom-forum-free.  Let me know if you want my opinion.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My friend Chuck

I just got the news that my friend Chuck committed suicide.  This is a truly tragic loss. I am in shock and grieving.

Part of the grieving process is feeling guilty. I knew he was going through a difficult time, but I wasn't as available as I should have been and wanted to be. I spoke to him a couple months ago, and meant to stay in touch. I  thought of him several times the past few weeks, and intended to call, but I didn't call.  Why didn't I call?  I let my own worries and life distractions prevent me from calling.  I wish I had called. It might have prevented it, it might not have, but at least he would have known, in his last moments, that I cared about him.

Part of the grieving process is anger. But it's mostly anger at the systems and the people who tormented him and drove him to take this final action.  His wife for being really nasty in the divorce process and alienating him from his kids, who were his life's joy. The legal system that makes divorce 100 times harder than it should be and allows people to torment other people. Our fake, materialistic culture that punishes creative and moral souls while rewarding those who are shallow and egotistical. Our mental health system for over-relying on drugs and profit while neglecting the human and compassionate approaches to treatment.  The American economy that doesn't look out for the weak or for people down on their luck.  The American Evangelical Christian culture of judgmentalism and brainwashing, creating presumed insiders and outsiders to God's love.  (I shudder to think what those horrible, evil church people are telling his beautiful children.  "Because your daddy didn't accept Jesus in his heart, he is now burning in hell!" Those idiotic, narrow-minded, nasty, brainwashed people! They have absolutely zero concept of true spirituality or the nature of God!)  I know Chuck made a choice, and the ultimate responsibility is on him.  I'm sure he regrets it now.  But I'm not angry at him. He had a terrible moment of weakness.  I'm angry at everything that drove him to feeling that he couldn't cope anymore.

I'm also a wee bit jealous, to be honest.  His suffering and struggles are over. He can find peace now.  I know it's terrible to say it, because this means his adorable children will suffer horrifically from losing him.  There's nothing that will make that easier or better or right.  But as far as Chuck is concerned, he is in a better place.  He doesn't have to struggle to find money, to find shelter, to shush the voices tormenting his mind, to worry about the legal strategies for getting to see his kids again, to worry about pleasing a boss or clients, or worry about anything else.

I can't afford to travel to Chicago to attend his funeral, and I'm feeling helpless to do anything to alleviate the situation. I don't know his family or most of his friends to be able to commiserate.  Chuck and I met through the online Atheism for Lent course, and have been good, distant, online friends ever since, but our daily-life circles didn't cross. I don't have money to contribute to the gofundme account for his children. I can't do anything.

I can't do anything, but I can honor the person he was, at least in my own small way.

I knew him as a truly good man. He was a devoted and caring father, and a survivor who overcame horrors most of us would be decimated by.  Despite all the difficulties in his life, his intelligence, creativity, wit, and profound morality shone through.  He was wise and self-aware.  He had not only a deep mental intelligence, but keen emotional intelligence as well.  He was not afraid to express his feelings, which is a rare trait for a man in today's world.

Physically, he was gentle and unimposing in appearance. But mentally he was formidable.  His knowledge on a host of subjects was vast, and his ability to navigate complicated philosophical subjects with deft ease was simply amazing.  I looked up to his intelligence, and greatly admired his ability to express it.  And yet, unlike many whose intelligence is far to the right on the bell curve, he was compassionate and never arrogant.  He would put you in your place if you needed it, but he never did so just to feel superior or to boost his ego.  He cared about truth and beauty and morality and experience, and was never shallow enough to play any kind of ego games.

Chuck also had great insight into the human psyche.  He was a playwright, and his plays he gave me the honor of reading explored tapestries of emotions without ever approaching either melodrama or kitsch.  He practiced meditation and non-judgmental, body-based emotional processing, and was not afraid to share his feelings openly with his friends.

The world is truly a worse-off place without Chuck to brighten it.  I miss him, and wish I could have at least said good-bye.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


34, 14, 1800, 2
Maybe these numbers mean nothing to you
The hairs on our heads are all numbered, 9, 3
Etched in my heart for eternity

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The exchange

I asked God for a job
So I could feed my children
And God said, "Granted.
But in return, I will take away your ability to cook and bake
Your gravy will be lumpy, your meat will be tough,
Your cookies will be burned on the edges,
And your pasta will cleave."
Then God turned into a coyote, howled at the moon, and disappeared.
And I was grateful.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Did the ancients understand precession sooner than we think they did?

Happy Summer Solstice! 

Quite by accident, yesterday I began thinking about a topic that turned out to be very timely to the subject of the solstice.  Here was my train of thought:
  • For some reason, a reference to a lion reminded me of learning, in a Bible survey class I took in high school, about the Four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) being prophesied in the Book of Ezekiel, and reflected in the Book of Revelation.
  • I hadn't thought about Biblical prophecy in a long time, and I was interested in re-examining this particular prophecy with fresh eyes.  

Here is the prophecy from Ezekiel chapter 1 (KJV, emphasis mine):
And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
 10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
26 And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.

28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
 Clearly, Ezekiel was viewing extra-dimensional beings.  (Wonder what drug he was taking!) Let's compare this with the vision of John the Beloved, in Revelation 4 (KJV, emphasis mine)
And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever...
The same animals appear in both visions, though in slightly different forms.  The animals are also relating to the Throne of God in both visions. The Book of Ezekiel is said to have been written in 593-571 BCE, while the prophet was in exile in Bablyon. (The exile period proved to be extremely influential on Jewish literature, culture, and theology, as any historian who's even cursorily studied the subject knows.)  The Book of Revelation was probably written somewhere around 85 CE.

I can't explain most of the content of those visions, but I think I do understand one thing.  It's difficult to understand today how these four beings: Ox, Lion, Eagle, and Man could be very much meaningfully related, but that's because astrology is no longer common knowledge.  Any ancient mystic would understand it.  These animals are four signs in the zodiac, and they are related by 90ยบ angles to each other.
*the sign of Scorpio is sometimes interpreted as a scorpion, sometimes as a dragon or serpent, and sometimes as an eagle, depending on which tradition is talking.

The symbolism of the signs of the zodiac are extremely ancient.  These four beasts in both visions just simply can't NOT be astrological in connotation. 

In Hellenistic astrology, which would be developed about 400 years after Ezekiel's vision, they codified these four signs as related by the fixed mode.  (The two other modes are cardinal and mutable.)  Now, the first question I asked myself is why these four signs would be so important in a prophetic vision about the glory of the Lord.   The Cardinal mode signs would make more sense.  Cardinal signs mark the beginning of each season; they initiate and create.  While fixed signs maintain the seasons once established, and Mutable signs start closing things down to get ready for the next season, it's the Cardinal signs that witness the major turning points of the earth's cycle each year. All signs are equally important, but many major religious traditions place their sacred holidays around the times of the seasonal changes — the equinoxes and solstices — which are defined by the Cardinal signs.  If anything were to symbolize the power of God, it seems like Cardinal signs would make more sense.  It was puzzling to me.

Then I remembered precession. Aha!

Western astrology begins the sign of Aries with the spring equinox each year. However, the actual constellation rising in the sky at the time of the equinox is no longer the sign of Aries; it is Pisces.  This is due to the phenomenon of axial precession.  This phenomenon causes the positions of the zodiacal signs to shift by one degree about every 71.6 years.

Astronomers and astrologers have known about precession for centuries.  Its discovery is attributed in the West to Hipparchus, who lived in the 2nd century BCE (about 400 years later than Ezekiel, but 200 years earlier than John the Beloved), though Indian Vedic astrologers may have known about precession as early as 700 BCE.  At the time of Hipparchus, the sign of Aries did rise in the sky at the time of the vernal equinox, but it would not always be so.  Western astrology made the conscious choice to base their astrology on the tropical (season-based) year, not the sidereal (star-based) year. Thus, in the system of Vedic astrology, which is sidereal, the signs are now about 23 degrees different than the signs in Western astrology.

The sign of Aries marked the vernal equinox for a few thousand years.  Then the equinox point moved into the area of sky dominated by Pisces (though Westerners still called the vernal equinox Aries, because they'd decided to use a tropical system, remember).  Here's a chart showing how the vernal equinox point has changed through history. The numbers are years, BCE and CE. See how we're getting close to the end of Pisces, and you know what that means...  (Insert Hair reference here, of course... with much eye-rolling...)
Equinox path.png
By Dbachmann - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6394235

Taurus isn't labeled in the above chart.  It's the constellation mostly below the ecliptic, that has Aldebaran in the center.

Figuring out when to declare a change in ruling sign of the vernal equinox is complicated and hotly debated.  But there are definitely periods where it's very clearly one sign or the other.

Here's my hypothesis: What if Ezekiel and John understood precession?  Or, at least, some simplified form of it via the understanding that the vernal equinox point (the start of the new year) gradually changed signs over the period of thousands of years?  According to a second century CE Jewish scholar, the date of creation is about 3761 BCE.  Perhaps other Jewish astronomers along the way before him arrived at a similar calculation.  If so, the vernal equinox point would have probably been in Taurus at that point (though it depends how you divide the sky. As I said, there is a lot of dispute over how to do this.)

If the Jews did, indeed, calculate the beginning of creation at some point when the vernal equinox was in Taurus --and I know this is a lot of "ifs"-- that would mean that Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius were the equinox and solstice signs at the year of creation.  Thus, these four animals -- the ox, the lion, the eagle, and the man-- would have sacred significance as the witnesses of creation. They were the initial guardians of the changes in seasons. They were the original markers of the most sacred points in the year.  They were the midwives of God's original intentions when she birthed this vast world.  Thus... it is significant that these four beasts support God's throne in both mystical visions listed above.  Referencing them in one's literature would be calling on the ancient knowledge of God as the one who is before all of history, existing in eternity, and the one who set the great wheels of time spinning, who holds the seasons together, and, therefore, who has authority over all of time and space.

Perhaps more interesting to modern minds, if my hypothesis is correct, this could mean that the ancients had some kind of understanding of precession at least 400 years before we think they did.  That would be pretty amazing if it were true.

Happy solstice!!

Monday, May 16, 2016

To Brigid, Part 1

Inspired by the goddess of loving mystery, in whom three is one and four, and by whom fire is water is life for earth. I offer this poem to the lady of creativity, asking that (by the principles of trinity) it also conjure the strength of the smith and the healing of the physician.  Her nature is multiple meanings, and looking into the water at a reflection always shows another view of reality if we ask for eyes to see.

I feel that there will be more to this poem, which is why I call it Part 1, but this is all I have right now. Some words have multiple meanings.

I don't know how to let him go.
My heart was built to hold.
My facings, spirit, nature, pace —
a clasp, a sponge, a bowl

I do know how to fight my space,
To forge a boundary line,
When threats upon my home, my peace,
My Self, blur and bind.

Bound! Someone can be here, and not.
My sword is useless now.
Footprints, ghosts taunt, remain.
Unhold — I don't know how.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Brokered Emotions

In general, most people don't like to think of relationships in terms of transaction, at least not relationships that are supposed to be loving and intimate, like family or close friends.  Most of us know instinctively that affection and love do not derive their meaning from a "you do this for me, and I'll do that for you" mindset.  However, the emotionally healthy among us also know that overall, there should be a balance in a healthy, power-equal relationship (such as a romantic partnership or a friendship between adults).  Not that we are keeping score, but roughly, each person should be putting about the same level of energy into the relationship as they are getting out of it.  The commodities being "traded" in a relationship vary—emotional support, physical services, intellectual discussions, quality time, and so on.  Everyone is looking for a slightly different set of ingredients from their relationships, and needs to make some trades in order to find what they are looking for.  A good relationship doesn't reduce to transaction, not at all (!!), but balance is an important element.  Relationships involve transaction, there's no need to pretend this isn't true.
balance scale
Image by winnifredxoxo on Flickr.com Creative Commons Attribution license.

It is generally good advice that in a relationship that is supposed to be power-equal, if the balance goes too far towards one person's favor for too long, this is not a healthy relationship, and boundaries should be put in place.  However, I have been realizing lately that even if a relationship has a balance that is roughly equal, there can still be something subtly but deeply wrong.  I am envisioning a style of relationships that I will call "emotionally brokered relationships."

To come up with this term, I used a metaphor from the financial industry. I was inspired while reading Gordon White's book, The Chaos Protocols, in which he describes solutions for dealing with the reality of today's economy (the book is not really about relationships... my mind just jumped to that topic).  In the first chapter White proffers a brief history of how the global economy got into the mess it's in today.  In general, the main problem is that the economy is no longer operating on trading real "wealth" (physical goods and services based on human personal interactions), but is instead an elaborate system of relativity.  As currency moves further and further away from the concept of actual wealth and direct transactions, more and more inequalities and dysfunctions are created.  For example, a couple decades ago, the mortgage system made a shift from using straightforward mortgages to security-backed mortgages.  A straightforward mortgage is simply a loan that the bank gives you to buy a home.  A security is a piece of paper that gambles on the  assumption that you will pay the mortgage back (with interest), ensuring future profit. They are basically IOUs on IOUs.  The banks can then mess around with these IOU's and gain incredible wealth, basically out of thin air.  The incentives behind providing loans then became less about offering a service to individuals who needed it, and more about hedging bets and maximizing profit in an abstract inter-bank market.  As White put it, "Banking moved from being relationship-based (which enabled real investment in a real economy) to being transactional; bankers changed from being investors to brokers."  In this system, even a mortgage that is technically "fair" for both the lender and the buyer, isn't truly an authentic transaction, and behind the scenes it's almost always working in favor of the big bank.

I think a similar difference can be described in how some people conduct relationships.  For some, even their intimate relationships are not engaged with for their own sake, but instead are used as a form of social capital to increase personal power.  Part of the psyche separates itself from the direct relationship and tries to direct and manage the transactions towards an ulterior goal. There is something quite nefarious about this mode of operating, and difficult to discern.  One blatant example of this would be when people brag about how good their relationships are, as a form of ego-boosting, or to sell a book or workshop, or something like that. But there are other subtle ways that people can do this, brokering out the relationship to serve a dark ulterior set of motives.  In relationships like these, even if the relational transactions are technically "balanced," they actually aren't, really.  The party doing the emotional brokering is actually operating from a place of deep selfishness, and will always be looking for little ways to cut corners on the relational transactions, or grasping for subtle psychic superiority.  Evil people conduct all of their relationships this way, and use every opportunity to take as much as they can, only giving back when it will lead to personal advantage, calculating every move to ensure personal psychic profit.

I said this mode of relationship is nefarious, but I am now thinking of situations where it doesn't necessarily have to be.  Perhaps it is sometimes even necessary for health.  When people have their guards down, and relate to each other directly, and build that balance of inputs and outputs together, there is an authenticity that leads to joy and mutual satisfaction.  However, the unlucky among us quickly learn that this unguarded style is not wise to use with every person.  Some people are dangerous.  It can be a sign of maturity when one learns that relational transactions must be "brokered" to some extent, to ensure that you don't get taken advantage of.  Part of your psyche needs to separate from the transaction, and observe it objectively, to make sure it's actually fair and going well.  If that starts not being the case, that part, "the broker," steps in and takes measures to protect you.  The ulterior motive here is self-preservation, which isn't necessarily evil.  Indeed, it should be a given.  The difference between this nicer way of brokering I'm thinking of, and evil, is that the motives are still relationship based.  The players want to have a healthy relationship for its own sake, and they want fairness. They just need to make sure it's safe before they let their guards down.  As opposed to the evil person I mentioned earlier, who only wants relationships if they serve the ego.

Problem can arise when a person uses the brokered mode for so long, they become incapable of switching into a direct, authentic transactional mode.  Brokering is not a satisfying way to conduct close relationships, because it necessarily precludes intimacy, which brings true joy.  At some point, when both sides know they can trust each other with their hearts, the relationship "broker" must be abandoned, and the two parties must face each other directly, nakedly, and authentically, and they must build something together.  If one or both parties are unwilling to do this, then true love will never grow.  Even if such a relationship has every indication of being a balanced one, it is not really healthy.

It's tricky to know when it's safe to "fire your emotional broker" in a relationship.  Myself, I have been hurt so much, that I find myself needing lots of proof from another that they are trustworthy.  I will enter relationships not fully engaged, but "trading relationship commodities" in as fair a manner as I know how, and watching to see if the other operates fairly as well.  If s/he doesn't, I bolster my walls and might even go as far as removing them from my life.  I think this is healthy, even if it's not as fun as falling in love every other week.  I have a lot to offer; this makes me a desirable target for people who would like to take a lot.  I have only a few friendships in my life where I'm operating from an unguarded position.  I do wonder if I'll ever be able to let go again and relax with my full self exposed in a romantic relationship... and I wonder how hard a fight my "emotional broker" will put up, when it's time to step down.  I feel like it would take awhile, given my experiences with men so far.  I need to know that the other likes every last weird piece of me and would never judge me, would never exploit my weaknesses, would take a bullet for me, would help me, would listen wholeheartedly to me, and would keep my best interests at heart always.  And I long to offer all of the above to someone else as well.  Not just because that's only fair, but because that's what true love is.  And true love is its own reward.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Musings on cognitive processes and unconscious programming

The other morning as I was driving to work I needed to make a phone call.  I had stayed up too late the night before, so I was feeling tired.  And I was a bit worried about the content of the phone call. And I was driving.  So my mind wasn't at its sharpest.

After a few rings I heard a beep and a recorded message, "Please state your name, and Google Voice will connect you," then another beep.

 Like a dummy, instead of stating my name, I started talking as if I was recording a voicemail.  "Hi, it's me, I wanted to talk with you about..."  But after only two seconds, there was another beep, and I realized the recording had stopped.  Then I realized what I had done.  Instead of recording my name, which the instructions had clearly told me to do, I had started trying to record a voicemail with a message.

PhoneWhat happened there?  Well, my conscious mind was distracted, and my ability to connect with my "executive function" was hindered due to physical tiredness.  So the unconscious, or semi-conscious mind took over.  Somewhere along the way, due to repeated exposure to the stimulus of a recorded voice and a beep, I have been programmed to associate this stimulus with the response of recording a voicemail.  The sudden change of expectation, to record my name instead, did not register fully onto my conscious mind, due to it being in a weakened and distracted state.  Thus, what was pre-programmed took over like auto-pilot.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an excellent book a long time ago called "Blink," that explored some of these ideas. I highly recommend it.

This reminds me of the concept of "Freudian slips."  Occasionally during speaking we will accidentally say the wrong word, but it will betray what we are "really" thinking, or at least what we are unconsciously thinking.  For example, a presenter accidentally introducing Prince William as the "Douche of Cambridge," then quickly correcting it to "Duke of Cambridge," COULD, according to Freudian theory, be construed as the presenter secretly thinking the Prince is a pretty shitty person, and accidentally betraying his true feelings.  (Of course, it's an easy mistake to make, considering the presenter was introducing "The Duke and Duchess..." That one word uses a hard -k-, and the other a soft -ch- sound, makes it easy to flip them around, completely innocently. But it's still a funny example, whether it was a betrayal of real feeling or not.)

So, what does something like this reveal about a person?  Which level of consciousness should be considered the "real" person? The incident that happened to me this morning was fairly innocuous; it just betrays that I have left a lot of voicemails in my lifetime (and, OK, all the privilege that implies...) But what about when someone's guard is down for whatever reason and the things that come out on autopilot are racist, misogynist, ablist, violent, or some other kind of undesirable trait?  What does this mean?  Is the person "really" a terrible person at heart, or are these things simply artifacts of poor programming?  Sometimes these values and traits are imprinted on us by our culture, even against our wishes.  With education and effort, we learn to identify ourselves with nobler values, but sometimes the old ways creep through when we are unguarded.  Can someone be held responsible for the contents of their unconscious mind, or is it only the conscious level that counts, (at least as far as moral responsibility)?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pagans and Jesus Christ

I recently ran across an article by a Pagan leader named Sam Webster called, "Why You Can't Worship Jesus Christ and Be Pagan."  (Yes, it's from 2013. I've never been one who's on the cutting edge of anything, so... whatever. I just go with things as they come to me.)  The ideas in this article fascinated me, and I want to try my hand at unpacking them.  (Webster expounded on his article in an interview, on this podcast: http://disinfo.com/2014/06/datc-044-cant-worship-jesus-christ-pagan-sam-webster/)

As a disclosure, I'm not Pagan, nor do I any longer feel safe identifying as a Christian, so my opinions are going to be more philosophical than personal.  I'm interested in exploring these concepts, not prescribing boundaries.

The essence of the article is that because Christianity has consistently sought to exterminate Paganism throughout history, either by conversion or by execution, the spirit of Christianity is incompatible with Paganism. Many good points are made, and I can totally see where he's coming from.  What I'm interested in, though, are the cracks and crevices in his arguments; the nuances on the edges of his monolithic declarations (which, to be honest, came across as thumpy in places).

First, let's just acknowledge that Webster presents a very narrow view of Church history and severely oversimplifies its complicated relationship with political power.  Let's also acknowledge that he ignores the HUGE subject of how religious syncretism has affected Christianity, in both directions, in and out.  For having seminary and history degrees, he really should know this stuff; that he ignored these things is baffling.

The main thing I want to focus on, though, is the ramifications for his arguments of his obvious conception of gods and goddesses as literal entities.  (As opposed, perhaps, to a kind of Jungian psychological approach, where deities are really archetypes — elements of the human psyche, endogenous creatures that take life in our collective imaginations.) That there are literal, exogenous spirits who can imbue physical bodies (besides being a fun and/or scary thing to turn over in my mind) is really what makes this article challenging to unpack.  I don't know where I stand on that issue.  Are there actually intelligent spiritual entities, separate from ourselves, whom humans label as god/desses, or are these actually psychological projections, or is it some mix of the two, or is it something else altogether?  I do not know.

But let's assume there are literal spirits, in order to address this article.  Because we need to know the nature of these spirits he believes in.  Are spirits (or, more specifically, is the spirit of Jesus Christ) eternal?  Because if so, that would mean that Jesus existed before the rise of Christianity.  (Which makes you wonder where Webster believes Jesus was before that, and what he was doing.)  Can the fundamental nature of spirits change over time?  So could, say, Venus, one day decide she's bored with being seductive, and instead focus more on, oh, traveling or something?  Or is Venus immutably seductive, because goddesses/gods don't change?  Likewise, if Jesus is a god whose nature is to eradicate culture and destroy dissenters (as Webster claims), was Jesus always this way? Will he always be this way? Or was he maybe more peaceful at one time (say, during the time when Christians were being persecuted by, ahem, people who worshiped multiple deities), and later evolved to be more wrathful?  Unpacking the theology of what Webster means when he talks about the spirit of Jesus really affects the validity of his arguments.

If I had to, today, decide how I wanted to understand what goddess/god spirits are, I would probably choose a conception similar to Plato's Forms.  Spirits are concepts, often universal concepts such as harmony, division, communication, and so on, that imbue the physical world.  So anything beautiful is, at least partially, imbued with the goddess Venus.  Anything angry or warlike is calling on Mars.  And so on. Thus, spirits cannot change, because they are concepts.  You can't change the concept of "roundness" or "green," even if you find different words for it or different nuances of it.

And it's important to recognize that the names for these concepts DO change.  Not only due to different languages, and linguistic shifts over time, but also, more subtly, due to the co-opting by various cultural elements of certain concepts.
For example, let's take the concept of the struggle for economic freedom for all of humanity.  A worthy goal.  This concept or spirit (as I'm currently deciding to conceive of the word "spirit") clothes itself in different forms throughout time and place depending on the context.  The spirit of universal economic freedom (for the sake of expediency, let's call this spirit Santa Claus, OK?) uses whatever tools it can find to accomplish its goals.  In one context, the most expedient tool Santa Claus can use is capitalism, while in another context, communism serves the job much better.  It's a crude example, but you can hopefully see my point, that the spirit behind very, very different movements can still be the same.

The Santa Claus impulse, to provide economically for all of humanity, drives very different people and marches under very different, sometimes even opposing, banners at times, based on the culture that surrounds it.  Now, let's say Santa Claus merged with Capitalism for awhile, because Capitalism was able to provide a lot of wealth for a wide range of people, and that made Santa Claus happy.  But over time Capitalism became corrupted by greedy people who refused to heed to the problems that were developing in the system, and instead collected more and more of the wealth for themselves.  Is Capitalism still imbued with Santa Claus?  I would say no.  At some point Santa Claus had to depart from the banner of Capitalism and find a different vehicle to accomplish his goals, most likely even fighting against the very thing he once indwelled.

So where I'm going with this, is back to the question of Jesus Christ.  If there is a spirit of Jesus Christ, is he, as Webster claims, a malefic spirit at heart, who deceives people with promises of peace and light, while actually only wanting to assimilate them, or destroy them if they refuse to be assimilated?  Or is it possible that Jesus is actually something else, and another spirit has co-opted the banner of Christianity, essentially driving the spirit of Jesus away from the very thing he once indwelled?

The latter is actually an argument that some Christians make, from a surprising diversity of viewpoints.  On one side, you have far right fundamentalists (the kind who merge their faith with their American nationalism,) such as Chuck Missler, who say that when Christianity merged with the Roman Empire, it ceased being Christ-like, and drove "the true church" underground.  The Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christianity are actually just the Satanic Roman Empire continuing in slightly different forms, who will eventually usher in the antichrist and the end of the age.  From another angle, you have liberal Christian theologians such as Rob Bell and Don Golden stating that the spirit of Christ is incompatible with any form of colonization or empire-building.  Despite what some Christians do in his name, Jesus is always about providing life, joy, and freedom to people, whether these people acknowledge him or not, whether they believe certain doctrines or not.

So which is it?  Will the real Jesus please stand up?  Is Jesus a colonizer or a liberator?  Yes, a large segment of today's Christianity, and a large segment of the historical church, takes a very authoritarian, colonizing approach.  But maybe the real spirit of Jesus has left the building, so to speak.  Maybe Satan or someone else (whoever the hell has been in charge of raising the various world empires throughout history, all of whom have colonized and destroyed the cultures of others, it's not just Christianity that has done that) has taken control.  Or maybe it really has been Jesus all along.  So... will invoking Jesus invite a self-erasure?  Or will you find that invoking Jesus does the opposite?  How can you know? And if Jesus is a deceptive deity, will you even be able to know before it's too late and he has assimilated you?  (Hypothetically speaking, here.  I don't personally invoke gods.)

There are so many directions I can go with this, but this post is long enough.  From the little I know of Paganism, most of them are strongly anti-authoritarian and won't let some guy tell them whom they can and can't worship, based on his own opinions of what that god is.  Based on the comments on the article and the podcast, it looks like a good chunk of the Pagan community has decided they have the right to define Jesus for themselves, and to reject or accept their personal ideas of who Jesus is, as they see fit. So who knows how influential this article actually was.  At least it gave me some food for thought, for which I'm grateful.

Anyway, I close my ramblings with a song I wrote several years ago, which seems apt for this topic.