We accept the ….. we think we deserve.

I remember when The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out. I was working in bookstores at the time and kept hearing how good it was. I never read it. Now the movie is coming out. This book was very important to a good friend of mine, and it’s thanks to her that this is even on my radar again. One of the most famous quotes from the book is “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I was thinking about this quote in meditation yesterday, thinking first about how it relates to my good friend, and then about how it applies to me.

I think we – humans, you and me – accept the love we think we deserve. I’ve often wondered if my attraction to people younger than myself is because of my easy-going personality and youthful spirit, or because I don’t take myself seriously. How could I have anything in common with someone who has a career, or owns a house, or made a million dollars by the time they’re forty?? I think I never looked for a Grown Up, because I never saw myself as one.

But the love and acceptance doesn’t just apply to romantic partners. It applies to EVERYTHING. What kind of friends do you think you deserve? Are you hanging out with “losers” (my definition: people who have no ambition or dreams, aren’t interested in growing, unwilling to do The Work, and/or accept responsibility for their life)? Maybe your friends reflect your own fears. Do you have weak boundaries, let others take advantage of you? I think we accept bad boundaries because we don’t see the value in our own boundaries, or fear that we’ll be unlovable if we expect better behaviour from others.

We also accept the God/s we think we deserve. Once I got past thinking about my relationships, I realized that this applies to my spiritual life too. I fear the gods won’t show up…. and they don’t (occasionally they have, but not regularly). It’s not so much because I’m ‘doing it wrong,’ but because I think I’m doing it wrong, that I’m not enough, that I ought to try harder, that it should be hard work.

I never used to think I was an ambitious person. I have never wanted to be a doctor or lawyer. In fact, I’ve never had a traditional career ambition in my life. But I am ambitious – I work hard at everything I do. I expect excellence from myself. Yet deep down I fear that I’m just overcompensating for being Less Than, Not Enough, Unworthy. And so I accept a weaker practice, I accept people and relationships (even with divinities) that don’t always show up; by taking myself so seriously I actually don’t take myself seriously enough. I expect it to be hard, and upon reflection I see that I continually choose people who are hard work – and traditions that are demanding as well. This has many rewards, but also lots of challenges, ones I wasn’t aware I was choosing.

One of the things I’ve learned from starting My Own Ashram project is how a simple yet dedicated practice can transform my spiritual experience. I don’t have to overdo things nor be perfect; I don’t have to take myself so seriously that I lose the honesty and reality of where I’m actually at on any given day. By showing up every day in some form or another, I am acknowledging my dedication to myself, to my family and to my gods. I’m taking myself seriously and coming to realize that I deserve a lot more. I’m ready to accept a deeper relationship with the world around me.

I’m starting to see that I deserve more. Oh, I’m still really uncomfortable with that word: deserve. I wonder if it’s from my time in Christianity – in which all things are absolutely unworthy, undeserving. I’m ready to shed that and try on for size what it feels like to deserve more. I’m ready to accept a deeper a love.

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Coming Out as a Polytheist

Earlier this week Adam and I went to visit with a family whose daughter attends the same preschool as our son. The kids had a great time, playing together happily, whilst we adults sat around talking, drinking delicious strawberry mint “mojitos” and eating amazing meatballs. It was a great party! Somewhere in there the conversation turned to my background in theology. As it does. I had an experience I haven’t had in a while: I was asked if I believe in God.

Buddy Christ, taken from Jesus’s twitter feed: https://twitter.com/jesus

I was surprised at how the content of the conversation was only slightly different from the kind I had when I was a Christian. The awkwardness was exactly the same, even as my position was radically different. I remember being asked if I believed in God when I was a Christian, and feeling uncomfortable because, while yes, I did believe in God, I didn’t believe in God the way the questioner usually meant. Even ten, fifteen years ago I had a much broader understanding of ‘God’ and certainly didn’t think God was a He (or a She, for that matter).

This time I felt that awkward, uncomfortable pit in my stomach and I got specific. I said I believed that Yahweh was A god, but not THE god, and he wasn’t MY god. I came out as a polytheist. It was weird, but also very freeing.

Other questions were asked: Do I believe that Jesus is the king of kings? No, if he was I think the Jews would have jumped on board with him. Does that make him less of a god? No. He’s just not MY god.

See, a polytheist view-point sees the world as full of gods, full of possibility. I actually think it helps me be agnostic about a lot of things, folding in my own experiences without denying the validity of others’ experiences, without breaking my brain trying to fit it all into a monotheistic framework in which “there can be only one.” I feel completely liberated from having to work everything into a monotheistic framework; my brain is so relieved about that.

Another question to answer was, had I read any CS Lewis? I feel bad when people ask me this. You might be surprised at how often this question comes up! I am a huge fan of Lewis; I’ve read most of what he’s written, including his academic work in literature and his fiction. (Hm, I think it could be good fun to revisit a bunch of his work with my “new eyes.” Does that sound interesting to you?) Usually I’m far more familiar with Lewis than the person asking the question. He’s a smart, thoughtful author, who is completely a man of his time, place, and circumstances. For the average American those circumstances and that time and place are just not relevant anymore.

Perhaps my favorite CS Lewis book.

Many of Lewis’s arguments and the evangelical arguments for Christianity rest on a purely monotheistic way of looking at the world. In fact, most atheist arguments rest on this framework, too. If God (as the Christians envision him) does not exist then there is no god. Or, if there is a god it has to be Yahweh. Why I couldn’t see the profound lack of logic in this for so many years is a testament to just how much the Christian view-point dominates our Western thinking. Why does the Christian viewpoint (or Jewish or Muslim – the monotheistic view-point) have to be the only one? It doesn’t. It isn’t.

We got to talking about experience. My host said that he had a life-changing experience in his mid-20s while driving for work. He said it was revealed to him that the Bible was true. My response was, that’s wonderful! Having a spiritual experience like that is joyous thing. I absolutely think that he ought to worship Yahweh and Jesus. But please don’t expect me to. Don’t demand that of me.

I put in my time. I didn’t give Christianity a mere fortnight. I gave it close to twenty years. I expected Jesus to do what the New Testament says he’ll do; I had hoped that I would have the sorts of experiences and relationships that my other Christian peers were having. But I never did. I had other experiences. I really think that Jesus and I are not meant to be in relationship with each other.

But what if you are being deceived? I was asked that in full sincerity. A good question, but one I don’t need to entertain. If my sincere heart and efforts dedicated to knowing God led me elsewhere, why would I assume I was being deceived? Why not assume that I was being led by a God of Love to where I was meant to be? To deities that wanted me? Assuming that I am being deceived actually makes Jesus out to be a real dick. Why keep me waiting all these years? Oh, it’s not for me to question? Well, I’d rather go where I’m wanted, where all the skills and gifts I gained in my years of Christianity are used, welcome, and produce fruit.

My lack of relationship with Jesus and Yahweh in no way invalidates the experiences of Christians. When looking at this topic from a purely monotheist point of view the choices are either Jesus is the single only truth, or he is a liar or, worse, an insane person; I am either being deceived by the devil, or Jesus isn’t true. I don’t think we need to be so zero sum about it. I am not deceived, nor am I lying, nor do I diminish the truth and beauty that many people find in the Christian tradition. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, that still doesn’t make him The Only god.

My embrace of the polytheist world view has given me new eyes through which to see the world, a new mind with which to accept my experiences and those of others. Indeed, I have a new heart with more compassion and less judgment than ever before.

I can appreciate the sincere desire of Christians to represent their truth to me. My only hope is that they will accept the truth of my experience – hard-earned – too.

Prayer of Rededication

An acquaintance of mine and Feri initiate, who goes by the internet nom de plume Happydog Potatohead, wrote this beautiful prayer recently. I was struck to the quick when I read it. Not only do I revere Kali, but Happydog speaks of the fire, the burning, the boundaries – these things which I’ve been feeling, pushing against, embracing. This prayer expresses my heart more accurately and eloquently than I could myself. Enjoy.

 

My Patroness, my Maitresse de ma Tete, is Kali.

Ghosts cannot abide me.

My power is the power to guide, to make boundaries, and to divide rightly.

I proclaim DIVISION, I proclaim BOUNDARIES, I proclaim FIRE.

I invoke my GODDESS,

who is no ‘mysterious one,’ (empty words from empty mouths),

She who is Queen above all the worlds,

And whose fire lit the stars

Long before an ape became a man,

Long before a man became a tribe,

Long before a tribe became a village,

Long before a village became a town,

Long before a town became a city,

Long before a city became a kingdom,

She was, She was, She was,

And the burning of Her worship is in the fire-heart

Of me. Oh heart, my Heart,

How I yearn for a glimpse of Your bright steel.

How I yearn for the touch of Your hand.

How I yearn for Your glory of light,

And to dance with You, I who have never

danced with any other,

I spin and turn and yearn

For You. To You.

Help me now, my Mother, my Sister, my Lover, my GODDESS,

Help me now to divide rightly, to use the blade well,

to set fire to that which is waste and to burn,

to set boundaries against foolishness and emptiness,

to bring my fire, granted from You, back to Your fire

to reignite, to re-imagine, to renew.

Mahakali, Mahakali, Mahakali,

Mother and Destroyer of all things and all worlds

in their time,

I renew and re-offer myself to You,

In the name of Fire and Sacrifice,

in the name of Love and Power,

in the name of Creation and Destruction,

in the name of Chaos

and in the name of Order,

I, even I, stand before You

and renew my Love before Love.

Amen.

Fire

I’m done with all of my summer traveling. I’m recovering physically (had a stomach bug to contend with), emotionally (relationships to heal), and mentally (oh wow, look at that list of things to attend to). It’s been hot here too, and we don’t have air conditioning. As I wind down and get centered again, the image that keeps coming to me is the Tower.

The Tower from he Mary-El deck

I feel like I’m on fire. Everything is in flames. Do you feel it, too? It’s more than just the incredible heatwave that the US has been facing, more than the forest fires. It seems like there is a wave of bad boundaries sweeping through communities. I feel angry about a lot of things. It seems like a wave of negativity is going around.

It has also been really hot, which seems to make everything worse.

Like the Tower card from the tarot, I feel like there are aspects of my life that are burning to the ground. But fire can be a good thing. Many ecosystems thrive with controlled fires every so many years – it burns away the scruff to make room for new seeds and plants to grow. The Tower card talks about the established systems falling down from the lightning bolt or flames of inspiration, intensity, and creative force.

All the burning up may be helpful, but it sure feels scary. I want to make sure that it’s a controlled fire. I’m fine with what is unhelpful burning away, I’m not ok with the out of control anger or biting destruction that can come with fire and fiery phases. I don’t want to burn down my house or irreparably damage important relationships. So I’m doing a lot of apologizing lately.

It’s been an intense summer for me. Four trips, involving four very different groups of people. Three of the four trips were high stakes emotion-wise for me, and emotions aren’t my strong suit. I have to work really hard to create flexible but firm boundaries. It’s energetically taxing for me to do that and hold space for my kids. I’ve already written about how I don’t always know when I need help. I often get to the end of my rope before I realize I’m at the end. And you know? It would almost always be better to know the end is coming and ask for help before I get there, than to arrive at the end and flail.

I’ve done my share of flailing and I’ve been apologizing for that. I struggle with apologizing. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I often feel like a doormat when I apologize and the other person doesn’t. It’s getting easier for me to do it, even if I suspect the other party won’t. Sure, sometimes I’m the only person who needs to apologize. Those times really suck, because who wants to be the one who put their foot in it? Usually, though, both parties need to apologize. For me, making amends is a vital part of being loving, mature person of integrity. If I hope that others will own their shit, I have to own mine. If I want a relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and honesty, then I have to own up to my mistakes, my crap, my failings, and make space for others to do the same.

Burn it up

Burning…. flailing…. Man, I’m mixing my metaphors. But that’s how it’s been for me this summer: messy. Let it burn. Let it all burn to the ground. Let’s see what grows in the spring.

Crashing, and hard

I have had a long summer and I’m feeling frayed.  I’m back from my last trip and while it was good, I’ve got the shakes and I’m extra super double plus sensitive. I’m coming down from constantly being on the go or being in between trips, holding space for many others, and keeping it together for just one more day/week/trip. I’m on the verge of a melt down, I think. It’s been a long time coming. I feel physically exhausted and bloated and sore. I’m mentally overwhelmed with the long list of things that Need Attending, things I’ve had to put off for 6 weeks. Emotionally, I’m frayed and fearful – I also have Things that Need Attending emotionally. I feel exposed and vulnerable – mostly because I don’t have my reserves. Which leads me to spiritually: I feel empty. I haven’t had a lot of space, within or without, for practice. Lately when I try to meditate I start nodding off to sleep and then jerking upright because I’m about to tilt over.

I wish I had something Certain and Sure to fall back on. I want that certainty that fundamentalists have. I want to feel filled up inside. I wish I had a single concrete practice or tradition to fall back on. Even though I feel stronger in my beliefs, hopes, practices than ever after this past year. Diving in and practicing, really trying things on with deepest sincerity and effort, has been incredibly informative and empowering, but it’s hard. When I’m tired like this I just want to be told what to do. I want to know that if I pray These Words, light This Incense, cast This Spell, or whatever, that I’ll feel amazing and connected, and powerful once again.
But I know that after being so taxed on all levels, in all my parts, that I have to abandon all my efforts. That’s right: abandon. I have to rest. I have to pare down It’s more than getting ‘back to basics.’ Maybe today I sit for 5 minutes and take a bath. Tomorrow I sit for 6 minutes and offer incense and say a short prayer. Pick one or two simple things. Just as I pick one task off the List of Things That Need Attending to do every day. Eventually my equilibrium will come back. one day, maybe next week, or in two or three weeks, I’ll realize that I’ve sat for 20 minutes and done my full routine without realizing it. Eventually I’ll feel Inspired and do some ritual and will feel connected. Maybe it’ll happen while I’m cooking or putting one of my kids to sleep or while walking down the street, but it will happen. Right now I feel like all of that is ages away. I feel dried out, spent, and my belly hurts.

One act at a time, coupled with exquisite self-care (more sleep, less caffeine, light eating, lots of deep breathing, more exercise, etc.) is my plan.

Harvest

Today is Lughnasadh, a Celtic cross-quarter holiday celebrating the first fruits of what has been sown and preparing for the harvest to come. I don’t typically observe it, as I’m not much in tune with farm cycles. I notice that the selection at the farmer’s market is larger: more vegetables, the first pig from my favorite local farm was just slaughtered. But I don’t garden, nor do I live in a community centered on farm life, and so this holiday doesn’t often register for me.

However, a lot of people in my social media circles are either writing about Lughnasadh or reposting articles about it. I realize that I am actually feeling the weight of the harvest to come; I am aware of the first fruits. I mentioned the farmer’s market – I was there yesterday, and I did buy some of the freshly slaughtered pig, for which I give thanks. More than that, I just returned from Kansas, a place where everything is centered around farm life. The harvests are off, it seemed to me, because of the intense and early heat. Even more personally, I feel that there are many aspects of my life that need weeding, harvesting, and general tending. But I do not have the time and space for it. I have one more trip to make!

In ten days time I want to dig into the garden of my life – so many nourishing things need tending! Adam and I need to re-work our schedule, who looks after the kids when. He needs more time to work and I want to explore paid work. He and I need some quality time together. After getting all the rest I need, I must start getting more exercise – how to make that happen? How can I fit in my spiritual practice? I suspect I’ll need to get up earlier. I still need to sort out some things with a few friends. Several friends have Big Important Things going on in their lives and I want to make more space for them. Reworking this blog has been on my mind for 6 weeks, so that’s on my list. I want to explore what this year has brought me so far, and how I can make the best of what’s left of the year. I’m feeling an intense desire to hunker down, go radio-silent, disappear.

Another aspect of Lughnasadh is that it honors Lugh, Celtic god of heroes and light. I don’t feel all that heroic. I feel mostly frazzled, defensive, and anxious. But strong boundaries and exquisite self-care are part of the heroic life and so I cling those things. I look to the light to illuminate, strengthen, revive; to console, comfort, and embolden.

Let’s give thanks for the first fruits and embrace the remaining light of the summer.