On the nature of ego

I have been bingeing the TV series The Exorcist recently, and in the second season, I suddenly realized that there was a lot going on regarding the nature of ego in the younger priest, Father Thomas.  At the end of season 1, he had succeeded in doing something that had previously been though impossible.  Because of this, he decided that he had been Chosen™ by God in order to perform this miracle.

In the first half of season 2, Tomas gets cocky and mouthy to his mentor ( defrocked Father Marcus, who had been an exorcist for many years) and, at one point, basically, “You hate it that God chose me, not you!”  Talk about giant ego right there.  Since I’m Buddhist, this duality really stuck out to me and made me do some thinking.

It seems to me that it is human nature to want to be unique, remarkable, special in one way or another.  We drive our kids to make the grade, make the team, be the team captain, etc.  As adults, we want to be known as the go-to person on one subject or another.  We jockey for the promotion or the raise and we get upset and sullen if we don’t get the recognition that we think that we deserve.  Therein lies the problem:  Most people are not unique, remarkable, or particularly special in any significant way.  We’re mostly average and run of the mill.

That’s not to say that we are not special to our friends and families, or that we have particular talents, but people generally fall within a relatively narrow spectrum of difference.  There are cases where a certain person exhibits some particularly advanced skill, but the Mozart-like virtuoso is rare indeed.  Most of the time, the remarkable people have nothing but drive and determination that separates them from the proverbial herd.

Back to the TV show:  When Father Tomas had it out with Father Marcus, it struck me that Tomas was suffering with an intense bout of ego and separation from his partner and their work.  What Marcus didn’t understand is that what he thought of as being Chosen™ was nothing more than being in the right place at the right time, with the right tools.  In other words, he lucked out and didn’t recognize it.

This is important, because it also helped me realize that *I* am still wanting to be a unique and special snowflake, and get disappointed (dukkha) because of my attachment to that desire.

Obviously, I have some stuff to work on still.

My Generation’s Day of Infamy

Some people will think me a bad person and sympathizing with the terrorists, but I think that we need to let the 9/11 trauma go. We need to let the wounds heal, and we need to grow past it.

Yes, it was a tragedy. Yes, it was an outrage. Yes, it was a black eye on the “Greatest Country In The World ™.” But the thing is, if we keep picking the emotional scab off every year, we’ll never heal. And the hate and fear will never go away.

There are plenty of other everyday tragedies that have a greater loss of life than happened in New York, but they are by ones and twos, and are not big political statements. Why are we outraged by one building collapse and some 3000 people dying but not a word is spoken about the almost 42000 deaths in in 2001? Are those lives less worthy of mourning? Are they less worthy of remembering?

I’m done with social media today. I’ll be back once the wailing is over, tomorrow.

“Chosen by the Gods” A response

This evening, Galina posted another discourse that gave me some think thinks. Check her post (Chosen by the Gods) out for the background to this one. The post that I’m referring to here was elicited by an argument (her words) that she has with a colleague about why some people hear the Gods’ call more than others. One side says “nature” (predisposition) while the other says “nurture” (e.g. Training, hard work, and effort). Galina admits that the truth is probably somewhere between the two ends of that spectrum.

In my words, it sounds like the argument was going possibly well (though without likely accord) until the colleague got all “trigger” happy. My take on the topic follows below. Continue reading ““Chosen by the Gods” A response”

Trying to shake my own box.

I just read one of the longest blog posts of my life, over at Gangleri’s Grove: Devotion or “Psychotic Superstition”

I respect Galina, but don’t always agree (or even understand) her mindset.  To me, she’s something of a hardline Heathen, a steadfast polytheist who has strong (VERY strong!) opinions about the current state of the greater Pagan Community©.  She’s also an academic with no weak chops in religion.  I, on the other hand, claim both Buddhist and Druidic faith, and am currently only tentatively “theistic” in practice.  I blame that on my academic training and long-term mental health status.

The post that spawned this one is, frankly, upsetting, on a number of different levels.  I mean, how can one be both a pagan and an atheist?  IMO, not well.  And it’s an impossibility to be an atheists polytheist… The terms are diametrically opposed.  Atheists dispute the very existence of the divine, while polytheists acknowledge the existence of many gods.  This matches with Galina’s position against someone who was on her Facebook.  He was apparently dead-set on casting Heathenry as foolish, backward, and delusional.  Anybody who knows anything about Galina knows that she’s anything but a fool.

Long parts of the discussion between she and Jeff go back and forth, and Galina sums up thus:

Now i’m not posting this to bash Jeff. I”m posting it because everything he said are things that i’ve seen cropping up in the Pagan community and in Heathenry too (different parts at different times). It represents a mindset, a way of looking at the world that not only excludes the Gods but renders devotion to Them as psychosis. Is it any wonder that there is so much antagonism toward devotional work in Heathenry, or actual active belief in the Gods in Paganism? These things aren’t just words.

And…

THIS is a perfect example of the monotheistic filter at work. It’s a perfect example of what our contemporary culture teaches, what academia reinforces, and how we are all infected with a distrust of devotion. it’s there and it’s exchanges like this that make me see how deeply those anti-piety currents run. Perhaps this exchange with Jeff wasn’t one of my shining moments as a theologian. It is disheartening, however, to find these ideas ever present as we trudge forward in this work.

This is a large part of my situation right now.  I am a product of the Modern Mind and a patient in the mental health (such as it is) system in the USA.  I know that I used to touch the numinous, before I had a breakdown.  I know that I had a connection to The Divine©.  These days, though, I am tentative.  I am unsure.  I doubt myself, and my hold on sanity.  I am afraid that I might fall into actual, real, clinical psychosis.  On the flip-side of that coin, though, I desire numinous experience (yeah, don’t laugh about the Buddhist with attachment and desire. 😛 ).  I expect that there is more to this world and reality than science and rationality can explain or even experience.

Am I a polytheist?  Likely not, particularly with my Buddhist background (heavy monism, definition 1a).  I also claim pantheism as a self-description.  Be this as it may, I also currently chose to single out Hecate/Hekate for some small devotional work.  Currently, I am 99.99% certain that I’m not psychotic, due to my psychiatric medication regimen.  I am mostly glad that I don’t hear voices and feel that the Gods are talking to me.  Were it otherwise, I would severely doubt my sanity.

So where does that leave me? I’m still trying to figure that out.  Until I have certainty, I will depend on faith.

Shaking other peoples’ boxes

Kristen is so awesome.  She finds the most interesting things for me to read then sends them to me.  Case in point:  Today she sent me a link to “These aren’t the gods you’re looking for” by John Halsted, who writes The Allergic Pagan over on Patheos.  This is a slightly older post, having been made in Feb 2014, but it cuts to the heart of an issue that I’ve been having.

In my close tribe, I am mostly an exception to the rule.  The rest of the Pagans that I am with on a daily basis are devotional polytheists of one stripe or another, where I am decidedly not.  I am, in common practice, a Buddhist Druid who is starting to work with Hekate/Hecate.  However, unlike the other three, I do not have direct interaction with Hekate.  I don’t encounter Her as a distinct and autonomous personality, and she doesn’t speak to or “pester” me (to use a term that Halstead used), for which I’m grateful.  I am not “godbothered.”

I don’t know about how our extended tribe perceives the divine, but I know we’ve got a pair of “Pagnostics” (Pagan agnostics), a Native American, a Fey, and some other various and sundry Pagan practices.  Like I said, the ones that I share daily life with are all devotional polytheists, and I have wondered if I’m doing things right, since my experience is so different from theirs.

This, in turn, leads me to no small amount of self-doubt and wondering if I’m following a legitimate path, since I have such a vastly different experience.  To borrow a phrase from Halstead again, I’ve been “shaking other peoples’ boxes” trying to figure out if their practice is better or more legitimate than mine. I fact, this comic panel pretty much sums it up:

Three forms of Pagan theology comic by Alexander Folmer
Original by Alexander Folmer

Anyway, this self-doubt makes things challenging, but Nimue Brown had something useful to say in her 2013 “Spirituality Without Structure.” In short (and I’m WAY simplifying my interpretation here), looking to other people to help define and explain personal spirituality is, in a sense, seeking safety and security without being (my words, not hers) brave enough to strike out and make your own path.  Again, my words here, looking to others for validation is somewhat intellectually lazy, but not necessarily in a negative way.  Some people just aren’t built in a way that allows them to go it alone, and that’s OK.

But here I am, shaking other peoples’ boxes, when I really should just be focusing on my own box, which is decidedly not like theirs.  And that’s perfectly acceptable.  I just have to accept it and work with what I have.

Thoughts on thoughts

TL;DR American society has lot touch with the Divine as a whole, not just the Pagan community. But I think it is making a come-back.

The other day, Galina Krasskova made a post entitled “a few thoughts” on her blog, where she commented on the difference between the level of devotion and piety between where she is currently (for some reason, I think she’s in Poland, but it’s definitely somewhere “Old World”) and that which she sees in the Pagan community in the United States. The comparison is not complimentary to Americans. Big surprise. Continue reading “Thoughts on thoughts”

Just remember… I’m not part of that club, ok?

This is mostly for myself, but also to my partner in crime.  Remember, I’m not part of the same club you three are.  I’m not getting the same info flow that you guys are, and am, in a manner of speaking, left in the dark.

I’m not complaining.  So far, I’m being mostly included, at least as far as being kept in the loop of things.  Remember, I’m the lone nontheist animist in the group, and you guys are devotional polytheists.  I’m living with outsider syndrome currently.  At this point, though, that’s OK, since I have some things on my own plate.

I look at the devotional polytheists in much the same light that I look at artists and content creators: with a little confusion, some jealousy, and some awe.  I am always enthralled by things that are not part of my make-up, in large part because they are not part of me.  It’s something outside of my realm of understanding, and I like to understand things.  In small part, it fascinates me because I wish I was part of that group.  But I’m mostly solitary (and pragmatically driven) by nature, and part of me wishes I had more deep community.

On the other hand, I am so very thankful that I am not god-bothered (thank you to Nimue Brown for the term!) because I have so much else on my plate with my schooling, my own path, and my own mundane issues.  If I were god-bothered (which fascinates me, as an observer), I would be distracted more than I can probably afford.

But please, remember that I’m not part of the club, and it can get a little lonely when all your friends are part of something that you’re not.

“Always take the donuts”

A friend of mine turned me on to a book yesterday, and I have no shame in admitting that I devoured it in two sittings.  The book in question is “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer.  It was a moving book (can’t really call it a novel, since it’s autobiographical, but it’s not a manifesto, that’s for sure) and one that I will have to stew upon for quite a while… I kind of drank from the fire-hose on this one.

Amanda’s writing is not always pristine, but it has something that I haven’t encountered much:  It is REAL on a significant level.  The emotions are right there, and they grab on tight.  Most of the emotions that she evoked were the happy kind, but there were a few places where it got kind of uncomfortable and awkward.

These places, though, were where she really hit home.  The self-doubt that she expressed was a mirror to my own.  Sure, she’s a performance artist (artiste?) and I am most decidedly not, so I can’t connect on that level, but there’s a part where she’s talking with her retired software programmer mother, and Mom recounts a fight that they had when Amanda was 13.  Amanda, in a fit of teenage pique called herself a “real” artist and said that he mom wasn’t.  So, twenty some years after the fact, Amanda came to realize (thanks to her mother’s words) that there are two kinds of creatives:  those who can hang their work in a gallery (and I’m including performance art, writing, etc here) and those who can’t.

In that moment, I connected.  I have said for years that I wish I was creative, I wish that I had the artistic spark, and could MAKE something.  Instead, my skills lie in finding solutions, in making connections, in making things happen.  I’ve stumbled into this realization a lot recently, but this was more poignant for some reason.  Maybe I was just more emotionally primed with the rest of the book for this to hit home.

One of the central themes of “The Art of Asking” is what psychologists call “imposter syndrome” which manifests in lots of people as feeling like a fake and inadequate when measured against “real” .  So, I guess, this explains my desire for external validation while walking a spiritual path that is decidedly NOT external.  Paganism general and Druidry in specific doesn’t really have the “professional framework” that I keep wanting to measure myself against.  Unfortunately for me, that doesn’t give me much help in realizing if/when/how I can legitimately call myself a Druid.

I guess I’ll have to just keep walking the path and not worry about it until the day that I can finally get over the nagging insecurity.

And accept that the word will probably come from others before I feel like I’ve earned it.