Archive for the ‘ Thoughtful Thor’s Day ’ Category
2016 proved to be quite a year. Quite a few major life-changing events occurred and I’m still processing many of them. Today, in honor of my brother Tom’s birthday, I’m going to highlight just a few; broad-stroking it. I’ll fill in the details as I go along.
So, let’s see – 2016 was my 30th wedding anniversary, the 30th anniversary of my brother Tom’s murder, my 50th birthday and the year my mother-in-law passed away. I’d say that was quite enough dramatic life changes for one year.
I think the one that surprised me the most with its impact was turning 50. I honestly believed it would be just another birthday but sometime after the 2016 Readers Studio and the lessons gained there I began to realize that I had entered an incubatory period and the me that emerged was quite different than the me who entered.
So, in honor of my brother Tom, I’ve decided to start back into blogging by remembering him. I’m also including articles from New York Magazine written about him. One when he was around 10 and the other after he was killed.
I still remember the day my mother went into labor with Tom. It was 1971 and we lived in Woodside, Queens. We had been staying with my maternal grandmother on the West side of Manhattan in anticipation of Tom’s immanent arrival but apparently the doctors told Mom that she still had a few days to go so we returned home. I can still smell the aroma of fresh baked bread that used to permeate the air going over the Queensboro Bridge emanating from the Silver Cup bread factory (now a movie studio). I remember the weird noises the cab’s tires made as they drove over the grating on the bridge. We finally arrived at our apartment and settled into our beds (my younger sister and I were in our pajamas). It seemed only minutes later when Mom came to wake us up – it seemed Tom had decided to join the party after all. So we put our coats back on and trudged downstairs to get a cab back to Manhattan so Mom could go to the hospital and give birth. We should have known Tom would create his own unique path in life.
In many ways, Tom was the best of us. He had a fierce temper which he eventually learned to control and channel into healthier outlets. He was a redhead like our sister and maternal grandfather. He was also quite the clown – he could make us laugh no matter how angry or tense things were. Tom loved animals. His menagerie of pets ranged from cats and dogs to parakeets and snakes. We all watched as he’d bring home new inhabitants – a nasty small turtle that was quite a snapper, goldfish, etc. He was a prankster – once setting up sofa cushions, clothes and a fedora to make it look like someone (possibly the ghost of our recently deceased great-uncle) was sitting there. His chuckle as he heard my shriek that morning was one we still remember fondly. I still miss him every day and wish I had the opportunity to see what kind of man he would become. Tom was quite the character and I like to think that despite his only 16 years on this earth he had a positive impact on a lot of lives.
Like many of my contemporaries, I was an avid reader of Dr. Seuss books as a child. The simple rhyming structure and compactness of the volumes belied it’s deep and life-long influence. Theodore Geisel hid profound life lessons within the pages of his short works; lessons that I am only beginning to realize are still with me today.
I’ll start with the first of his books I can recall – Green Eggs and Ham. C’mon, say it with me, you know you know the line “I do not like them Sam I Am, I do not like green eggs and ham.” Throughout the pages of this brief masterpiece we are regaled with increasingly bizarre places to try eating this titular dish. Yet the protagonist resists. The idea of eating eggs in an unfamiliar color seems to be anathema to him. When he finally capitulates and tries the eggs he finds them delicious. He is suddenly willing to eat them anywhere and at anytime. The lesson I learned from this was that I should be willing to try new things, even if they seem weird and scary at first. I’m still working hard to embrace this message but being aware of it is a good first step (for me at least).
Another Dr. Seuss work that still resonates for me today is The Sneetches. In this tale there are two tribes of sneetches – one group has stars on their bellies and the other doesn’t. Naturally the star-bearing sneetches feel they are superior to their barren bellied brethren. Eventually a scammer offers a solution – a machine that will put stars on the Plain-Bellied Sneetches (for a fee of course). Naturally this outrages the Star-Bellied Sneetches who decided that perhaps barren bellies are the way to go. After numerous ridiculous interactions, both groups finally realize that this prejudice is ridiculous and they are truly all equal – with or without stars. I can’t say I fully grasped this concept as a child but as I matured I began to realize what a simple yet profound concept this was. It was reinforced over the years by various other studies and life lessons (such as the classroom activity when a teacher divided children up according to eye-color and proceeded to treat one eye-color group as superior to the other – the results were not quite so funny or charming in real life).
Another hugely influential Dr. Seuss tale was The Lorax. “I speak for the trees!” – I can still hear him protesting. This book had such impact on me as a child that I am still amazed that humanity hasn’t learned it’s simple lesson. If we run through our resources like locusts, we will be left with nothing. We justify our behaviors with a very “everybody needs a thneed” approach and don’t realize that some things are irreplaceable and some things, once broken, are unfixable. Children seem to understand this concept better than adults. Unfortunately many also seem to forget it as they grow older. Maybe we should make it mandatory for every adult to read this book at least once a year. I don’t see how it could be put in more simple, profound yet easy to understand terms.
A final Dr. Seuss tale that stuck with me through the years is The Zax, a tale of stubbornness taken to ridiculous levels. When the north-going Zax and the south-going Zax cross paths (or rather collide head-on), their refusal to compromise reaches epic proportions. I wish I could say reading this book kept me from becoming overly stubborn but that would be inaccurate. However I can say that it at least kept me honest about my ridiculous moments of monumentally stupid stubbornness. Once again, this is a life lesson I’m still trying to fully embrace but at least I realize the need.
Other Dr. Seuss classics such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat certainly stayed with me but didn’t have quite the same impact as the ones I mentioned above. I think I may need to re-read these books soon. It occurs to me that growing old is forgetting the joy and magic of childhood. In my opinion Dr. Seuss books help keep that spirit alive.
Have you ever held a passionate conviction? You know the type – a Knight of Wands, I am furiously, powerfully convinced that my position on this topic is correct kind of belief? A conviction that you hold so firmly and unshakably that it divides people into “us” (those who share your belief) and “them” (those who hold an opposite opinion. The most visible example of this kind of belief is the pro- and anti-abortion camps. The anti-abortion activists demonize reproductive health care providers sometimes even to the extreme of advocating the assassination of doctors who provide abortions in order to save the “unborn”
I still have a few hot button issues which I will defend vehemently and passionately with no attempt at objectivity, open-mindedness or thoughtfulness. When defending these beliefs I would charge forth like a Knight of Wands, beating all foes into submission. There was no attempt at reasoned debate or peaceful negotiations. I was confident in my beliefs and held the courage of my convictions. I was in the right and was morally obligated to defeat those who disagreed. Thank goodness that I’m reaching a point in my life where this passionate conviction is giving way (slowly, oh so slowly) to tempered thoughtfulness.
I am reaching a place where I am more open to hearing the other side’s arguments. I don’t feel such a strong need to beat down foes as much as open a dialogue with people who hold differing opinions. I a able to hear their viewpoints with objectivity and genuinely hear what is being said rather than listening and merely waiting for my turn to speak. It has helped me understand that intelligent, passionate people who hold different perspectives from my own are not delusional and wrong. They simply have different priorities and have reached different conclusions after examining the information presented. I’m moving away from my Knightly passion towards a more Kingly consideration and thoughtfulness.
There is something very comforting in having a Knight of Wands approach to things. There is little room or doubt or second-guessing. Instead we act from a place of moral certainty and superiority. We are wrapped in a cloak of self-righteousness and confidence. Of course I’m right and as a result I must sally forth and correct the mistaken viewpoints held by others. It is my duty to carry the message of rightness to them! This viewpoint leaves very little room for debate or discussion. We don’t really care why they believe what they do, we merely want to correct their wrong-headed beliefs.
Thanks goodness most of us move passed this phase. We eventually learn that we are not always right. Even when we do believe we are right, we often lose the need to proselytize and convert others to our viewpoint. We learn and embrace the fact that we learn more by being open and listening to the views and reasoning of others who hold different perceptions and opinions. This often allows us to expand our horizons and our world view. Respectful debate and open-minded discussions can lead to less parochial, entrenched mindset. Perhaps if we can moved beyond this attitude in our own lives we can eventually learn to expand it to encompass national matters too. I can always hope.
Traditional Meaning: The Devil represents being bound by our own desires and shadow. We could easily free ourselves from these bonds if only we stopped and thought about it. It’s almost like the novelty toy called Chinese handcuffs – two people put one finger in each side of the object and the harder they pull away from each other the tighter the bond grows. It is only when they work together and move towards each other that they are able to break free. The Devil reminds us that is we don’t work with our shadow side, we are doomed to remained chained helplessly chained to it.
TarotBroad’s Buzz: This card speaks of facing your shadow side, that dark, “evil”, primitive side of ourselves which we would prefer to deny even exists. Psychology has many terms for this side of human nature – the id, the anima/animus, etc. At first glance this card seems somewhat dark. The presence of the winged woman, reversed pentagram, the goat-headed female and the green demon all suggest the struggle between good and evil, between right and wrong, between heaven and hell. But if we look closer we see signs that all is not quite so gloomy. Yes, there is a darkness inherent in this card. But there is also a sign of hope.
The flaming torch may be the gift of the shadow side – enlightenment and illumination. Once we have faced the darkest side of our nature we are freed. We acquire knowledge and wisdom about ourselves and about the world. In many ways it reminds me of growing up and realizing that the world is not all sunshine and rainbows. That our parents are not perfect and don’t have all the answers. The Devil is a reminder that the challenge is not in being able to face this dark side, it is in being able to incorporate it into our being without becoming lost in it. Losing ourselves in addiction or mental illness or unhappiness means the shadow has taken over. We have the ability to face the evil in humanity without losing sight of hope and the good things. ‘
Sometimes when watching the news there is such a focus on negativity that it’s easy to forget about the positive things. This card reminds me that there are millions of ordinary, every-day people who face this darkness each day and are still able to emerge hopeful and triumphant. They can embrace, accept and forgive this darkness and not lose themselves within it. This is something we should all aspire to achieve in our lives.
In the last few years, with nothing better to do than ponder such questions, I’ve begun to consider the difference between knowledge and wisdom. When I was younger I used these words interchangeably – and still do to some extent. Experience and mistakes have finally begun teaching me how different these two words are – well for me at least.
I’ve decided that my definitions of knowledge and wisdom are as follows: Knowledge is the information we acquire through study, learning and life experience. Wisdom is knowing how, where and when to apply that knowledge. A great example of this is seen in an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Our favorite nerds are in Leonard’s car on their way to smite one Todd Zarnecki for stealing Sheldon’s virtual treasure. On the way Leonard’s car breaks down. He asks the car filled with “geniuses” if anyone knows anything about internal combustion engines. They all respond in the affirmative. Then he asks if any of them know how to fix an internal combustion engine and they all say “No”. They have the knowledge but not the wisdom needed for this situation.
In many ways it’s part of the maturation process. I still remember 20-something me starting at my new job. I was filled with confidence (well over-confidence really) and sure that I could fix everything that was wrong at this place if they were only smart enough to listen to me. I knew it all (except how and when to keep my mouth shut – still quite a problem in fact). Thankfully I was lucky enough to have a few supervisors who took a shine to me and showed me a thing or two. They helped me become a bit more thoughtful and less cocky. Within a few years I was one of the “old-timers” who groaned at the arrogance and ignorance of the newbies – exhibiting the same cockiness I once did.
A poem about a owl always stuck with me since childhood “The wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we be like that wise old bird?” This owl has become an object lesson and inspiration for me. I hope to some day become wise enough to shut the hell up. It’s still a work in progress but at least I’ve become more conscious of it now.
For two days in a row I drew The Mirror card (The Hanged Man in traditional decks) from the Wildwood Tarot in my daily reading. The image shows a mermaid seeming to hold the moon in her hand while the other clutches a mirror to her breast. Her eyes are closed and she can see neither but she seems aware of both on a deep, unconscious level.
Looking at this image I consider what it might be trying to tell me. Considering the questions I asked both day, the key element is one of changing perception, altering mindsets, looking at things from a different angle. I also get a sense of trusting your heart, your instincts, your unconscious. She speaks to me of looking at yourself and changing how you view the reflection. This became especially appropriate when I had a profound epiphany today (I do love profound epiphanies). While looking in the mirror the thought flashed across my brain that I looked beautiful. Not pretty, not nice but beautiful. I have recently gotten a haircut and was wearing a new shirt but that wasn’t why I felt this way. It was because I was in a wonderful mood. I felt fabulous inside and it was visible outside. I finally realized the meaning of the expression “true beauty comes from within”.
The truth is that my physical being changed little. I’m still overweight, fairly worn-out and wore no makeup. I know I’m attractive enough but that’s never been a major priority in my life – call me ugly I’ll shrug it off; call me stupid and them’s fighting words. Seeing myself in a different light today, truly believing I am beautiful, was powerful. How many of us go through life believing we’ll only be beautiful and acceptable if we meet some arbitrary norm. If we lose weight or dye our hair or fix our nose or get that new outfit. It doesn’t matter what the variable is, the commonality is that we believe some external factor is what will make us beautiful. In truth we already possess that quality if we can see it and believe in it. Of course the irony is that it takes maturity and wisdom to actually accept and embrace this fact. The expression “youth is wasted on the young” was coined for a reason.
That brief look in the mirror has convinced me that my attitude and mindset dramatically changes how I see myself and how I present myself to others. If I stop staring in the mirror looking for flaws and instead let myself be bathed in the radiant light of the moon, I’ll find it easier to let my inner beauty shine through. Maybe we should all stop focusing on our flaws and instead change our perspective and celebrate our gifts, embrace our inner loveliness. We all have the potential to be radiantly beautiful if we believe in ourselves. I’m going to start off taking one step at a time, day by day.
Orthodoxy & fundamentalism scare me. Organized religion sends me running for the front door. There is nothing inherently wrong with believing that your way is the “right” way. In fact I can admire that kind of dedication. The problem arises when you also become convinced that your “right” way is the only way and everyone else should be doing things your way too. I admit to having a bit of an orthodox streak in my nature and I work at trying to avoid imposing my will on anyone else. I will admit that there have been times I’ve taken an “it’s my ball and if we don’t play my way I’m leaving” approach to things. When it comes to spiritual matters I definitely prefer a more hands-on, less structured and orthodox approach. Unfortunately when humans come together in groups, orthodoxy and fundamentalism tend to erupt.
One of the reasons I avoid most group situations is because I have a cantankerous kink in my personality. The more people tell me the way I “should” be doing things, the more I feel compelled to do it differently. I blame this on my parents. One of the mantras of my childhood was “just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to”. That stuck. I don’t see it as a bad thing but it really makes group membership challenging. I’ve tried several ranging from a small Wiccan coven (in which I lasted all of a month before becoming the catalyst for an implosion) to ADF, the Druid organization. In both situations there were elements I liked about the groups but ultimately their long term goals were not my own. In one case I quickly realized the group was a cult of personality for the high priestess/founder. In the other I realized the group’s mission to serve as ambassadors to the general public with regard to Pagan beliefs and rituals was counter my own nature and preferences. I have no interest in leading or even participating in public rituals.
I also have a knee-jerk reaction to the concept of Pagan “churches” or owning land to build temples etc. I realize that for many people this is an opportunity to worship among a group of like-minded individuals in safety and privacy. I wish them well in this approach. For me, this becomes a dramatic shift in priorities that will ultimately cause Pagan spirituality to go the way of Christianity, moving from a more High Priestess approach to a more Hierophantic one. Once an organized religion owns “stuff” their priorities shift so that maintaining that stuff becomes paramount. It’s often slow but steady. It also tends to be a short step to creating a priesthood and establishing leaders as arbiters of what the right way is to do things. It’s a shift from exploring the hidden mysteries on your own (the realm of the High Priestess) to worshiping in a church or temple led by a priest (the Hierophant’s bailiwick). It doesn’t have to be a negative shift but it often seems to develop into one.
Look at Christian history. Once the apostles got hold of things and made Peter the first pope, they began codifying what Jesus taught. They left out writings about Jesus that didn’t fit their views such as the Book of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. I realize these might not be “regulation” gospels but they certainly could be. They offer a very different and perhaps more honest view of who Jesus was and what he taught. However these teachings threatened the legitimacy of the early church. The Jesus of the gospels is open-minded and welcoming of all peoples but the Christian church quickly became codified and orthodox. If I remember correctly there were even arguments in the early church regarding whether Gentiles could be allowed to join. Things grew increasingly worse once the church grew into the Holy Roman Empire. After acquiring buildings and lands from the collapsing Roman Empire, the Christian church took on a very aggressive approach to converts and trumpeting the “word of God” to any and all who could hear.
We also seem to forget that one of the reasons early Christianity appealed to so many was because the various Pagan traditions in Rome at the time had lost their soul. They became about right acts and public observances. Many Roman citizens paid lip service to the gods by offering sacrifices but they held no true belief in their hearts. It’s as though codifying and establishing orthodox practices sucks the life out of spiritual paths. The idea of Pagan “clergy” also bothers me. I am in no way trying to condemn other people’s choices, but for me clergy sends the message that I need someone to function as an intermediary between me and my gods. It also seems like I’m being told these folks know more or are better trained to do this work than me. That irritates me. It also creates a class system in Paganism, whether intention or unintentional. Humans have a tendency to lend more credence and weight to words stated by someone with a degree of some type. It doesn’t seem to matter if what they say makes sense. The fact that the speaker has a jumble of letters after his/her name makes their pronouncements more valid to others. Down this road always seems to lie dragons of some type.
I realize that many of us seek out groups that share our spiritual beliefs because deep down we want to be sure we’re doing it “right”. We don’t trust our instincts or our connections to the gods. We want a leader, a priest or priestess to show us the “correct” way. I suppose for some folks that is great but to my mind that path leads to the same trajectory that Christianity and various Pagan traditions before it followed. The harder we try to establish ourselves as legitimate in the eyes of others, the quicker we lose our connection to the divine. We find ourselves jumping through hoops created by some external authority with little understanding of who we are or what we do in order to be validated and legitimized. I say fuck it! We do we need to meet some arbitrary guidelines created by outsiders. Instead of pursuing accreditation according to their terms I’d rather see us continue to do things our own way. Unfortunately I don’t think that will last. I may not live to see it but I have no doubt that it’s the end result of trends like paid clergy, tradition neutral training programs and the purchase of “church lands”.
Tonight, while sitting on the porch staring up at a deep blue canopy of stars, I found myself thinking about H.P. Lovecraft and his view of the Universe as a cold, distant, uncaring and even hostile place. I realized that while I may enjoy reading his eerily eldritch stories, I do not subscribe to this viewpoint. As I sipped tea and stared at the stars I felt as though all of my ancestors were looking down and watching over me. I had a sense of connection and belonging. It was as though the Universe cared, even if it couldn’t do much to show me right now. It filled me with a sense of hope and wonder.
The more I thought about it the more I felt like Pandora in Greek legend. Despite being surrounded by a world filled with personal and global ills, I do have a sense of hope. I harbor and nourish that little seedling even through the darkest times. I have layered this spark in a thick, protective hedge of sharp thorns and snarky barbs but it glows within me and refuses to allow itself to be diminished or extinguished. She dances within, occasionally surprising me with her exuberance and strength.
As imperfect as my life might be right now, there are moments of transcendent joy and beauty. They are usually such simple things as enjoying a cup of tea or seeing the heron that has taken to hanging out nearby. They are easy to miss and dismiss but recently Joanna Powell Colbert shared a practice of honoring Happiest Moment of the Day (#HMOTD). I have decided to participate in this practice. It’s so easy to focus on the misery, unhappiness and chaos that swirls around us. It’s more challenging to find the joy and happiness in small things; brief moments.
I must admit, my surprise at realizing that I am an optimist. For so long I viewed my self as a pessimist. Now I need to readjust that and say I’m a practically cautious optimist – I brace myself for the worst but hope for the best. It’s also a relief to finally embrace this side of myself. Sometimes it’s exhausting keeping up the charade of being a pessimist. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m not a cranky optimist prone to rants and bouts of snarkiness, but that just add more dimensions and layers to my personality.
Over the last few days I’ve reconnected to a creative outlet that I had allowed to become dormant – coloring! As a child and adolescent I adored coloring. If I wasn’t nose deep in a book then I was energetically putting my box of 64 Crayolas to good use. One of my strongest sense memories is the smell of a box of Crayola crayons. No other crayons have that same aroma. I would recognize it anywhere. I still remember picking up two Dover coloring books from the gift shop at the Museum of the City of New York during a class trip. One was Geometric Designs and the other was Visual Illusions. The optical illusions were mind-blowing and it was a fabulous change from my usual Barbie coloring books (although I still have several of them too). There is something so engaging, relaxing and just plain fun about coloring. Over the years I might not have used those coloring books but I always made sure to have a big box of Crayola crayons – first a 64 count, then a 96 count and now a 200 count!
Why am I talking about coloring? Because for many, many years I believed I was not a creative person. I cannot draw much beyond stick figures. I may enjoy singing but I doubt anyone will ever pay to hear me or even volunteer to listen. I love to dance but will be the first to admit my skills are amateurish at best. The most creative thing I do is write – and even that I tend to blow off as not especially creative as much as it is technically skilled. Beginning to color again has changed my attitude about all of that. Perhaps I don’t have the eye or hand for painting but that doesn’t make me non-creative. Watching a line drawing fill in with colors I’ve selected, creating patterns within the pattern, has proven fulfilling and satisfying. It has also helped me to see other ways in which I am creative.
I see patterns and connections between disparate elements. I’ve noticed that when I read the Tarot I often find connections between the cards that are not obvious. The better I know the querent, the more effective and interesting the connections I make. I’m like a conspiracy theorist – seeing connections that aren’t immediately apparent to the casual observer. I love writing – not just blog posts but Tarot card haiku. I love making up stories using the images on Tarot cards as a starting point. I may not be a technically proficient dancer but I put my heart and soul into it. I can shake my moneymaker like nobodies business!
Today I asked Sekhmet for some insight into continuing to explore my creative side. She sent me Haya-Akitsu-Hime/Witch of Water, the Shinto goddess of the sea. Her salt waters purify and transform. As I’m writing this I had an insight – Haya-Akitsu-Hime is telling me that my emotional connection to coloring is also a path to purity and transformation for me. It will allow me to purge the impurities and emotional baggage that often distracts me from what makes me happy and what I love in life.
For additional insight I pulled two cards from the Pearls of Wisdom Tarot. In response to my query about blending my creative energies in a way that will bring radiance and healing in my life I drew the 2 of Wands reversed and 4 of Swords. With a little help from the companion book, I took this to mean that I’m on the right path; I’m moving in the right direction. Combining meditation and modified mini-retreats for myself will allow me to move forward, explore new horizons and continue on this path of wellness and wholeness I’ve begun. Coloring is one method of meditation and creativity that can aid me in my quest.
So my advice to anyone out there who sees themselves as uncreative is to keep looking; find the right avenue for you. We are all creative in different ways. The key to healing and wellness is to find the path that fits you. Perhaps you are a mathematical genius and see connections between equations and real life applications. Maybe you look at the stars and see a panoply of amazing bodies of celestial beauty that connect to Greek myths and life on Earth. Maybe you’re a history buff and love seeing the connections between past actions and current events. Perhaps dancing is a balm to your soul or singing at the top of your voice brings joy to your heart. As Karen Carpenter once sang “Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song.”