Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Buddhist and a Pagan walk into a bar

Since I did a huge series on my exploration of Quakerism last month, it seemed only fair to follow it up with my thoughts on Buddhism and how its influenced my life, philosophies, and spiritual practice. I've known quite a few Pagans who've become Buddhist as they've gotten older, finding it to fit better with their lifestyle as they've aged. Similar to Quakerism, there is an appeal in the peace and reflection associated with Buddhist practices.

I've found that the main difference Buddhism and Quakerism is where your energy gets directed. Buddhism tends to focus a lot on the self (while denying the self exists) and Quakerism focuses more on providing for your community. This is a vastly simplified description, and I'll expand on it more later in this post.

Most of my reading was done about two to four years ago, with some high school and college reading in Tantra as an extension of my Pagan practices. I wont go too much into explaining the variations between sects, but focus on what aspects have influenced me specifically.

Two partners I've had in my life are Buddhist - with Christian being more Theravada in practice and the other Soto Zen. During my time with Christian I devoured all the books I could get my hands on, went to meditation groups, and felt inspired to meditate regularly again on my own - I had fallen in and out of practice since high school when it came to keeping a regular schedule, and it was nice to feel driven again.

Most of the books I read were amazing. Stories of modern Buddhists getting by in a western capitalist civilization balanced with meditative practices, mindfulness, and philosophy of the self. You can read about the noble truths, the story of Siddhartha, and do Yoga all you want, but for me it was the personal stories I could relate to. Chicken Soup for the Buddhist Soul, as it were. I also enjoyed reading how a lot of Hindu gods crossed over with Bodhisattvas in various myths, and still keep a little Tara statue with me on days I need a reminder in compassion.

How to Not be A Buddhist


In all my reading, one book in particular stands out as more negative, and I'll only go into it more since it was a large exception. It was called "What Makes You Not A Buddhist." The first chapter does the exact opposite and starts defining what it IS, and with a very narrow view at that. I'm not sure if it was due to poor translating, but the whole read felt vastly negative and judgmental of anyone who didn't follow this very obviously One True Path.

It criticized consumerism fairly at first, but didn't take into account the quality of live provided by having more money for food and healthcare. There was a blanket perception that since most people in the modern world spend their money frivolously that anyone who works hard to earn money is doing something very Bad and your time is better spent meditating.  Instead of teaching the reader to focus on being in the moment, finding contentment in your life without the need for stuff, and reflecting on why you buy things, it made a very "buying things is bad" statement that made me wonder if the author judges the laymen who feed him at the temple.

The author condemns anyone who strives for more by stating they will never be happy with who they are in the present. Human nature drives us to explore, grow, and find something more to do or create. Humans would have stagnated at a very early stage without this drive. But just because people work for more doesn't mean we're not happy with what we have. In a capitalist mindset I can see this perception, but it felt like another blanket statement from someone wishing against the advancement of technology.

Finally, the author promotes a level of non-attachment akin to cruelty. One line in particular stands out with impermanence as the lesson:
"There is no doubt that Prince Siddhartha's heart would have broken to see the tsunami victims washed ashore. But his heart would have been even more broken by the fact that we were taken by surprise, proof of our contact denial if impermanence."
I don't even have the patience to explain why this sentiment is fucked up.

I wonder if the inside joke was "This guy is not a Buddhist" and that's what you should take away from the read.

Dualism


Humans like to compare differences through opposites. If something IS, there is usually something that IS NOT. Thats why movements like "Black Lives Matter" are threatening to people with this limited mindset. They feel if someone must state "Black Lives Matter" then they're also saying"White Lives Do Not Matter." If one creature is female, the other must be male. Some of these opposites can make sense for a time, but in other contexts they don't - such as cats being the opposite of dogs or that fire is the opposite of water. We're so used to seeing things in a dual context that it becomes harder to unpack.

Paganism before the new millennium had largely been very dual-focused. Black and White. Male and Female. I saw the shift at Pantheacon several years ago when more trans members wanted to be included in traditionally female-only events. A large debate started among the Dianic Witches (cause of course) when a female-identifying person with a penis showed up to a nude ritual. It was only then that I started to shift away from this dual-thinking in Paganism, myself.

Buddhism helps you remove yourself from that way of thinking. Nothing is separate from anything else, therefore the concept of "opposite" doesn't exist. The sky is not separate nor opposite from the earth. Death is not separate from life. Varying philosophies will explore this differently, but largely they're either more linear or all happening at once. Its a heavy subject to unpack.

The Self


Earlier I commented that Buddhism focuses a lot on the self. This is true in the sense that a lot of meditations, rituals, and similar practices are geared toward self-improvement. One thing less emphasized, is that a goal is to improve yourself to a place where you can then be able to help others. If one's ultimate goal is to remove suffering from the world, its healthy to start with your own. From there you can be in a better state to help others. Should you wait until *all* your suffering is gone before helping others? Of course not, although I'm sure some feel that way. But its more of a "put on your own oxygen mask first" mentality.

Buddhism taught me a greater depth of mindfulness and self-reflection, far more so than most Pagan practices or books I've read. I almost feel a wave of excitement every time I realize I'm doing something worth analyzing - and stop to figure out why I'm behaving the way I am. Whether I'm feeling intimidated by a situation, critical, or recognize that I may be displaying some kind of negative behavior, I enjoy having it pointed out to me so that I might pause and parse out the probable causes.

The philosophy of "there is no self" is attributed to limitations in definitions. A more accurate translation in my mind, would be "there is no permanent self." How you exist, think, and perceive is constantly changing. Therefore by the time you've contemplated what you "are" - it has already changed. Its as intangible as a rainbow - existing in perception but not something within reach. The illusion of existence. With so much space between each atom composing our bodies, we're barely even here in a physical sense.

Philosophies Combined


Many of the lessons I've taken from Buddhism have supplemented my life philosophy in general, and only moderately influenced my Pagan practice. Its helped me drive a more accepting mindset for others, and has encouraged me to do a LOT of self-reflection about my drives and behavior.

The main aspect of Buddhism I do no get along with is the desire for Nirvana. The view that our lives on this earth are defined by suffering, and the only way to remove suffering is to escape it and never be reincarnated again. The anti-dualistic nature of Buddhism reminds me that its not to mean our world is *only* defined by suffering, but I cannot agree with the view that suffering is an aspect one should move beyond. Desire may be the root of suffering - I can agree with that to a point. But isn't the desire not to suffer a desire in itself?

Life is not confinement. It is simply a different form of freedom.
I'll never understand why so many religions and philosophies long for the promise of an afterlife.

Its this dichotomy why I find appeal in a Tantric practice. It teaches you more to lean into your desires and your suffering - not suppress them or work to negate them. Suffering is indeed a part of life, and while the goal is still to remove oneself from that, its with the acknowledgement that desire is a part of life. Desires are still something to be questioned and evaluated, and its important to understand your motivation behind your desires. The goal is to reduce your superficial desires and impulses - to really contemplate what motivates you.

Tantra by far has the most positive philosophy to me, as well; focusing on balance between the body and the mind. It still contains the same emphasis on reaching Nirvana, but its methods to obtain enlightenment feel different than other forms of Buddhism. Yes, the goal is to "escape" your earthly prison, but it also tells you to enjoy it in while you're here. Not in the corrupted western way, but in a sense that promotes your mind as part of your body, and not as a separate entity. Stay healthy, do yoga, and practice self-love. Its not about sex or base pleasures, but true immersion within your body - and thus, within this world.

Tantric practices and meditations have largely been responsible for my ability to be confident in my body - just as it is. To accept that I am perfect as I am now, and its not a thing one can strive for. That you can love yourself, be perfect, and yet continue to improve. Individuals have no need for anything or anyone outside themselves. We are already complete on our own. We're all gods here.

I believe it is this influence that has helped me to maintain a more grounded Pagan practice. I meditate regularly (well, when I remember) and evaluate my own self when I can. I practice energy transference because its something I can feel. I celebrate the change in seasons because I can see how they affect me and influence my life. I keep a hoard of crystals, magickal fetishes, and a tarot deck - not because I believe they are inherently magical, but because they have a meaning I have imbued into them. I keep symbols and give tokens to the gods - not because they exist outside myself, but because they represent something within me that I wish to see fulfilled.

I long to experience all life has to offer, because the method of worship to which I hold most dear is the Charge of the Goddess: "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." What better way can there be to practice one's faith?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

When You Are Here, Music is All Around

The New Year has come and gone, and life settles back into routine again.

The holidays went incredibly well. I celebrated the Star War Christmas special "Life Day" at my old office, hanging out with friends and dropping off gifts. I saw Matt and his partner briefly, but I was reading them as both feeling awkward so I decided to give them space. I reached out to him to say hi afterwards but didn't hear back. It saddens me to loose that connection, but its not something I feel I should push for. Hopefully he'll feel like hanging out again some day.

Yeah. It's that terrifying.
Yule was blessedly quiet. I opened gifts and talked with my mom on the phone for a while. Lit a candle and spent the day relaxing. Christmas was largely uneventful, and I was happy to keep it that way.

I got to meet Chris's parents over breakfast on the day after Christmas - that had SO many good feels. Chris's wife was there too (I'll just call her "E" for privacy's sake) and I don't think I'd have felt comfortable meeting them if she hadn't been. E has been wonderfully supportive of everything involving my relationship with Chis, and I just felt so grateful to have her there.

His parents were great - they're like gender-swapped mellowed versions of my own parents. We clicked really well, and the conversation felt completely comfortable. I was invited over to hang out the next day upon my return to pick Chris up for his extended visit. After breakfast I spent the day exploring Northampton and catching up on some reading. Spent way too much money on books and food, then slept in my car for the night. It felt good to be on the road again.

I picked up Chris the next day and we hung out the rest of the week. It was wonderful not to feel rushed. All too often our relationship has felt hyper concentrated - like research for writing a "4-hour-relationship" spinoff of Tim Ferris's books. This time around we relaxed more, watched tv, went contra dancing (finally!- this had been on our list for a while), and hung out with some friends.

For New Years we went to a party hosted by our LARP game master. It was Alice in Wonderland themed, so for the first time in years I got to wear my sparkly red Jessica Rabbit dress. It didn't fit as well as it used to, but [with a little lot of reassurance] I was very satisfied with how I looked. Chris decked out a white shirt to look like the 3 of hearts (how perfect is that) and looked incredible.

Now, I'm the kind of person who goes to parties and looks forward to going home. Depending on the party and crowd, I'll start to burn out at varying degrees or will need to find a corner to hide and recover for a bit. We were there for over SEVEN hours and I only needed to recover once - Stepped outside to get some fresh air after the house had gotten crowded.

We danced, played card games, had some drinks, played truth or dare with "eat me" and "drink me" snacks provided by the mad hatter, stole tarts from the queen, made out with like three other people (Both of us. The same three people. At the same time.) and other general mischief. There were methods to earn playing cards throughout the night and win prizes for a good hand at poker. Chris ended up getting third place!

Before I knew it, it was midnight. Then suddenly it was after 3am and approaching time to go home. Chris drove us back and we spent the whole next day relaxing, recovering, and having deep conversations. I'm still blown away by how amazing of a fit we are together.



Monday, December 24, 2018

Quagen Part 3


I took some time to digest my experience the other day and jot down some thoughts. I brought them up with Chris during a video call that evening.

My discomfort was obvious, and I'm sad to admit that I came across as harsh in my questioning. I feel like I botched a lot of my opportunity to learn more by being overly aggressive. I started off feeling genuine and curious, but didn't realize my tone had shifted until he called me on it. I was glad for that - because I really do want to understand more, and I would never want him to feel attacked or defensive because of my discomfort. This is all still new to me.

(Quick tangent - It still blows me away to have a partner comfortable with setting boundaries and calling me on my shit. I legit don't know if I've really had this before, and its such a relief when it happens. The moment I'm made aware that my behavior is coming across poorly, its such an easy light-switch moment for me. I can't believe I was ever worried about lacking opportunities to grow in this relationship.)

I'm used to having more books at my disposal. When learning about anything I'll devour written words before ever going out to experience the subject. With Quakerism I've only had a handful of mostly inactive blogs. There are plenty of books on the subject from an analytical perspective, but it doesn't feel like there is much from a practitioner. Its been hard relating to those involved who don't come across as "holier-than-thou."

So we talked about it a while. I relayed my experience, and he was sad to hear the speakers came across as narcissistic. According to him, it sounded like I had visited a more conservative space. I was surprised at that - "But they had a rainbow AND a trans flag on the wall outside." I told him, and he explained my disconnect. Conservative Quakers were nothing like other conservatives. Suddenly everything else made sense.

I had mostly been reading posts about conservative Quakers - that's why they felt a bit off to me. They still believed in gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, birth control, and a great deal many more typically-liberal ideals. They were only conservative when it came to some of their dogmatic traditions, and the mindset in which they approached their faith.

To quote Aaron Sorkin's writing in the Newsroom:
“I'm a registered Republican, I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.”

Everything started to make sense. I had forgotten that such conservatism was possible.

And just like that, the appeal in Quakerism became clear. There is a separation between faith, politics, and the rest of your identity. Even if traits overlap, they don't have to supersede. You can be a political liberal and a religious conservative. And its okay.

For me, Paganism is so much of my identity I had forgotten it was possible to partition. Sure there are conservative Pagans, but that will usually also come out in their faith-based practice. Kinda how republican D&D players are usually rules lawyers (and tend to be misogynistic). Conservative Pagans are rare, but you can usually tell by the traditions they follow (usually more crowly/gardner/golden dawn stuff) and the focus on dual-gendered practices.

Hearing Chris speak more about his experiences with religion really helped to not only validate mine, but gave me a better understanding for why he was drawn Quakerism. Sometimes its still hard not to feel that he's just saying what I want to hear. Part of me had entertained the thought that he followed it because of his wife, but that thought didn't linger long. She might have helped inspire the interest, but he's not the type to follow something without a deeper motivation. Now I'm just looking forward to asking her more about it.

I'm also taking a lot of joy that I've inspired him to re-invest in a few of his Pagan inclinations as well. Even if he hadn't been so inclined, its just in my nature to show interest in his faith and spiritual practices. Just as I dove into Buddhism. With him doing the same kind of investing in me, I feel that learning more is the least I could do. That's another trait I'm not sure I've experienced in a partner before. It makes me ten times as eager.

Now I'm genuinely looking forward to another meeting - but perhaps at a different location.

I feel I'll always be definitively Pagan. I've happily adopted practices from multiple faiths over the years, and I don't expect that to change, either. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to add something new to my religious collection. And perhaps, find a place to build a real community.

Pagans as a whole are a bit on the selfish side, (and perhaps for good reason- at least historically). We've learned to keep to our own; do what we can to help others, but not go too far out of our way. We aren't generals in the theoretical wars to come - we are the guerrilla warriors fighting from the side. When we inevitably lose (because we can't organize for shit), we'll go back into hiding. With practices grounded deeply in the changing seasons, our faith usually survives in some form or another. It just makes sense.

At least to me.

Just as Buddhism makes sense to me on many levels. And now, Quakerism does as well. I still have a lot of questions, but I don't need answers right away - or at all, really. Its the questioning I enjoy most. And that's a trait about my faith that I hope never changes.

***

Other Pagan/Quaker-related posts:

Looking At Quaker Pagans
The Syncretic Pagan
Things I Wish White Pagans Realized

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Quagen Part 2

Upbringing. Nearly everyone's faith or religious practice (or lack thereof) has been influenced by their family. Whether they've adopted the faith of their family, or were pushed away from faith because of their family - that foundation set the tone for how people approach the topic.

My family was strange about religion. They were the kind of people who saw God (capital "G") as a fact, and felt that atheists were just mad at God. It wouldn't enter their mind to genuinely think that God my not exist. They largely lost the actual "practice" of their faith - my grandfather through the war in Korea, and my grandmother through kneeling for hours as a child in Catholic school while the other kids colored. Despite that, they still believed God was real.

The one exception when practicing their faith came from when my mom took me to a Lutheran church for a few months. I got baptized, daydreamed through most services, and went to Sunday school where I crafted rain sticks and decorated shirts with puff paint. It was largely a positive experience, and I didn't understand any of the dogma.

The children's bible I had was nestled in with the rest of my books, and felt equally as plausible. Religion didn't really feel like a thing in my life until I found Paganism and my mom started quoting scripture at me. That's when religion became a negative term - an antagonistic concept with a long history of violence. I started studying other faiths more actively, and went through a phase of deep hatred for organized religion. A lot of that hatred and resentment still lingers in me today.

That mindset doesn't give me much to learn from. So its time to shift my perspective.

I had grown comfortable, I'm embarrassed to say - but now its time to grow again. Its time to let go of my distaste for Abrahamic faiths and move into a more accepting mindset. This feels like a solid first step in that direction.

"We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to put down the book, the computer, the instructions, and do."

So I went to a Friends meeting in Cambridge, hoping that by its location it would be a liberal meetup.

I thought "college town, it should be a younger group" - but then I realized it was in the "multiple-generations-of-my-family-have-graduated-from-Harvard" part of Cambridge.

Still, it started out nice. I met a woman who had just started going to this group after having moved here a few weeks prior. She helped me feel very welcome about showing up for the first time, and allowed me to relax into an open mindset. I went inside and sat down.

The fireplace was lit in the back of the hall, adding a warm ambiance to an otherwise severe room. A split of offwhite and puce colored most of the hall, with stark walls completely lacking any artwork. It felt very plain, but I assumed all kinds of people rent out the hall for different reasons and moving art around might get old.

I was briefly reminded of my Christmas in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, 2014. That was the last Christian church service I had gone to. It felt like the thing to do on Christmas day in an ironically-named city.

Slowly more people filed in, the majority of whom were of a post-retirement demographic. Only a few other folks my age came to the meeting, and one younger woman who looked to be asleep the whole time. There were a few children who came with their parents, but were ushered back out pied-piper style a few minutes in.

The atmosphere was pleasant, but I still felt a little on edge. I was uneasy with the cacophony of sniffles, coughing, sneezing and noise-blowing. Someone's hearing aid was making that dog-whistle sound nearby, and the man next to me had headphones on playing a bit too loud - a gentle ocean background ambiance that faded in and out of my awareness enough to be distracting. The smell of the wood fire mingled with musky cologne, marlborough reds, and camel cigarettes.

I chided myself for my discomfort and pushed it all out of my mind. I've been keeping up with my usual meditation routine well enough so that slipping into it here was no problem - once I actually let myself.

I sank inside myself and started to think - there is so much going on in my life right now. So much to process and reflect on. My love life, my career, missing friends, life changes, and more. I'll be meeting Chris's parents soon - that will be hard. What to focus on? Oh here is a song to get stuck in your head.

Maybe I should focus on my current situation "Cruel and cold like winds on the sea, will you ever return to me?" and where my frustration with religion comes from. Its doesn't really feel associated with my family "Drown all dreams so mercilessly, and leave their souls to me." since they didn't have a huge religious influence on me. I think it really started with my first boyfriend "Wild and strong you can't be contained ~ Never bound nor ever chained." and his hatred leaching into me. It started as teenage angst, but had grown to real anger the second time we were together. "Ten long years I'll wait to go by. My love will never die." He followed a lot of angry atheist blogs, and grew more bitter of anyone religious. I couldn't even talk about my pagan practice after a time. "Come my love, be one with the sea. Rule with me for eternity." But logically I knew Quakerism had very little to do with other organized religions. Why couldn't I break this association? Gosh its exhausting feeling like this - I just want it to go away. "Wounds you caused will never mend, and you will never end." Uhhhgh just focus!

Then someone stood up, breaking my revere with a brief twinge of annoyance. I opened my eyes, keeping the rest of my body relaxed. She talked about the sorrows of people in prison, especially at this time of year. She asked that we hold those people in the light through the holidays. That felt very positive. It was a peaceful and meaningful statement, and I accepted it warmly.

The second person's statement did not feel so positive. He mentioned a poster advertising some outdoor sports gear. It said something like "The great indoors - said no one ever" - but was placed in the window to a shop where two homeless people were huddled nearby. He stated that they would have been glad for a "great indoors." But, instead of making it about the actual homeless people, he took a picture of the juxtaposition and sent it to the sports gear company, asking them to take it down. He said he returned to that area some time later and saw that the poster was gone. I have no idea if he actually did anything for the homeless folks - or made any meaningful steps to help get them (or anyone) of the street. His concern was for the poster. He made no further mention of the people themselves.

I tried not letting it get to me, but that sort of self-righteous activism really upsets me. Some affluenced old white guy finds a cause, takes a small step to "correct it," then feels smug about having done some good in the world. I fear that it tainted the rest of the speakers for me after that, and I wasn't listening as openly as I should have.

The third speaker shared an old story of the truce between England and Germany on Christmas during World War 1. Then he mentioned he wrote a letter to the New York Times about it, debating something about ethics in warfare and whether or not such a thing could exist. I can't quite remember the details, but it still sounded self-focused to me. The story became focused on his letter and whether or not the NYT might publish it.

The fourth and final speaker relayed a story about a man who lives in a war zone. His whole family was killed in front of him by enemy forces, and he was made to work as a translator for them. Instead of holding hatred for them, he held only love. I'm sure it was meant as a "love thy enemy" story, but it just sounded like PTSD to me. Gosh I've gotten jaded. I thought back briefly to when I felt bad for my ex husband after he assaulted me, and how it must have been hard for him, knowing he had done that.

The sort of unconditional love doesn't work with me anymore - thanks to that experience, actually. I can't believe I had felt compassion and pity for someone who treated me that way. How I still wanted to stand by him and help him. Once I was free, it felt like waking up.

I compare it to people who take the middle ground in political situations today. When you decide not to pick a side, you're really siding with the oppressor. Doing nothing is an action unto itself, and you're telling the world that you're okay with the events unfolding. Yes, you can write to your congressperson, call your senators, vote in every election, and protest in all your free time. These are all very valid methods of taking action, and we are privileged to be able to pursue these actions. But in a story such as this - where real violence has taken place - non-violence is not the answer, in my mind. If someone bursts into my home with the intent to commit violence, I will viciously take action against them in turn. I refuse to feel compassion for those who would knowingly hurt me or my loved ones.

Everyone spoke about these stories as if the suffering of others exists only to provide lessons for the privileged. Or worse, make them feel good about themselves for appearing to flaunt compassion. Its still hard to say if its truly how these speakers came across, or if my experience as tinged by the second speaker. Or tinged by my general discomfort...

The meeting ended and I hesitated, not sure if I wanted to join in the discussion afterward. A few announcements were made, and newcomers stood up to introduce themselves. Among them was an atheist whom I met eye contact with once or twice during the speaking. I approached him afterward as he was signing the guest book and asked him what brought him here. He said he had reached out to other spiritual groups in the past and nothing really stuck. I mentioned I was Pagan, and here to learn a bit more, myself. He said he'd even been to Pagan meetings, but dancing around a bonfire wasn't his thing. I had a good chuckle at that. I told him that he didn't sound very atheist to me - more agnostic. He seemed to feel that "something" was out there, but he wasn't sure what, or how to practice it. He wanted more of a spiritual connection in life. I encouraged him to go for it, and that I hoped he'd find it. He smiled at me warmly, then turned to meet someone else who approached.

I decided not to stay for the discussion afterwards.




Saturday, December 22, 2018

Quagen Part 1


I've found myself trying to reconcile differences of faith. Or at least, what appear to be differences.

I've been following Paganism since I discovered it at age 14, and without knowing I had been following its principles and practices long before then. I revered the seasons (all two of them in California) respected nature, loved animals, hoarded stones (stereotype, but based on fact), read "witchy" books, and frequently tried to make potions out of my moms cosmetics and lotions as a child. Surprise! I grew up to be a kitchen/hedge witch. 

In all that time, my romantic relationships have been with Atheists, other Pagans, or Buddhists. I also think I dated a few Agnostics, and two/three Jewish folks. My more casual encounters didn't always contain religious or philosophy discussions, so its very likely I've slept with people from a wider variety Abrahamic faiths.  

This is my first time dating someone in the Quaker faith - particularly someone with so many Pagan practices as well. A self-identified Quagen. Its been... strange, musing over that. 

With the Jewish folks I've dated, I always appreciate the debates we can get into about scripture; The specifics of the rules, intent of the rules, and the ones okay to ignore. The "yes God did some evil shit but promised not to do it again" discussion is fun as well. The main thing I appreciate about Judaism is the desire to keep questioning - keep searching for answers. Keep discussing. You can acknowledge faith as infallible, but still hold to it. Its safe to question God's existence while still believing in him. There is both confidence and humility. 

I don't honestly know if I've met many other Quakers, but from the writing and videos I've combed through so far, so far they come across as a bit self-righteous. Granted, those are the ones presenting themselves more publicly, so I'm taking that into account. Still, they remind me of born-again Christians preaching about truth, love, and how their path is the "right" path. Except instead of God or the Bible being the "right path" - its whatever you hear in reflection. You sit for an hour in silence, listening to your thoughts, and that's your "truth." I like that they emphasize how everyone has their own path... but it only seems to work within the framework provided by the Bible. Well, one of the Bibles, anyway. 

Its a lot of the key words that have me flinching; Finding your "Truth" as if it were something perfect and infallible. Calling their services "Worship" despite it being a more distracted version of meditation. Still referring to your inner-spirit/self/light as "God." Even calling each gathering a group of Friends feels off. I know the term "Quaker" started in a negative context, but "Friends"? It comes across as preachy. 

Pagans are 100% guilty of it too, make no mistake of that. All the "love and light" woo-woo. Rainbows and sunshine and fluffy bunnies. The smug better-than-you smiles born of insecurity and the desire to act like you're hiding a secret. I can recognize it cause I went through the same thing - when I was 14. 

So okay, that is one common thread between Pagans and Quakers already - not the best example, so I need to find more. Although I do find it interesting how my first coven meeting was in a Quaker church. 

Another amusing fact about the communities I've fallen into lately is that they're all very intertwined. I've made jokes about this in the gaming industry before - not only with "always" knowing someone you've worked with before at a different company, but when running into coworkers at other common interest events. 

In my efforts to search for a more Pagan/Quaker connection I've found a few blogs about the subject. This one, sadly, hasn't posted much in the last few years so I went digging into the archives. After combing through a few blasé posts and ready to give up, a poly/kink post catches my eye. A Friends meetup for Poly and/or kink folks? Okay that's promising. Their posts also indicate that they're somewhere in the LGBTQ+ community, and very likely to be nerdy as well. 

So what about the whole God/Jesus thing? If you could choose to believe in any (or all) gods, why follow those one(s)? There's such a phenomenal amount evil history and negativity surrounding the push behind the Bible, that it takes a LOT of effort to spin it into a positive faith. Even Jesus did some dark shit. But even if you don't call it "God," why go into an atmosphere where you'd have to be fighting for your truth to be heard?

From that last article:

"Among Friends, I no longer have to pretend my wife is a man and I'm in a mixed-gender relationship.  I no longer have to translate into heterosexual marriage terms for other Friends.
I should not have to pretend I'm in relationship with a different Deity than the One(s) I am in relationship with, either.If you want me to take your relationship with Jesus, Spirit, God, Whatever You Call It, seriously, then you need to take my relationship with the Goddess / the Gods seriously."

But then why be there at all? Why follow a Quaker path where people aren't acknowledging that its not just God and Jesus? Why not practice with other Pagans where you don't have to worry about that, or even practice solitary? There had to be more.

Of course, in my research I fell in love with a complete stranger, but such is my life. And beside the point.

There isn't much out there to answer this question for me. Just a lot of old and defunct blogs and random one-off posts.

I feel like this article explains it best, with several very relatable comments in it: "There’s a reason why Pagans get hives when somebody mentions Jesus." With roughly 1/4 of Quaker sects identifying as Liberal, how could one feel they fit in? If only 25% of your community felt like "you" would you really feel that you belong? Even if you mostly spend time with that 25% (assuming you can find them nearby) it sounds so isolating - like a constant reminder that few other people of your faith share similar ideals.

The author states:
"Since my conversion to the peace testimony and to Quakers, I have worked to learn the practices of deep listening and communal discernment Quakers rely on to find the way forward into peace. Those traditions and practices have been communicated in Christian language for over three centuries now, and whatever feelings I may have about imperialist Christianity, I am teaching myself to listen to what the poetry of the Bible is saying in the mouths of Friends about living in peace."

This just sounds like the same cherry-picking of the Bible that everyone else does. Ignore the rape, genocide, incest, torture, and eternal damnation - because it also has peace-themed poetry. I cannot get my brain to reconcile that. I understand that no one thing/person is 100% good or evil, but with so much evil its hard to take the "good" seriously. Its like someone punching a bystander face five times then turning to give me a hug. Or more realistically, when a date is rude to the waiter but speaks politely to me. Fuck you, pal - I saw what you did to that guy and you're not coming near me.

Finally, for every article that claims Quakers aren't Christian, there are fifty more that state otherwise:

Especially this rant: "Quaker Faith and Practice is absolutely saturated with Christianity; and from the perspective of these early writers this is because the Quaker tradition is Christianity."

Maybe its the activism? But even that doesn't make sense - your religious practice doesn't have to coincide with your activism, and there are LOADS of activist Pagans. Granted, there are plenty who sit around signing change.org petitions (such as myself) but my priorities have shifted from the days of helping lead protests to simply joining them where I can and nagging people to vote. It doesn't have anything to do with my spiritual practice.

This article in particular makes the claim that "Paganism doesn’t cultivate listening." While I disagree, I can definitely understand what they're talking about. A lot of pagans are very self-focused and don't always hear outside themselves as well. There also isn't a lot of support for self-evaluation or introspection. Meditation is a practice that's often highlighted, but more frequently its for energy work, dream work, or visualizations. There isn't a lot of mindfulness to it.

I suppose that's where a lot of the Buddhist studies I've pursued have influenced my practice. If I had a call to Quakerism before Buddhism, would I feel the same? Granted, there are evil forms of Buddhism; despite its peaceful appearance, has had its own history of negative practices and misogyny. Even today they're attempting genocide in Myanmar.

Even with that, it doesn't seem to be on the same scale as Abrahamic faiths. Especially when there are so fewer Buddhists in the world - and in my life. Those I have known have ALL been positive, peaceful, and non-dogmatic. Every book I've read or video I've watched only ever mentions positive practices - self-reflection, breathing techniques, managing difficult emotions, how to ease suffering in your life and others, and more - all with the goal to become a better person and make this world a better place.

So why are some Pagans drawn to a more Quaker form of reflection?

It's time to go further down the rabbit hole.



Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Building Foundations

I'm doing worlds better this week.

In the time following my last post I reached out to a few friends for comfort, and found it in spades.

I spent an hour on the phone with a newer member (new to me, anyway) of my polycule - my metamore twice removed, or something like that... :P A lovely woman I've only met once in person but have chatted with online most days since then. She talked me down from my immediate concerns to a place where I could process everything better.

Justin, despite dealing with plenty of his own shit right now, made time to text-chat with me so late into the night I was falling asleep between messages. He maintains that emotions are what direct our logic in the first place, and while I'm not 100% in line with his view on that, it does have a ring of truth to it. But without logic, how else would we define which emotions are in our best interests to pursue?

Even dear, dear Scott, who has known me so long through all the shit I've gone through. He was cautious in tone when I was catching him up on the full situation, but encouraged me to go for it nonetheless. He's known a solid amount of poly folks over the years, and seen some of the implosions that happen when people break up. While monogamous couples break up all the time, the poly breakups he's witnessed have been more fracturing to other friends involved. Frankly, I'm flattered and surprised he didn't tell me I was being psychotic.

Naturally I spoke about my concerns with Chris as well. I had the incredible fortune to be able to hang out with him this past weekend after a murder mystery event at a friends house. Just being around him is comfort enough. I still can't get over how relaxing it is to be around him... I don't expect it to always be that way, but I'm definitely going to enjoy as much of it as I can. Its an introverts greatest dream.

Now I just have to call my mom and get her view of the situation. I can already hear the teasing laughter as she chides me for falling in love again. Meh :)

All of this just reaffirms how important having a support network has become for me. Who would have thought?

After all - I'm six months into this relationship and my brain is still high on New Relationship Energy; most likely due to the distance and limited degree to which we see each other. That makes it a little harder to determine whether or not I'm being rational, but having outside opinions really help to ground me.

I'm also starting to enjoy my job more. I still applied for the job I saw in Philly, but even if I don't get it I'm fairly certain I can convince my boss to make my current job remote. I met a counterpart of mine who works remotely from North Carolina. He's only in the area to visit family for the holidays, and will be in the office all week. Our 30 minute meeting became an hour as we shared customer service stories and marveled at the dysfunction at our company (a dysfunction shared across every other company I've worked for - so its a comforting dysfunction). He's been at the company for over 12 years, having started at the Boston location. He also digitally introduced me to a similar counterpart of our team working remotely from South Dakota. It sounds like the SD person has been remote from the start. More hope!

I'm feeling more like my optimistic self once again, and eagerly looking forward to Yule this weekend. Short steps, deep breaths. Everything is alright.


Friday, December 14, 2018

She Walks in Beauty Like the Night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies.

So... haven't done one of these in a while - I've been drinking and having a crisis!!

I'm contemplating making a major life change for illogical reasons, and its the antithesis of character for me.

Correction: its what I PERCEIVE to be against my character. Never underestimate the power of denial. I'm very VERY inclined to romantic flights of fancy... they're just usually in my head. Because I am 100% the type of person who would give up "everything" for... eh.. emotions. I just never have. Its how I've survived this long. Its how I'll continue to survive.

As Lady Crawley said in Vanity Fair "I adore inappropriate marriages." - and later - just  "...not in real life."

I've lived on my own since I was 18. I hadn't even graduated high school by the time I lived on my own. Every decision I've made in my life has been one calculated by survival. Even when it was, on some level, influenced by a relationship, it was calculated. If anything, it was a romantic situation I manipulated to my benefit in order to maintain my survival. Even when I moved up to Sacramento and got my own place to live closer to Ben I saw the odds in my favor from a logical standpoint. And, as things usually do for my otherworldy freakishly successful white ass, they worked out. They always have.

“Be cautious then, young ladies; be wary how you engage. Be shy of loving frankly; never tell all you feel, or (a better way still), feel very little. See the consequences of being prematurely honest and confiding, and mistrust yourselves and everybody. Get yourselves married as they do in France, where the lawyers are the bridesmaids and confidantes. At any rate, never have any feelings which may make you uncomfortable, or make any promises which you cannot at any required moment command and withdraw. That is the way to get on, and be respected, and have a virtuous character in Vanity Fair.”

So how to navigate this dilemma?

I'll just keep learning how to play "Everything is Alright" on the Ukulele. No seriously - I've been doing that for the last hour as a method to avoid applying for a job I could genuinely enjoy in Philadelphia.

"And the business of her life was - to watch the corpse of Love."