Thursday, May 30, 2013

Happiness is a Choice

“Happiness is a Choice” by Barry Neil Kaufman is a book I read about 24 years ago when I was in the middle of one of the worst depressive episodes I have ever lived through.  I don’t own it and I have never read it again but, some things I learned from that book have stayed with me.   The first is the title and the truth of it. The second is that feelings follow thoughts which follow actions.  I do not believe these things to be true, I know them to be.
I am not talking about some pollyanna placebo, or platitude.  I am not talking about some kind of “positive thinking” quick fix.  This is not about “6 easy steps to have everything you want”.  This is about how to do the work to change your thoughts and habitual emotional patters that result in chronic clinical depression; recurring, debilitating, suicidal-thinking kind of depression. 
If you are in the middle of such an episode, please seek help from a psychiatric professional, now.  If you are in crisis, you are in need of emergency medical attention.
Psychotropic medication and intensive therapy have never been a part of my healing, if they had been, I might have learned how to cope with my shadows sooner.  For whatever reason I have had to learn things on my own but, Mr. Kaufman’s book helped me to understand the patterns.  It helped me to analyze my own thoughts and the feelings that followed them and the behaviors that perpetuated them.  It helped by giving me a place to begin. 
I have learned how to take responsibility for those patterns, and how to recognize them before they evolve into yet another long term episode.  It helps to understand the mechanism of depression, and to understand that, for me, that mechanism is within my control.  It is something I can affect and change.  I can choose.
One of the most important choices is NOT to act today on the impulse to do something destructive.  I don’t have to decide never to act on the impulse, just not today.  Sometimes that is the best you can do.  Not act today.  Sometimes you have to create a reason to not act, so you find something, anything, but you do not do anything permanent today. 
Then there is the choice to do those things that you do not want to do.  Get out of bed, take a shower, go to work, go outside, talk to another person, and eat (even if you have no interest in food).  Turn off the TV and turn out the lights and give your body a chance to sleep.  Insomnia, not eating, inactivity and isolation are behaviors as well as symptoms; they perpetuate depression.
When you are suffering from clinical depression, these things are all incredibly difficult but, not as difficult as changing the thoughts that go through your head every moment of every day.  Changing those thoughts is possible and necessary but, it is not easy. 
Like I said, this is not about “6 easy steps to have everything you want”.   There is nothing easy about the choice to be happy, but it is absolutely worth the effort.  I am a happy person today.  I choose to be happy every day.  I have a life that I love and a wonderful companion who gives joy to my life every day.  I have a home that nurtures my soul; I have community and family that support me and my work.  I have work that I love and that allows me to express myself and my truth. 
Sometimes I don’t enjoy going to my job but, it allows me to support myself and my companion.  Sometimes I experience disappointment and stress.  But happiness is not about having everything that you want nor is it about ease and leisure.  It is about being happy with what you have and making choices to change what makes you unhappy.  It is about taking responsibility for your life and pursuing your own happiness.  It is about being grateful for the blessings you have and choosing to release those things that harm you.
I find it wonderful that I can choose every day to be happy about the sun shining or the rain falling or the snow or the wind.  I find it amazing that I can get out of bed and go to work and pay the rent on my little tree-house.  I find it beautiful that every day I can choose to be happy with the life I am creating and that I can have faith and hope that I will find that which I desire in the future if I continue to follow the path my heart sets my feet upon.  I find it magickal that even through the long nights of darkness; I get to choose to be happy in the night and in the morning.  I find it a miracle that I can choose to love.  I choose happiness.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sacrifice, Offerings and Vows

Sacrifice; Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of something or someone considered to have a greater value.  The act of offering something in propitiation or homage.
I have thought a great deal about the nature of sacrifices, offerings and vows lately.  During my recent journeys I have made many offerings, some were in the form of vows and oaths, some in the form of sacrifices, some in the form of gifts.   All were because I believe the purpose of my offerings, the object of them, to be of greater value than the offering itself.  I have made vows, pledges, oaths, sacrifices and offerings on a daily basis. 
I have benefitted from the sacrifice of others.  The liberty and freedom I enjoy, to worship as I please, to vote, to make choices about my life, to voice ideas regardless of who might disagree, to educate myself, these are all due to the sacrifices of those who valued these principles more dearly than life itself.   I am indebted to those who sacrificed for my liberty and for those freedoms, I Give Thanks.
Sacrifice can be an uncomfortable idea, but the primary principle behind it is that of a gift.  The giving, the offering up of something of value, for the sake of something or someone of greater value.  Yesterday I made offerings of food and wine to honor those whose lives were lost in a war that was fought a long time ago and resulted in benefit to me and to those who will come after me.  The wine and the food were bought with money that I earned at a job that requires my time and effort.  This is of value to me; my time and effort are those elements of which my life consists. 
The offerings and sacrifices and vows that I make are gifts of my energy and time and love and service. They mean nothing unless they are truly a part of me.  I make them because I value something else even more.  In some respects my life itself is my offering.  My vows to live my life with honor, valour, integrity, compassion and grace, are sacrifices to principles that I value.  My vows to love regardless of the potential to be heart-broken, to walk in light as well as shadow so that I may serve others and indeed my higher self, these are offerings I make to the Great Work.   I place myself upon the alter, upon the anvil, as a sacrifice to my Gods, my Ancestors, my beloveds, myself.  That which I gain I value more highly, I esteem more dearly than that which I offer up.  And that which I give in offering, in sacrifice I cannot reclaim.  For that is the true nature of a gift, of sacrifice.  It cannot be taken back.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an important concept in the Judeo-Christian ethos. Much of the impetus of those religions is gaining God’s forgiveness for sins committed by the human being.  The Wiccan/neo-Pagan ethos does not generally subscribe to this concept. Nor do we subscribe to the concepts of hell or sin.  I do not need my Gods’ forgiveness; as a result I am responsible for my behavior and my life.  There is no magickal absolution.  I am responsible for all of it, good or bad.  But that does not mean that the concept of forgiveness should not be a part of our culture.
In the Judeo-Christian ethos, the concept of forgiveness does not apply only to the human’s relationship with God but, to the relationships between human beings.  And this is where we could benefit from embracing the concept of forgiveness.
There are times when forgiveness is inappropriate, specifically when it results in the enabling of habitual abuse.  There are times when someone’s habitual behavior is toxic and we should not allow them to continue to affect our lives. 
There are times when our own choices about our lives will make others that we love unhappy.  We are responsible for our own happiness, for living with integrity, for following our own truth and sometimes that is in conflict with the desires of others in our lives.  We do not need forgiveness for those choices.  We do not need forgiveness for being true to who we are.
Just as I do not need forgiveness for making choices about my own life, for choosing to follow my own heart rather than comply with another’s desires, so too must I acknowledge that others have the right and duty to live with integrity and that I should not berate them for doing so, even when I have had other hopes, expectations, desires.  They are not responsible to live as I would want.  They are not responsible for my happiness, but for their own.
We do not always behave as our highest selves would dictate however. Sometimes we fall short and we forget ourselves and we react from a place of anger or frustration instead of responding from a place of love.  A friend reached out to me yesterday and instead of listening and offering support and sympathy, I reacted from my own hurt and frustration.  I ranted instead of listening with compassion.  I was not a good friend in that moment. 
I was angry with my behavior when I returned to myself.  I asked that friend to forgive my selfish behavior, and they have.  Because our friendship is important to both of us, because I am a good friend most of the time.  That friend has needed my forgiveness sometimes too.  We generally do not require an apology or a request for forgiveness from the other.  We make allowances for the fact that as human beings our own needs occasionally collide with the other’s moments of frustration. 
It is always healing to the relationship if the one who behaved selfishly can acknowledge their lapse; it is always easier to forgive those we love when they ask us to.  Telling those we love that we indeed regret causing them pain, that we wished we had behaved differently, that we think that they deserved to be heard and that we do indeed want to be there for them, that they are valuable, is especially important because we all sometimes behave in ways that say the opposite.
It is also healing to ourselves to ask for forgiveness rather that indulging in self-berating thoughts.  Forgiving myself for poor behavior is easier when I have asked forgiveness from those I have let down. That does not mean that I can habitually behave in that way, it means that I move forward and try to learn from it and try to react less and respond more.
This is true to all relationships; family, friends, coven, community, allies.  Even in relationships that are not based upon love.  Even towards people with whom I work or interact in the mundane world, I will occasionally behave rudely; I will sometimes be short with someone, reacting with impatience and frustration rather than respect and appreciation.  This is just bad manners. 
I believe that good manners are indispensable to the civility required to live peacefully with others in a society.  And I believe that honor requires that I apologize for such behavior immediately.  My own bad mood is not an excuse to be rude or disrespectful towards another, no matter the relationship, or lack of one.  I have yet to meet a stranger who is not immediately willing to forgive when asked. 
It is crucial to my commitment to living a life of honor that I not lose sight of this concept and that I apply it to my relationships and interactions with those closest to me and with those with whom I interact every day.

Friday, May 10, 2013

On Falling in Love

I have been thinking a lot lately about falling in love.  Not considering it, but rather reflecting upon it.  I have been remembering the times in my life when I have experienced falling in love with another.  A boy named Jimmy when I was 11 (I kissed him in a row boat).  A boy named David when I was 14.  Another David when I was 18.
A beautiful woman named Annie, barefoot in a red dress on stage at the Tower, when I heard her sing “Carpet of the Sun” for the first time (I was 19).  Harpo Marx, when I saw a scene of him playing the harp to a beautiful blond in a black and white movie (I think I was 9).
A cat named Spot when I was 5 (he lived till I was 19) A black puppy named Kansas City Jones when I was 20 (he lived till I was 31) A little black kitten named Scooter when I was 30 (he bonded with the dog)  A grey cat named George and a black kitten named Jack.  A tiny black kitten who was born in my bed at 1 in the morning and who lived for 51 hours (I named him Merlyn and buried him in the garden and cried for 3 days)   Most of all, my beloved Pwca who I found at the SPCA.  I never even noticed the others in the room.
My nephew and my niece the first time I saw their faces and every time since.  My son and my daughter when I first felt them move inside me, when I first saw their faces in my dreams, and again when I held them as babes, when I met them as 18 year olds, and every time I see them now.  My son-in-law the first time I saw how he makes my daughter smile, and every smile since.  My granddaughter when I saw her face in my dream and then in my vision. 
My closest friends, my recent lovers, my beloveds.  The God the first time I met him and every time since, the Goddess every face she has and every time I meet her. 
Falling in love is what happens when your soul recognizes the spark of magick in another soul.  Even when it is a brief glimpse of that spark in the soul of a stranger.  It is a moment when that part of you reaches out and connects with something outside yourself, when it instinctively understands the miracle that exists in another.
Falling in love can last a moment or a lifetime.  Life holds infinite chances to recognize the miracle.  Be willing to fall.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Integration...or blurring the edges

I like boxes.  I compartmentalize well.  I like the sense of order that it gives me to have things all sorted and separated.  Boxes within boxes, all neatly stored on shelves behind the closet door.  Even my computer has documents in files, within files, within folders all neatly stored in one folder, not on my “desktop”. (In fact there is nothing on my desktop but an empty trash bin which is only there because it will not let me hide it in a closet)
My alters are like that, neat, ordered, symmetrical, balanced, expressing one idea, one type of energy or a balanced pair.   They are a reflection of my inner structures.  I am very good at distinguishing the many subtle shades of my different selves, my different roles and relationships.  Even my relationships with one person can be compartmentalized into separate boxes. 
I am an analytical person.  Logic is a useful tool; it helps me to understand myself and others around me.  Structure helps me to learn and to comprehend.  Specific and clearly defined expectations, objective observation and communication, help me to navigate through my world and within my relationships.
Blurry edges make me uncomfortable.  Cluttered and disorganized spaces, confused and vague ideas, irrational and ambiguous emotions, are obstacles to my ability to live securely and successfully.  Chaos is a delicious but uneasy pleasure.  And yet, on my spiritual path I strive to integrate the disparate parts of myself into a fluid and beautiful whole.  From the Union of Polarities within me, to my recent experimental alter, incorporating many different objects, tools and symbols;  working with them to see how they interact with each other, a magickal spider’s web, creating a new pattern out of seemingly chaotic elements. 
Nature has an underlying structure and yet its profound beauty comes not from visible order or rigid form but rather from its free expression of life.  Family trees resemble living beings, not geometric grids.  My Gods do not fit neatly into a structured system.  They are complicated and unique persons.  Any system that accurately describes the human condition or the function of magick is as complicated as the equations used to describe the laws of physics or physiological processes; or the diagrams necessary to map a molecule or the genome of any species or; the musical score needed by an entire orchestra to perform a great symphony.   The structures and forms are necessary and beautiful but, they are not simple nor easily sorted and separated. 
I am learning how to integrate the complex and intricate internal structures that support life without imposing rigid external forms to separate and contain them. I am learning how to express them with more freedom and beauty.  I am learning to become comfortable with blurring the edges.