Thursday, August 10, 2006

And another thing...

Ok, so I'm still riled up about the whole breast thing. And I think it's a fully justified, truly righteous indignation I'm working up.

You see, the part that has me the most upset is that it's women - W-O-M-E-N - who tend to make the most fuss about things like seeing breasts exposed. Women! It's our breasts we're bitching about!

You might think I'm making an unreasonably big fuss over this issue. In fact, it's an unreasonably big issue. Here's why (bear with me; it's a long explanation):

Men are biologically driven to seek sex. As soon as a young man hits puberty, it's pretty much up-periscope and he's dragged around by the end of his heat-seeking missile for a few years (more than a few). Now, guys, don't get mad. I'm not implying that you don't excercise control and take the reins back...but I've never talked to a man yet who didn't admit that he nicknamed his privates because he wasn't comfortable having a total stranger in charge of his life.

Women, on the other hand, are wired a bit differently. We love sex, but our biological drive is seated in another cradle. We have greater control over our physical desires but we're positively addicted to acceptance, love, and being the object of exclusive desire.

Add to this little mix the fact that, as my former mother-in-law (now resting, presumably in peace) used to say - "Yeah, little boy, you've got one of those, but I've got one of these, and with this I can get all of those I want!" Is it not true? My husband puts it quite succinctly. He asks simply, "If you're a woman, answer this question with total honesty: Could you, if you chose to do so, get laid tonight? Not necessarily with the person or under the circumstances you might desire, but could you have sexual intercourse with a willing partner tonight?" The answer is, in almost every single case, yes. And that translates to one thing: power.

Sexuality is powerful. Women's sexuality is extremely powerful. The biological imperative placed on men to spread the seed far and wide makes them vulnerable to this power. So how, without killing off your source for the very thing that renders you so vulnerable in the first place, do you right the power imbalance? You enlist the aid of an equal or more powerful ali.

Enter the church. What better way to reduce the power of women's sexuality than to declare it disgusting, filthy, defiling, sinful in its very nature and existence. "The hands that have touched a woman are not fit to handle the body of Christ." Filthy daughters of filthy Eve. Lusty succubi used by the devil to ensnare innocent men in a pit of carnal degradation. So filthy are women that some priests are required to be celebate in order to handle the Host. And it's obviously not Christianity alone that feels the need to protect against the evils of feminine sexuality. Look at Islam. And don't even get me started on cultures that perform ritual mutilation on women, excising the clitoris and part of the labia as a "right of passage."

And the worst part of all this? Women themselves have bought into it. We may not run around calling ourselves evil, filthy, or inherently unclean, but let one of us show a breast in public and Katie, bar the door, it's on! Let one of our sisters show a little too much leg or a bit more clevage than we think appropriate and we're slinging "slut" and "tramp" like poison darts. A flirtatious woman gets a little male attention while other women are quietly plotting her demise. Even the most non-sexual use of our bodies - pregnancy, childbirth, nursing - is subject to the madness. Case in point: The August 2006 issue of Baby Talk magazine featured a nursing baby on the cover. There was such an uproar about the cover that the magazine polled readers and at least 25% responded that they are upset or offended by the photo. Who reads the magazine? Women! Women with babies! Women with BREASTS! Read the article.

It's all about power, folks. And the sad part is that it really doesn't have to be this way. But you can bet that it will stay as long as the prisoners keep polishing the bars and making sure the doors shut tight. If women don't reclaim and own their own sexual power and learn to use it ethically and for the good of all, we'll always be evil daughters of evil Eve. If we're going to think anything is disgusting, it should be that. I know I'm ashamed.

Beasts! Beasts! Beware the beasts!

I read recently where some people were highly offended by other people exposing their beasts in public. Well, I should say so! I don’t want to see anyone’s beasts! And what about the children? What were these people thinking? Beasts are to be kept private, covered, hidden away. They could hurt someone!

Oh…wait…by golly, I read that wrong. It was breasts, not beasts. Huh…funny what a difference that "r" makes.

Only… well… it seems that it doesn’t make any difference at all. People are just as offended by breasts as they are by beasts. Offended? By breasts? Life-giving, sweater-filling, put-your-head-on-my-pillows breasts actually offend people? Apparently so. Some folks seem to equate beasts – snarly, scary things with fangs and bad attitudes – with breasts – soft, jiggly things with little pink nipples and no attitudes at all other than perky, and even that goes away pretty darned quickly.

Further confusing matters, some breasts seem to be more offensive than others. A Hollywood breast, for example, draped in something sheer or shiny that barely covers only the cute little nipple, is not likely to cause any but the nicest kind of stir. People will snap photos of it for magazines, newspapers, and websites, and afford it honors like "Best Dressed." But a Chattanooga breast, clothed in a cotton camp shirt from J. C. Penney, a nursing bra, and the lips of a cherub-cheeked infant – that breast can cause a ruckus. Expressions of disgust and even outrage rise up all around whenever one of those puppies raises its nose (even though the nose is, technically, covered by the baby).

I guess I just don’t get it. I was ok when I thought it was beasts causing all the commotion. But breasts? Breasts that are feeding babies? Nourishing, pure-and-perfect mother’s milk dispensing, comfort-giving, smells like mama…what in the name of all that is human can possibly be offensive about that? Have we become so sexually driven that we can’t see past our own neurotic obsession with the prelude, losing sight of the main attraction? All that sexual activity we associate with breasts leads right up to babies, and babies have to be fed. That makes breasts pretty much full-circle, self-contained, the right tool for the right job perfect, if you ask me… and nothing to be ashamed of.

Hmmph. I think some of these folks’ beasts are showing…and I AM offended.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The perfect quote... follow up my last post:

"The universe loves gratitude. You cant be grateful and unhappy at the same time" - Louise Hay

Yep...what she said.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Chicken or the Egg?

"I am not grateful because I am rich. I am rich because I am grateful." - Me

There are many situations in this world where the question of, "Which came first?" might be difficult to answer. The pairing of gratitude and abundance is not one of them. I am convinced beyond all doubt that gratitude definitely comes first. Gratitude creates abundance.

It's the stuff of parables, fables, and fairy tales. The rich man has everything yet, without gratitude, his spirit remains poor. The poor man has little but his grateful heart soars and his life is full and rich in ways the ungrateful never know.

Gratitude begins with awareness - awareness of the good things in our lives, large and small, and a conscious decision to express our gratitude for all that we have. Most of us aren't habitually grateful. The good news is that we can learn. And when we do, we open doors to abundance and fullness that we didn't know existed. A grateful heart creates an attitude of abundance, and that inner reality manifests as outward reality. We don't just feel richer. We truly draw more and more good things into our lives. We grow richer with every thank you.

Creating any new habit takes time, but it's an investment that pays unlimited returns. Make the investment. Try this for a year and see what happens: Start a journal - I've heard it called a "gratitude journal" but I like to call it, "My Overflowing Book of Good Things." Every night before you go to sleep, write down five things you are grateful for. What? You can't name five things you're grateful for? Yes, you can - even if one of them is, "I'm glad I only have to come up with five." or, "I'm glad I'm ending this crazy day instead of starting it!" Every morning, start a new page with the date and the numbers one through five down the side, ready to be filled in at the end of the day. As you go through your day, make mental notes or jot down things for which you are grateful, no matter how small. Be faithful. Do it every morning and every night.

Here's what I predict will happen: You will become more and more aware of things that enrich your life right now. You'll spend less time thinking about what you don't have and more time enjoying what you do. You'll grow happier, calmer, a little bit less invested in the rat race. Over time, your awareness will expand to be grateful for things you never even thought of. Along the way, you'll experience a sweeter, juicier, tastier life. At some point it will occur to you that a lot of good things have been happening to you lately, and that your life is really good. One day, you'll be on your way to work or running errands. You'll be stopped at a traffic light and glance around at other vehicles and their drivers. You'll see their faces - scowling, angry, half-awake - and you'll notice that, in contrast, you're wearing a slight smile, naturally and for no apparent reason. And you'll think, "I am so rich."

And you'll be right.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Good Teacher, Bad Teacher

How do you define “teacher?” What makes a good teacher good or a bad teacher bad?

I’ve had experiences recently that have me thinking a lot about teachers. More accurately, I’m thinking about lessons learned. And it seems that some of the most valuable, the most important lessons have come from the worst teachers.

Possibly the most valuable lesson of all is this: every encounter is a learning experience; everyone is my teacher. The lessons may come directly in a deliberate transfer of knowledge. They may come “sideways” from observation and reflection. Or they may come as a result of disappointment, betrayal, even abuse, often from the very person I looked to as a teacher. Those lessons are hard and painful, but they are the ones that protect me, shape me, and sometimes, set me free.

The trick is to realize the real lesson. A teacher who fails to meet stated objectives still teaches me. Maybe I learn how to choose better teachers. Or maybe I learn to take more responsibility for my own learning. The teacher who hurts me through betrayal or abuse, or whose personal power struggles overshadow his or her commitment to students has much to teach me. I learn to recognize the situation for what it is. I learn that I am strong enough to step back, extricate myself, and regroup. And, when the initial shock, anger, or hurt subsides, I learn accountability tempered with compassion.

Teachers are students, too. The loss of a student, maybe even a friend, can be a hard lesson to accept. Seeing them suffer the natural consequences of their actions is a lesson in accountability. And I learn compassion when I realize that I, too, will experience failure, hurting or betraying others with my actions, even if unintentionally.

There are many good teachers in my life and I’m grateful for them. But even bad teachers teach good lessons, and I’m grateful for them, too. In a sense, every teacher is a good teacher if I can recognize the real lesson.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Boiling point

We boil at different degrees. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher, (1803-1882)

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Emerson? This statement sums up much of what I believe makes up the difference in individuals. So many times I've heard people become frustrated with their friends, partners, spouses, children, baffles them when someone doesn't take an action they believe should be taken, or reacts too quickly for their taste...someone who changes more slowly or more quickly than they. Assuming basic psychological and emotional stability, we all simply move at different rates, react to different stumuli...we reach boiling at our own set point.

In this context, I'm referring to "boiling" as the point at which we affect change. When water boils, it changes to steam. When we boil, we make changes in our lives. Like water, the molecules will probably have been in motion for a long time before the first bubbles break the surface. Just because we don't see the changes, we can't assume the other person isn't simmering quietly inside, temperature rising slowly toward their own set point. When they get there, the bubbles float to the surface, break, and the steam rises.

People sometimes forestall the boiling. They resist the change to the point that they "turn down the heat." The heat is the stimulus to change, usually in the form of pain or discomfort with the present status. A statement I've heard used (and used myself) is that people only change when the pain of change is outweighed by the pain of staying the same. I think that's true. To avoid the discomfort of change, the pain of breaking that surface tension and morphing into another form of ourselves, we ignore the heat. Fortunately, the heat remains and, eventually, forces us to change. Maybe not in this lifetime...but eventually.

Our challenge, then, is to pay attention to our own heat sources and to let those we love pay attention to theirs. It's hard, sometimes, especially when the relationships are very close. Many a marriage has fallen apart because one partner is still simmering while the other is boiling away! Ahh, but perhaps that's part of the change in progress. Maybe the pain of that failed relationship is what it takes to get the other partner from a slow simmer to a rolling boil. Maybe not. One thing is certain - life is change. We all boil at different degrees but we still boil. Steam happens. So does condensation. And then we boil again.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A riddle...

Riddle: What do you say when the Universe hits you in the head with a "clue by four"?

Answer: Ouch. Thank you. May I have another?

Synchronicity. Timing. Things happening in such a way that there can be no doubt that something is coordinating the events. Affirmation that evolution happens in the micro as well as the macro. We evolve in tiny increments all the time.

My friend Lynnette is busy preparing an Ostara ritual for our little group. She sent some questions to get us thinking and help us prepare for the celebration. She talked about balance, naturally enough, and drew a distinction between static balance - "...stand with outstretched hands holding the same amount of 'weight' on each..." and "... balance experienced as a flow of seasons, cycles...".

Her words evoked an image of a curved line, a wave that curves deeply to one side, then gradually swings toward the other, crossing the center point before curving wide to the opposite side, like a continuous S-curve.

My life is like that, and it's been brought home to me lately so very clearly. I've been living in a wide swing toward ideals that I embrace happily and that, at their core, serve me well. But the curve can't stay that far out, that far from center, without throwing the wave out of balance. Like that line, there are aspects of my life that need to curve back toward center.

Here is an example, one that currently occupies a lot of my thoughts: I am a very accepting person. Acceptance is a part of my personality, but I've also worked hard to cultivate it in my life. I've conciously nurtured the part of me that takes people as they come and sees good in just about everyone. The problem is that I've also developed the habit of ignoring red flags, warnings and danger signs. It's not that I don't see them. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that I do, indeed, see the red flags waving. I just ignore them.

Why? Because I think I might be wrong. Or because, for some reason, I have come to believe that saying, "I don't like her" is just...wrong. It sounds so arrogant, so self-centered. What do you mean, you don't like her? What makes you so special that the universe should care whether someone pleases you or not? Why are your likes and dislikes more important than the other person's right and responsibility to be who they are? That's a person, not a flavor or a color. Focus on the other person instead of yourself for a change. People act on what they believe. Look at the reasons behind the actions instead of weighing everything in the light of whether it pleases you or not.

So I allowed myself to develop the habit of ignoring things because I was convinced somehow that I had enough understanding of human nature to see beyond the behavior to its cause. Once I knew the cause, I could ... I could...what? Change the behavior? Disregard it because I knew why they did it? That's more likely, I think. I just overlooked a lot of things because I thought I knew why they were doing them. It didn't make them any less annoying, dangerous, or unhealthy, but I could just be the bigger, more superior person and rise above it all.

Hogwash! I've been ignoring red flags and it has cost me. More important, my ignoring my own instincts contributed to friends being hurt. No...I'm not trying to take resonsibility for everything in the world...but facing the fact that, had I listened to certain instincts, raised a question when I observed things that weren't quite right, or just spoke up and said, "Hey, I know BS when I see it and that was some of the S-iest B I've seen in a long time!" is just facing the truth. I've been so focused on not being self-centered that I forgot to use common sense and simple self-preservation, practicing a special brand of self-centered, cleverly disguised as acceptance and other-centric living.

Though the reasons were very different at the time, I have been ignoring warnings and flags since I was young. I got married twice under a fluttering, flapping, sea of garrison-sized crimson beauties. I knew it wasn't right but I chose to ignore them. Why? That's a whole 'nother subject for a whole 'nother time. Regardless of the reasons, the behavior was the same. Was the pattern being set even then? Maybe.

So...lessons learned...and being learned...again...still. I feel the curve turning and flowing more toward center, away from the wide arc too far out to the side. Of course, the curve continues, and I'm sure I'll swing wide again on some other issue...or the same one, though I truly hope not.

I am still an accepting person, and I don't want that to change. I like that part of me and I'm glad I've cultivated that trait. What I do want is to accept my own right and responsibility to listen to the warnings.

It doesn't do much good to be a very intuitive person if you ignore your own intuition, does it?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Remedial Learning - Life for Dummies - The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stuff We Should Know

I've often said out loud to anyone who could be coerced into listening that the universe is constantly in teaching mode...that we are all learning lessons all the time...and that some of us (ask me how I know this) end up repeating the same lessons over and over until we get it.

Lately, my school-of-life schedule has undergone an overhaul and suddenly, I'm in remedial class with lessons coming fast and furious! I cannot remember a time when there were more "aha" moments in my life. Every day something else happens and another light bulb comes on, another little voice inside saying, "You knew that! You should have known that! Why didn't you know that?"

On the one hand, I'm bowled over by the intensity of it all. On the other hand, I'm deeply grateful. Not only are the lessons coming, but I'm able to recognize at least some of them. Those are the ones that, hopefully, I'll "get" this time and not be repeating the course again and again. No guarantees, of course...but I'm trying.

So what am I learning?

Trust your own intuition. If something bothers you, listen to it. Speak up about it. If you aren't bothered but people you love and trust are, encourage them to speak up... and LISTEN to them. You and/or they may not be right (we all have our own filters, after all), but you may be dead on target and you could be spared a lot of grief by paying attention.

Practice what you preach. When you believe that sharing failings, disappointments, and hurts is just as important as sharing joys and accomplishments, act on that belief. Don't keep your disappointments and injuries from people you love, trust, and respect, even if you believe that you're doing it for good reason. A prime example: I learned from a deeply loved and cherished friend today that she'd been carrying around pain and heartache over a situation that I, too, had experienced. Had either of us spoken up about it, we could have, as she so beautifully put it, helped each other to heal. Instead, and for the very best of reasons, we both kept our hurts to ourselves. In doing so, we isolated ourselves in that lonely place where you come to believe it is you and you alone who bears that burden. While I was trying to hold myself to a standard I had set, I left a friend to suffer alone, and I suffered alone, too. I have to learn to trust those I love to be strong enough to know what happens to me and how I react to it, without having my reaction shape their own.

Trust. Cherish it. Nurture it. Hold it dear and protect it. Honor it as the center of each relationship. Every relationship is a set of mutual promises, some stated, others implied. We make plans and live our lives on the basis of those promises. Don't make promises you aren't willing to do everything in your power to keep. If you don't understand the implied promises in a relationship, put on your grown up shoes and ask.

Accountability. I've posted a lot about accountability already. A point that keeps being driven home to me is that we are accountable for every action, and no action is purely good or purely bad. Everything we do puts things in motion, causes ripples in the pond, creates vibrations on the web of life that connects us all. Even decisions that are ultimately right and good create those vibrations, and what is good and right for us may be disappointing to someone else. Causing pain to someone by our actions, even when those actions are exactly what we have to do to meet our own honest responsibilities, is never easy for those who love broadly and generously. I have a beautiful little book called, "The Invitation," written by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. She says, "It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself, if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy." Pretty words. Hard questions. Important lesson.

I'm sure there are more lessons, probably some that are just zooming over my head completely unseen. I can almost hear the, "tsk, tsk, tsk...she'll be back next semester..." in the ethers. I suppose I should be grateful for that, too. If life were strictly a pass/fail, one-shot-and-you're-out proposition, I'd have been booted a long time ago. Instead, we're given opportunity upon opportunity to learn, to grow, to get it.

I'm working on it.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Accountability and Compassion

Events of late have me thinking a lot about accountability and compassion.

We are all accountable for our actions. Nobody has to hold us accountable. We just are. The universe is made that way. When we make decisions and take actions, we put the universe into motion. You throw your rock, you make your splash...and then the ripples come. The old phrase, "It's time to pay the piper." comes to mind.

I'm not talking just about punishment, though there are times when that is one consequence of our actions. The ripples that are less direct are often more painful because they're so far-reaching. A punishment, like a jail sentence, for example, is finite. You do something, you get caught, you get convicted, you serve a sentence for X amount of time, and you're done. True accountability, on the other hand, has no time limit. It is the result of the universe set in motion by our actions. Sometimes the pain is direct. Sometimes it comes from watching others suffering because of something we did. It can be harsh and brutal.

Compassion is the act of recognizing that a fellow traveler took a turn that caused them pain. It's acknowledging that we, too, have taken and will take many such turns, and will suffer our share of pain. It's knowing that, inevitable as the consequential suffering is, it's the way most of us learn the most important lessons in any lifetime. It's actively hoping that the lessons are learned and not repeated.

We all pay the proverbial piper, all the time. And yet, when someone does something we clearly find unacceptable, makes a mistake we haven't made personally, and we see them suffering because of it, it's easy to feel superior. If we or someone we love were injured by their actions, we may even feel a little thrill at their discomfort. But is that good for us? I don't think so. It may not be possible to feel purely compassionate, but I believe we should actively cultivate compassion because it's spiritually healthy and emotionally healing. When I focus on compassion, it helps to keep anger, hurt, and betrayal from consuming me.

The definitive example of compassion, for me, is in the movie, "Dogma." [Heartsong's note: My daughter recently told me I have the actors/characters reversed in the following recap. I remember the story clearly; it's the faces that are fuzzy. If you are bothered by such (alleged) inaccuracies, be warned.] Matt Damon's character is an angel who has been banned from heaven for eternity. He and his fellow heavenly expatriate (played by Ben Afleck) have come up with a scheme to get back into heaven. It doesn't work and both characters go a little nuts when they realize they'll probably never get another chance to go home. Loki (Matt Damon) is now facing God (Alanis Morrisette). He has violated all the rules and now God's going to destroy him. He's is heartbroken and tearfully explains that all he wanted was to go home. In the silent interchange between Loki and God at that moment, we're shown the very heart of compassion. God looks at him with eyes that say, "I wish it could be some other way." Loki says simply, "Thank you." God nods...and destroys him. Loki was accountable for his actions. There was no escaping that. Yet the same God that understood there could be no escape from the accountability still felt the pain and acknowledged it.

We don't have to punish. The universe will do that. We have but to be accountable for our own actions, try to do what's right, and be compassionate toward those who are paying their piper. May they grow in wisdom as we, hopefully, grow from our own accountability.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Changing the world...

My husband found this quote this morning and shared it with me. "This is you...", he said...

The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt. -
Frederick Buechner

I was honored, first of all, that he pays close enough attention to my ramblings to recognize my perspective in the quote, and I was amazed at how accurately it reflected my own approach to affecting change in the world.

I have experienced a bit of inner conflict in the past about whether or not I was shirking responsibility because I do not choose to be politically active. I do vote, and I do pay attention to what's going on...but I don't practice the "political activism" the some do. To this point, I've never stood on the roadside with signs or volunteered for a candidate. My approach has always been that I would affect change one person at a time through my interaction and my life.

The conflict, I suppose, comes from the fact that I admire the bold, visible steps taken by those who call themselves activists. It takes time, energy, and courage to do what they do and there is no doubt that they are instrumental in raising awareness and mobilizing others to action. Often I would wonder if I was guilty of ignoring my own responsibility in such things. You won't find anyone more devoted to the cause of peace than I. You won't meet anyone who believes more strongly in fair and equal treatment for all. You'll never meet anyone who wishes more for the end of racial injustice and conflict. If I believe so strongly in the causes, why aren't I out there with the other activists?

The answers came when I turned inward and looked to the source of the conflict - me. I was the one asking the questions, after all. And I realized that I was concerned mostly that others would think that I didn't care because they didn't see me participating in political activity. And if they thought I didn't care about those things, they would never realize how important I believe the message to be and how vital it is to work toward peace and the end of injustice.

So, I asked myself, is that true? Is it reasonable to think that those who know you and those who observe you in the world won't know how you feel? That, of course, led me to examine my life - a process that is always beneficial and rarely comfortable. Would my daily habits, my interaction with the world around me, hold up against what I profess to believe?

When you shine a light through even the heaviest of fabrics, it's easy to see the holes. I have holes. Lots of them. Fewer now, I believe, than when I started the inspection, but there are still enough to let me know that I have work to do, enough to keep me busy for many lifetimes.

But here's the thing: All in all, I'm satisfied that my life is my political activism. I try, imperfectly though it most certainly is, to live the ideals that I hold dear. Every touch of another life, however brief, is an opportunity to demonstrate the behaviors and beliefs that I would have spread throughout the world. Each contact is an opportunity to treat others with respect, to look for the unique good in each person, to assume innocence first and realize that people act according to what they believe, even when they don't recognize the belief. Every meeting, chance or planned, is an opportunity to consciously decide to open my door, open my heart, and open my mind to a fellow traveler. Every encounter with people who are different from me...culturally, racially, sexually, an opportunity to practice what I would preach, to put aside prejudices (and we all have them, after all) , and to know the individual human being standing in front of me.

This is political activism, one person at a time. I am the sign I carry on the street corner. I am the pamphlet I distribute. It is through my actions and my example that I have the opportunity to touch another life, a life that will touch countless others. Who knows where the trembling may stop?

And soon, a parting...

I learned tonight that my Aunt Louise, my father's oldest sibling and a woman I love very dearly, had a massive stroke and isn't expected to survive. She will turn 89 if she lives to her birthday, just a few weeks away, but I doubt that she will make it that far.

Aunt Louise and I didn't get to spend much time together; she's lived for as long as I can remember in Gig Harbor, Washington, near Seattle. Yet that tiny little woman - all 5 feet or so of her - is very close to my heart. She is wonderfully warm, smart, funny, open-minded, loving, and lives every moment of her life fully. Whenever I talk with her, she says, "I am so grateful for my life. I have a wonderful family that take care of me and would do anything for me. I have many, many friends who range in age from 2 months to 90 years, and I love them all. I have had a good marriage to a man I love dearly. I am blessed." She loved my father very much, and he loved her. They were closer than any of the other children in that big family. My dad loved Uncle Jim, too. Uncle Jim died several years ago, and my father cried like a baby when heard the news.

My eyes look to the west tonight. The Old Ones will soon welcome one of their own. Rest well, Aunt Louise. Well done.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Things I am grateful for right this minute...

  1. My class this week. I taught a presentation skills class four mornings this week to a group of eight guys at work. It was a wonderful experience! They were all sincere, honest, and willing to hold themselves and each other accountable and do the uncomfortable and difficult work of putting themselves on the line in front of their peers. I was on top of my game this week, too, and felt really good about the class. What a joy it is to have a job I'm good at and to know that others benefit from what I do.
  2. My daughter's blog posts this week. Amy (or Amybeth as she is known to many) is an excellent writer so her posts are enjoyable to read, but it's her insights that amaze me. We don't always see eye-to-eye (as she likes to say, "If it's not one thing, it's your mother!), but she provides a whole different perspective that is so valuable. Her honesty is delightful and I love her more than breath.
  3. My husband. Always. The man I was destined to walk through whatever we have left in this life with. He is a big, strong, powerful man who chooses to walk gently on the earth. He chooses to love, actively and visibly. And he chooses to love me. I am blessed beyond words.
  4. Cottage cheese and mandarin oranges. A simple, mundane pleasure that just makes my day.
  5. My boss, Teresa. She has a lot of good qualities, but one of her best is that she is faithful to say thank you for the work we do, to praise when it's deserved, and to pass on the praise of others. It makes work a much better place to be.
  6. This computer and the ability to use it. I can reach out and touch friends and strangers. I can reach out and grab knowledge. I can be entertained. I can be productive. I can be silly. This is all good. Really, really good.
  7. Plans to get away with my husband this weekend. If you want to know why, see #3 above.
  8. The book "Simple Abundance" by Sarah Ban Breathnacht. It's an absolute delight and a beautiful map for the year long journey into your own authentic heart.
  9. Sleep. I've been making a real effort to go to bed earlier these days, targeting 10:30 as my bedtime. I find that I feel better in the mornings, and that I start looking forward to bedtime around 9:45.
  10. Music. I am surrounded by it and it enriches my life in so many ways.
For all this and more, I give thanks right now. Life is good.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I love questions...

...because they give me a starting point for the next post. Thanks, Tonja.

After my last long, rambling post, Tonja posted some interesting questions. She asked me if I would feel the same way about my kids and sex if my children were all boys instead of girls. Fair question. I read the question earlier tonight and I had an immediate answer. Still, I waited for a while before I answered to see if a little time would change my perspective. It hasn't.

I would raise three boys with the same if not more fervent desire that they refrain from being sexually active until they were truly ready for the responsibility that goes with it. I would do my dead-level best to not let them think of women as "conquests" so cheering them on in such conquests would be out of the question. I would want my sons to grow up with a healthy sexuality, too, and to realize that waiting until they were prepared for the consequences wouldn't deny them their chance to have it and might save them some grief along the way.

As for what I was like at 14, 16, 18... it's almost a moot point. I was raised in such a strict atmosphere and it was a different time. Teenage sex was still something only a few bad girls did (or at least that's what most of us thought) and it always seemed to end badly. I was raised to believe that not only did the big he-god forbid it, he was watching and you would be found out, no matter how you tried to hide it. I didn't even consider having sex as a teenager and was 20 before I got around to changing that. I kissed, made out a little... but no intercourse, no alternate activities.

When I was 20 and I had my first experience, I honestly felt like I no longer had the right to say no. I mean, after all, my moral integrity had been compromised. If I did it with one, what right did I have to say no to anyone else? It wasn't quite that stark, but it was close. The next year or so I had more sex than a lot of women have in a lifetime. And you know what? I was in free fall. I had no clue what I was doing or why I was doing it, save that I enjoyed it...most of the time. It amazes me that I didn't end up pregnant or dead, because I took chances no one should take. Why? Because I didn't have anything to anchor to. I had a religion I didn't believe, parents that just said no and got angry that I even thought of sex, much less considered actually doing it, no concept of who I was or how to look inward and find it.

It's interesting, too, looking back on that time. I looked at having sex as almost a healing thing. Guys seemed to need it so badly, and I had it...why shouldn't I share it? I enjoyed it, they enjoyed harm, no foul, right? Well, the world didn't always see it that way, and it devestated me when someone didn't respect me, especially someone I had been intimate with. Had I had a stronger sense of myself and a better perspective on the world around me, that would have been different. With those tools in place I would have made better choices about who I shared myself with, picking those who would respect the exchange for what it was, and would have been strong enough to overcome it if they didn't.

Does society prepare us for other milestone events like driving, voting, drinking, moving off to college? No...and yes...and it's different. As important and risky as those things are, I don't think any of them carry the emotional weight of sex. And while some of them carry the risk of ending life if mishandled, none of them can create life. That's a huge difference for me.

Of course, that begs the question about same-sex relationships. The danger of pregnancy is gone in those cases, but the emotional vulnerability is still there. And while pregnancy is certainly one of the biggest of the consequences one needs to be prepared for when deciding to have sex, it's not the only one.

No matter how I look at it, I come back to the same answer every time. Waiting is better. If you're going to do something that may create emotional turmoil, wait until you have a good emotional foundation under you. If you're going to do something that carries the risk of disease, make sure you're old enough and educated enough to understand the risks and take the proper precautions. If you're going to do something that might bring a new life into the world, make sure you're prepared to care for that new little person - emotionally, physically, and financially.

You don't get to drive when you're 12, even if your feet can reach the pedals.

The fuzzy lines all start in the maternity ward...

Pagan ethics are a much talked about subject. Non-pagans often make the mistake of thinking we don't have ethics because we don't have a checklist of pre-made, yes/no decisions. There is no equivalent of the 10 commandments for pagans. Pagans, on the other hand, take their ethics quite seriously and can expound at great length on how much more difficult it is to live an "ethical" life rather than a "moral" life. I have to agree, for the most part; choosing the best course of action based on the situation and the consequences rather than simply checking the list of rules and saying, "Nope. Says right here, "Thou shalt not..." is trickier and less comfortable most of the time. It suits me well, though, and even when I'm faced with a right versus right dilemma, I'm happier making my choices based on reasoning and compassion than not.

Some things are pretty easy. Some aren't. I eat meat. Does that mean I'm violating the "harm none" rule? I try to take pretty good care of myself but I'm grossly overweight and still eat cheeseburgers. Is that another transgression? What about politics? Am I ignoring a responsibility by not getting involved politically, or am I (as I like to think) working to affect change on a one-to-one level?

And then there's sex...which brings me to the title of this post. I have no real ethical dilemmas about sex for myself. As an adult, I view sex as a natural part of life and a really good thing. My husband and I share similar beliefs that whatever one, two, or more people choose to do sexually that causes no harm, is consensual, and is done with respect is really fine and dandy. We've both explored polyamory and find it a lovely ideal but one that falls short in reality, so we have established our own, slightly broader than usual, boundaries of monogamy. We're happy. And we're happy for everyone else who finds their way to sexual bliss, by whatever path they get there, as long as it meets the criteria of non-harmful, consensual, and respectful. Oh, and I suppose I should add sane, too...though one person's sexual sanity is another person's lunacy. A bit difficult to define, that one. :)

Where the line gets blurry is when it comes to our kids. As open as I am sexually, I tend to be quite provincial about the kids. As a pagan parent, I don't get the luxury of saying, "Chapter 1, Verse 12... No sex!" There isn't any such chapter. So we're left to face guiding our children into sexual maturity (and protecting them until they reach that maturity) with little more to go on than love and gut instinct.

On the one hand, I state loudly and proudly that I want my girls (both the one I gave birth to and the two I now hold so dear to my heart) to grow up happily and healthily sexual. I want them to revel in their bodies and know all the joys there are to know. At the same time, I'm crazy when I think of the two younger ones having sex now.

"But wait," says my brain... "think about what you're saying! Their bodies - all of our bodies - are biologically programmed to hit hypersex mode by the time they're about 13. If we are a Nature-based religion and Nature is giving the big green light to sex at 13, why am I trying to so hard to stave it off until at least 18? "

"Ah, but..." says the same brain (you see why I'm confused), "Their bodies may be ready, but our society and culture have done nothing whatsoever to prepare them for the possible consequences of being sexually active."

"What consequences?" I ask.

"Babies, for one," I answer, "and emotional involvment beyond their matutity level, and disease, and heartbreak..."

"Now wait right there..." I say to myself, "that heartbreak argument isn't going to hold water. Everyone gets their hearts broken and not having sex won't prevent that."

"You're right," I aquiesce. I know when I'm being silly. "But the rest of the dangers are real. "

"Yeah...they are. And I don't know what to do about it, either."

And so goes the discussion...always in my brain, always me and me having the debate.

Then there's the occasional ice water bath that happens that really shakes things up. We attend science fiction conventions and our younger daughters are surrounded by lots of men and women who find them attractive and who, in some cases, would be happy to help them learn the intricacies of sex. I'm not talking about pedophiles...I'm talking about people who see our girls as the young women they are and don't agree with me that sex should wait until one is emotionally, psychologically, and culturally (financially) able to be responsible for the possible consequences. When faced with that, the "Nature says..." side of my brain was drowned out completely by the other part screaming, "Hell, no!"

Why? I had to think about that one a lot. Besides the responsibility for consequences thing, I finally decided it was because there just isn't enough time in 15, 16, or 17 years (or 18 or 20 for some of us) to get a firm enough footing on who we are to not be rocked off-balance by the power of a sexual relationship. And I decided that any adult in or near his or her third decade should realize that and, if they realized it and still attempted to engage my daughters in such a relationship, they should be ashamed. Sex isn't truly consensual unless all parties involved are fully empowered and that takes time. I hope the people involved got the message.

The law says that 18 is a magic number and that everyone, no matter how well or how ill prepared they are, is able to make adult decisions about sex by age 18. That means, of course, that parents can't keep their children in a barrel for 18 years and then expect to turn them out into the world to make good decisions. Nope. Can't do that. They have to be given that responsibility gradually and grow into it.

How do you do that? I've looked in all the pagan books and it's not there. I looked in the Bible and it's not there, either. I've asked others and they don't know. Conclusion? It's a play-it-by-ear kind of thing. You have to figure out how to protect them without smothering and without depriving them of the sense of self and knowledge of their own sexual power that they will need when they enter into adult sexual relationships. A woman needs to know she is attractive without being allowed to become an intolerable tease. A man needs to know that women are wonderful but he can live without them. Men need to respect women in all their facets, and women respect men just as fully. Men and women need to know that same-sex relationships are still relationships and fraught with all the emotional dangers of any het relationship. Everyone needs to know that the best relationships happen when everyone involved is whole and comfortable alone, so that joining together adds to their lives rather than attempting to fill gaps it can't fill. That applies to casual sex as well as long-term relationships. And we need, whenever possible, strong spiritual communities wherein adults display the characteristics they are trying to grow in their children, where trust is held sacred and not betrayed.

So... I'm pretty comfortable with where I fall on this one. It's maybe not the same path other pagan parents will choose. I don't know. But it's the place I've come to. And I'm not dumb enough to think that just because I have arrived at this place that my kids will follow. I pray that the Old Ones will guide my actions for the good of those I love, and theirs, as well. us the way.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Color Quiz - pretty true colors

Reading my friends' Scott and Tonja's blogs recently, I saw this color quiz. I followed the link and took the quiz. Results? Stunningly accurate. Read and learn...

Your Existing Situation
Seeks to share a bond of understanding intimacy in an esthetic atmosphere of peace and tenderness.
Your Stress Sources
Wants to overcome a feeling of emptiness and to bridge the gap which she feels separates herself from others. Anxious to experience life in all its aspects, to explore all its possibilities, and to live it to the fullest. She therefore resents any restriction or limitation being imposed on her and insists on being free and unhampered.
Your Restrained Characteristics
Feels that she cannot do much about her existing problems and difficulties and that she must make the best of things as they are. Able to achieve satisfaction from sexual activity.
Your Desired Objective
Seeks success, stimulation, and a life full of experience. Wants to develop freely and to shake off the shackles of self-doubt, to win, and to live intensely. Likes contacts with others and is enthusiastic by nature. Receptive to anything new, modern, or intriguing; has many interests and wants to expand her fields of activity. Optimistic about the future.
Your Actual Problem
Fights against restriction or limitation, and insists on developing freely as a result of her own efforts.
Your Actual Problem #2
The fear that she might be prevented from achieving the things she wants leads her to play her part with an urgent and hectic intensity.

You can take the quiz, too, if you'd like:

What do I believe?

Being a modern neo-pagan, without the convenience of a pre-packaged kit of thou shalls and thou shalt nots, I have worked hard to develop a statement of belief. It's always been more about the process than the result. I don't 'require' a mission statement for my life, but the exploration, the questioning, the searching that have gone and are still going into the process of this statement of belief have been very enlightening. Never a dull moment!

So...where am I in the quest? Right now, I have a working thesis of what I believe. I call it that because I am loathe to think of it as a static, now-we-have-the-answers kind of thing. Faith, belief, knowledge, wisdom - all have to remain fluid or they risk becoming just another set of outdated ideas, clung to out of some misplaced loyalty to what may have been truth (or not) at one time. Getting 'the answer' would mean that I might miss 'the next answer'...the better, truer, more important answer. If I get 'the answer', I might stop peeling back the layers before I reach the source. That would be tragic!

Here's where I stand today.

1. I am a neo-pagan practicing an eclectic Wiccan path. I've come to the conclusion that it is a Wiccan path, though that wasn't an easy conclusion to reach. There are so many disparate answers to the question of what is Wicca and how it differs from everything else. It seems to boil down to just a few things: Recognition of both God and Goddess, celebration of the Sabbats and Esbats, the embracing of natural magic, and acceptance of the Wiccan Rede ('An it harm none, do what thou wilt.") It seems that most else is left up to individual interpretation. There are common ritual forms and ritual etiquette, though none of them are carved in stone. All in all, Wicca fits me as well as any other description and I'm happy to bear the name.

2. I am a panentheist. I believe that God and Goddess are terms we use for a creative force that exists both in us and outside us. We are part of that force and thus, in essence, we are part of the Divine. There are times when I call on Divinity within. There are other times when I look to the larger expression of that Divinity, to the Old Ones, the All, the Creative Force of the Universe... the huge, collective mass of all that force. I do not feel separate from the Divine - I am Divine.

3. I call on Divinity both within and without through the many faces and personas they have taken (or we have given) throughout time. I call both male and female, God and Goddess. I can no longer imagine walking a spiritual path that marginalizes or eliminates one gender from the concept of Divinity.

4. I do not believe that the body is bad the spirit is good, or any other false and oversimplified categorization that tries to separate the physical parts of our existence from the emotional, psychological, intellectual, sexual, and spiritual parts. There are no parts. There is just the whole - integrated, interdependent, and sacred. My sexuality is just as divine as my spirituality...they are one and the same, expressed differently to fit the circumstances.

5. I believe in the rule of three - that what we put into the universe comes back to us threefold. Whether the "three" is literal or simply expresses that energy expended comes back to us increased - for good or for bad - is immaterial to me. I've seen the truth of the concept every day of my life. The same concept appears in other mythos, and I remember well from my Bible study days, "You reap what you sow." The famous Golden Rule: "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you," is most often interpreted as a way in which to treat others. I believe it's more about ourselves - it's telling us that the way we treat others is what we can expect in return. In fact, the Golden Rule is really a pretty lousy guide for how to treat other people. Why not treat them as they would have done unto them?

6. I believe that every one of us is ultimately responsible for his or her own behavior, decisions, ethics, morals, and actions. I cannot relinquish that responsibility. It is mine and mine alone. For that reason, I cannot grant spiritual authority to anyone else. I respect elders in the Craft and in other belief systems. I learn from them. I turn to them for guidance. Ultimately, though, the decisions are mine to make. No matter how learned, wise, or experienced the teacher, they cannot shield me from that responsibility, nor can I follow unquestioningly. They are responsible for what and how they teach. I am responsible for what and how I learn and what I do with the knowledge. It is my job to sift through the words and rhetoric and find the nuggets of truth that live there, to apply them in my life, and to pass them on when opportunity arises.

7. My path is more about now than then. I am interested in "the old religion" because there are truths to be found there that have been distorted through time. I am interested in "the old ways" because they reflect a lifestyle that was by necessity more in tune with the rhythms and cycles of Nature. The test of the validity of my path, though, is how it informs my life, here, now, today. How do I apply the knowledge? How do I make my own life more responsive to the heartbeat and breath of Nature? How do I honor the Divine in a world that has so little honor? How do I live in balance in a world of artificial daylight, year-round climate control, and unceasing productivity? That is the test of my path and the quest of my journey.

8. I believe that one of the reasons I am here is to help remove barriers to understanding and acceptance. As a step in that direction, I do not hide my path. I know that Wicca was kept secret for many years, and that "to keep silent" is part and parcel of the Craft. I also know that, as a well-respected corporate professional, I have an opportunity to put a face on paganism and Wicca that isn't always seen. I have a chance to be the well-liked team member, the trusted business partner, the ethical employee - and a practicing Wiccan. I'm not 'in your face' about my religion any more than I would want others to be in mine. But I don't hide it. I rarely name it, though. I will talk to anyone about what I believe, how I celebrate, and the ethical standards that guide my daily steps. Typically, especially among Christians, we find a surpising amount of common ground. By not naming my path immediately, I usually postpone the slamming door of the mind and leave a pathway open for understanding and acceptance. Of course, if asked, I will answer honestly, and I have been asked several times, "Are you Wiccan?" I answer truthfully and let the chips fall where they will. So far, so good.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chattacon Weekend - Come and Gone

This weekend was spent at Chattacon, partying among the geeks and nerds, the freaks and fetishists, and all the assorted and uncatagorized who come out to play at Sci-Fi conventions. It is my fourth Chattacon (had to count the t-shirts to be sure); it is Jim's 20-something-th Chattacon.

Even if I hated cons, I don't think I could possibly refuse to attend with him and try to have a good time. He loves these things. Fortunately, so do I. Truthfully, I doubt that I enjoy them as much as he does, but that's ok. We have a good time and it's fun to watch him revel in the revelry.

My husband is a very loved man - by me, of course, but also by a host of friends who truly cherish him and the magic he brings to their lives. Jim has the uncanny nack of making everyone around him feel welcome. He especially is good at making women feel attractive and sexy and desired, without ever making them feel disrespected or demeaned. The only explanation I have for that is he honestly, truly, loves and respects women. He finds them fascinating and mysterious and sexy. He loves 'em all...tall, short, fat, thin, old, young... and he enjoys different facets of the - slutty, demure, all-business, playful, intelligent, emotional. And women, it seems, are able to bring more and more of those facets out to play when they feel safe.

Safe from what? Safe from someone who respects the demure woman or the business woman but treats the slut with derision. Safe from someone who would attempt to take advantage of the emotional. Safe from someone who would treat that emotion with disdain.

Jim can ogle a woman's breasts openly and she will enjoy it. She won't get mad, or tell him to look at her eyes. Most, given a little time to get to know him, will shake their ta-ta's for him in a heartbeat. It's quite amazing, actually. And he loves it. Interestingly enough, so do I. Well, most of the time.

Occasionally, the green dragon raises her head and gives me a bit of discomfort. I try to keep her under control because I am convinced that jealousy is a totally non-productive emotion. Nonetheless, she lives. Fortunately for us, though, she's an easily controlled dragon most of the time. Jim is a unique man and squandering that special gift on possessivness would be a shame.

So... back to Chattacon. It was a blast! I hope we can continue to enjoy the cons for a long time. It's just another good thing my husband has brought to my life. :) Thanks, Baby.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Morning Song

New blog...first morning song.

I've been journaling lately using paper and a humble pen - a big change for one so tuned to technology. I've been composing at the keyboard for 25 years! Returning to handwriting was freeing, rythmic and peaceful. Unfortunately, it's also slow, and time is so short. And there's the problem of others not having access to my handwritten journal.

One might think it an asset to have one's private thoughts remain private. In truth, I believe that we call those thoughts private, not so much because we don't want to share them, as because we fear rejection or derision. Deep down, we want more than anything to be understood, to have others know us well enough to understand the heart behind the hapless blunders, the giving spirit behind the goof-ups, the shy child behing the silly humor. We want our most private thoughts to be known to those who will hold them delicately, careful not to bruise or soil. We want to be known.

This blog is a leap of faith for me. Most people who know me characterize me as an open book. I have come a long, long way from the girl I was 30 years ago, the girl who was so good at being a chameleon that she couldn't remember who she actually was. I am no longer that girl, and yet there are still times when I feel the old fear of rejection creeping in. Through this blog, I hope to ignore the fear and say those things my heart longs to say, taking my chances that some may choose to throw the baby out with the bathwater and reject me along with my ideas.

There is another aspect to the faith behind this journal. I read years ago, in a book called The Adjusted American (Snell and Gail Putney, publication date unknown), that one of the greatest gifts we can give to others is to let them in on our fears, foibles, and fantasies, our doubts, dreams, and desires, our beauty and our beast (and our absurd fondness for alliteration). Our culture emphasises sharing only the positives. We stoically keep our shortcomings to ourselves. In doing so, we increase the isolation in which we all move through life. We begin to think of our personal struggles as unique, unusual, out of the norm - when, in fact, they're absolutely normal. We all struggle, we all fail, we all triumph. And if sharing mine will make others feel less isolated and alone in theirs, the share them I will.

So, settle in, mark the spot, and visit again often. Here in my hymnal will you find the songs of my heart, the music and rhythm of my life. Sing along if you like... harmony is always welcome. So is discord, when delivered with respect and honesty. Or simply listen, if you prefer. Either way, I hope the song eases your path for a little while.