Archive for March 2018

La Vie en Vert: Life Greens   Leave a comment

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On an overcast, mild and rainy day, the stones of our backyard firepit emerge at last from the retreating snow.  No thing exists “entire of itself” or for itself only. It also touches things around it, making and meaning for them a whole range of significances. For the moles in the lower yard, warming weather soaks the earth with snowmelt, and that means flooded burrows. For the deer who’ve survived the New England winter, fresh browse as the grass greens again under the strengthening sun, with the tender shoots of new growth burgeoning everywhere. For the returning birds, nesting material, the first bugs, and surfacing worms.

One of the core teachings explains that the macrocosm (literally ‘the great universe,’ the universe around us) and the microcosm (the ‘little universe,’ the universe within us) are mirror images of each other.

Thus, we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us (Greer, J. M. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

Inner turmoil, strange dreams I can recall only fragments of on waking, a sense of being reminded of — and held to — a standard I agreed to long ago. A sense of being on the cusp of some ordination, relied on for a spiritual responsibility. “Ready or not, here I come”, says Spirit.

“Every human being is already a priest”, says John Plummer in his book Living Mysteries,

in a very primal sense. We stand between earth and sky, like pillars in an ever-moving temple. We find ourselves within and among other humans and many other orders of being (stones, plants, animals, elementals, angels, etc.) with energies flowing back and forth, consciously and not … Our outer personalities mediate the sacred presence at the core of our being, more or less well. We are all points in an extraordinarily complex web, through which divine power moves. That power … is much greater than us, and not particularly concerned about whether we understand how it is working, at any given moment (pg. 13).

Whether baptized or called by the spirits, pursued and confronted by an animal guardian, taught in dreams, initiated through suffering or illness or other trauma into a spiritual quest, roused by the shakti of a guru or the accumulated potency of intensive meditation, ignited by our own unanswered questions and a divine discontent, or turned off all spirituality by its many fakes and shams into a formidable and rationalistic atheism, we are called.

Plummer continues:

… we cannot turn our back on it. If we try, it will come knocking louder and louder, until we re-open the door. We have to feed it from our own substance, letting it grow through us, and then hand it forward to those who come after us, whoever they may be. To fail to transmit what we have received is to dam a stream until it becomes a stagnant pond, rather than free-flowing, clear water (pg. 15).

And so we come to this weekend, both April Fools’ Day and Easter, that lovely Pagan celebration — after all, it does take place on the first day of the Sun, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox — a true Pagan Triad of Light.

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Gulf Coast Gathering ’17, Live Oak canopy

Water and Light, and the holy Trees as witnesses.

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Greer, J. M. (2012). Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. Weiser Books.

Plummer, John. (2006). Living Mysteries: a Practice Handbook for the Independent Priest. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press.

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In Praise of Altars   Leave a comment

Brenda Ash

photo courtesy Brenda Ash

OBOD Chosen Chief Phillip Carr-Gomm at this weekend’s Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana. The Alban Eilir/Equinox altar features Spanish moss and whelk shells. I didn’t attend, but through a magic as palpable and marvelous as any, an image consisting of light particles carries this moment from the event to all of us. Surely we can number images among our altars — beloved photographs of dear ones, of family and friends gathering, of the large moments and smaller ones of our lives.

And in the image below, Mystic River Grove’s Equinox celebration, which I was able to attend, processes through the March snow toward their ritual site in a Massachusetts park.

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photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

Here are many altars: the altar of the event, held in imagination and expectation. The altar of the location, a park, a dedicated space of a different kind: the will existed to preserve a natural space from development and for the public, an acknowledgement of common wealth, re publica, for which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is named in aspiration. The altar of each body present, beaver (broad tails slapping the water when we edged too near), birch, stone, water, human (about 25 of us gathered in eastern Mass.), avian (crows, and an owl hooting during an Ovate initiation preceding the main rite), canine (coyotes yipping just at the close of the ritual and as darkness settled in).

“I make of my intentions an altar”: something I can practice doing at any moment, if and when I remember. And how often the moment makes its own altar, if I pay attention: sunlight and silence on an afternoon walk, or a caucus of crows startled into flight and talk. A found stone that perfectly fits your hand. The first drops of needed rain finally beginning to fall. The greeting of a passing jogger or hiker out like you for word from the sun and the air and the world around us.

These are the democratic altars of existence, moments and openings of life and energy accessible to all. In them lie the origins of Druidry and so many other practices, a “momentary stay”, as Frost says, “against confusion”. Even the effort to “stay”, or simply to celebrate as it all passes by, is an altar, a focus.

We gather after the ritual at a long-time member’s home, another kind of ritual. Two soups go onto the stove, chicken and potato-leek. A salad comes together, and — warmed by a generous assortment of alcoholic contributions, an altar of bottles on the kitchen counter — several of us nibble at irresistible dessert cookies while the main course warms. We glow a little brighter in each other’s company, another altar we make by choice and effort. We could have stayed home for any reason, but we didn’t. An important altar. Others — a parent’s death last autumn, remembered; an upcoming surgery and a request for prayers; a first home and all the discoveries of ownership.

The “secular” is the “world” — Druidry recovers the world in all its sacredness, a human forgetting changed into human recollection.

Trees, humans too, we stand against the sky, a grove of profiles, outlines against the sky. Feeling our ways along, delighting — given half a chance, making one for ourselves — in all the altars of our worlds.

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March Sanity   2 comments

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one tree, two trunks — our old willow

We stand a little past the Equinox, and here, east of the Green Mountains (a hopeful name!), the snow’s half-gone, or going. As of today where I live in southern Vermont, sunrise came at 6:46 am, and sunset tonight will clock in at 7:06 pm — the day now 20 minutes longer than the night.

As always and forever, the planet — and that includes our neighborhoods on it, wherever they are — matters more pervasively, and holds more true and enduring interest, than whatever’s shrieking for our attention in the media. Politicians trade places, and learn with us the pointed lessons of one kind of power. Meanwhile, another and greater power plays across the earth, in our marrow, in our hearts and the roots of things.

IMG_1854Here in the Northern Hemisphere, flocks of geese wing towards hatching grounds in Canada, foraging along the way in snow-fields, and shivering in half-frozen ponds and lakes. A mated pair of cardinals bob and swing at the feeder in the front yard, now up again after the bear alert.

The first brave flowers push through snow, snowdrops here, and a friend in Boston, two hours to the east and moderated by the Atlantic, reports honeysuckle and monkshood. In the back yard, boulders with their thermal mass warm each day in the strengthening sun and thaw a semicircle in the snow around them.

The willows everywhere hold out their green-yellow twigs, waiting, preparing. I stand for a moment with the great willow in our lawn. Last autumn a large upper branch snapped in a storm, and amazingly it hasn’t yet fallen, half-supported by a nearby pine. In another few weeks I’ll climb and saw it the rest of the way. Willow deadfall — the tree sheds like a Labrador — light and punky once it dries, has served as our principal kindling all winter long.

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backyard blueberries, red sap rising

Here in Vermont, NG, a Druid in the north part of the state, has launched our first seed group, the initial step towards forming an OBOD grove. As with seedlings, the first steps of care ask for our regular attention. We may gather at midsummer to bless the young sprouts and tender shoots of that initial intention — it depends on whether we reach the critical mass all groups need in order to move from idea into manifestation. There are possibly a half-dozen of us so far around the state linked by a mailing list, a May website.

This afternoon I’ll gather with Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts for their Alban Eiler/Equinox rite. Members and friends come from Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. After, it’s feast time, a chance to (re)connect with the many members of OBOD’s first and largest Grove in the U.S., see how we’ve all wintered, and celebrate the turn towards warmth and light. “By the power of star and stone …”

May the light, clarity and sanity of March bless you all.

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Insourcing Our Spirituality 1: “Jesus Christ is My Chief Druid”   Leave a comment

As a practitioner of what the following podcast calls “blended spirituality”, I was particularly interested in Tapestry’s recent conversation with Rev. Shawn Beck.

You can find the entire podcast (38′) here, along with some print excerpts of the interview.

As an OBOD Druid and an ordained priest in the Anglican Church in Canada, Beck faces a range of reactions when people learn of his practices.

“Well, that’s sorta neat, but actually you can’t do that” go some of the responses, both Christian and Pagan.

“In fact, I’ve been practicing it for a while, and I can”.

Our human liking for boundaries shows clearly here.

Beck book“What I find so interesting is that you’re not dabbling … you’re committed to both traditions”, says interviewer Mary Heinz.

One of the occasions for the interview is the publication of Beck’s book Christian Animism, which promptly goes onto my reading list.

Beck remarks, “I do identify myself as primarily Christian — heavily influenced and really spiritually transformed by Neo-Paganism”.

Asked how these two paths impact his daily practice, he notes that bringing in the feminine divine, and the value of nature as sacred, touches both his daily prayer life and public ritual.

“If I give a blessing, I may say … ‘one God, creator and mother of us all'”, says Beck. For him, the blending of paths augments language and practice, expanding them and their sensibilities.

“What do your superiors in the Anglican Church have to say to you when they weigh in?” queries Heinz.

Besides keeping his bishop apprised of his work and thought (and his blog*), Beck notes, “As a priest, I need to be sensitive to what’s actually going to be helpful to the people that I’m with”. Whether it’s skipping a Starhawk reference with those who might find it frightening, or — in the other direction — “gently giving permission to people to explore that part if it’s helpful …”, Beck uses discrimination and experience to guide his priestly work.

Though he doesn’t currently serve a parish, he is responsible for the training of other Anglican priests — such is the continued confidence his superiors repose in him.

Converted to Christianity in his teens, while also exploring Eastern religions through reading, Beck observes that many of his teen peers at the time belonged to a Fundamentalist church. Even then, he learned and practiced discretion. “And so if I wanted to talk about not just Jesus but also some of these other things that I was reading and exploring, I would always know that the emotional tension in that room or in that relationship would get sky-high”.

“How much of this journey can I share with others?” is therefore one guiding question for him, as for so many of us.

“Alive — magical — responsive”: this is some of the language Beck uses of his Pagan practice that catches the interest of the interviewer.

“For the last five years, I’ve been blessed to live on a lake, on a farm, off the grid”, Beck replies (11:45). “In Saskatchewan … No running water … I run and get the water … It’s a life embedded within nature”.

What does that permit him? “Part of it for me is being attentive to presences within nature”. As a Christian animist, he says, “the world is filled with a myriad of neighbors … So it’s about recognizing that that tree that I’ve been praying beside is alive and conscious and praying with me … It’s not just a vague sense of spirit, but that the universe is comprised of persons, and these persons are my neighbors”.

“Christians when they see a person addressing a non-human person in any way, they assume that it’s worship”, Beck says.

“I ask things of my human neighbors all the time, and they ask things of me all the time. And we don’t call that praying to each other. We just call it talking to each other”.

For a decade his family has been hosting talking circles. Among the directions of these sharing opportunities, people answer the question, “Where have you found Sophia in your life this past moon? Lady Wisdom — where has she been at work in your life?”

These are some of the highlights from the first half of the interview — I hope you find it worth listening to the whole.

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*Beck’s most recent blogpost as of this writing is from March 9th: “A ChristoPagan view of magic and prayer”.

Eleven Strands of Educational & Life Philosophy   Leave a comment

Here as promised in yesterday’s post is a statement of my personal philosophy, developed as a supporting document required as part of my application with a teacher placement agency. I don’t always state things in Druid terms here — this document was intended to address life and educational philosophy for secondary schools, after all. And if you’ve ever tried to get down on paper a statement of your philosophy — a very worthwhile spiritual practice, worth spending time on! — you’ll no doubt find yourself tweaking it, if you continue to live and grow and change.

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Five of us scouting a ritual site at MAGUS ’17. Photo courtesy Gail Nyoka

1) “The three pillars of achievement: a daring aim, frequent practice, and plenty of failures” – old Welsh triad. Very succinctly, try one more time than you fail. Helping students, colleagues and myself practice this principle boosts successes. Give me a worthwhile daring aim, and I’ll try that extra time.

2) “Think inside the box – it’s fresh territory again. Everybody else has left”. As long as I don’t overuse this, I can still get my wife to laugh at it. More to the point, it’s increasingly true. “Tried and true” techniques, practices, strategies and principles that don’t grow old with time or use really do still exist and merit our attention and implementation. (Often they’re just lying there in the box.)

3) Listen early and often. “Everybody’s talking at me/I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’” sings Harry Nilsson. Goes double for adolescents. Help being heard not be a novel experience for others.

4) “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink, I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish fill the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars” – Thoreau, Walden. Among many other things, a mantra for calm and perspective. Ask me about my focus and I’ll be recalling center-points like this.

5) One and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one are 10. Hint: the double-digit sum really doesn’t come out of nowhere. Even despite appearances. Or to steal from Neil Armstrong, it’s that next small step that makes a giant leap possible.

6) Upren masei kapotas ambei solna ir mitmu aljagotvei djuva. Literally, “Over our heads are both the sun and a most changeable sky” – Sovermian proverb (one of my constructed languages). Constants and variables aren’t equivalent, though we mistake one for the other constantly (and variably). And where does literature not illustrate this?!

7) Man déð swá hé bið þonne hé mót swá hé wile. Loosely, “folks do as they are when they can do what they want” – The Old English Durham Proverbs. Alternatively, both a justification for the rule of law, and for the positive consequences of accepting responsibility for oneself. Worth modeling.

8) “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” (AKA, good things can come from student film recommendations!) Pithy and fresh enough to stick in adolescent brains. Better than most “don’ts.”

9) If it’s avoidable, avoid it. If it’s celebratable, celebrate it. If it’s mnemonicizable, mnemonicize it. And if it has scales and fins, in which direction does it actually swim? (I’m a fan of mnemonics and other learning strategies.)

10) “All materials to build your home in this world or the inner cosmic worlds come from within, from the God center in your heart” – Paul Twitchell. Good for resetting the relative positions of responsibility, source, potential and manifestation. Frequently applicable in classrooms and curricula. “Ask me how!”

11) “… by now my desire and will were turned,/Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly,/By the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” – Dante, Paradiso. A life goal.

Rules for the Game   Leave a comment

One of the formative books of my adolescence is R S de Ropp’s The Master Game. First published in the late 60s, long before some of the shadier margins of the New Age self-help movement earned a few hustlers some big bucks (you can see his “names for their games” in the third paragraph below), de Ropp flattered, cajoled or profited from nobody’s ego as he examined what we spend our lives loving.

If I had to sum up his book, I’d cite this from the first page: “… what people really need and demand from life is not wealth, comfort or esteem, but games worth playing” (pg. 11; italics in original). We witness, to say it tactfully as I can, many dysfunctional life-choices that arise from lack of worthwhile games.

lehmanSome of the less commendable games de Ropp names are “Cock on Dunghill” and “Hog in Trough”. We’ve seen plenty of players of both those games over the last few decades. The 2008 global financial crisis resulted directly from “Hog in Trough” players. “Verily”, said a long-ago Galilean Druid, “they have their reward”.

Some play nobler games, like the Householder Game — raising a family. Some opt for the Art Game (beauty). We have the late Stephen Hawking as a premier example of a player of the Science Game (knowledge). Many go in for — and here de Ropp shows a monotheistic bias — the Religion Game (salvation). None of these are completely mutually exclusive, but people sort themselves by the games they play as much as by anything else. As you might expect, though, the game de Ropp favors, and calls the “Master Game” of his title, is awakening.

Being “woke” is very small part of it.

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If WordPress’s stats for this site over the last three days can be trusted, you are residents of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Turkey, UK and USA.

So what do you know, how have you learned it, and how do you apply it in your lives today?!

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Denise observes (commenting on the previous post), “There is only one rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. When I remember that ‘others’ doesn’t only mean human others, the rest falls into place” [punctuated for clarity–ed.].

The law of love deservedly tops many lists of rules, sometimes in surprising ways. If you’ve raised children, you’ve probably deployed some version of tough love. That can mean letting others learn the hard way, or directly from consequences, if they’ve disregarded repeated warnings, instruction, examples, and loving requests. It can also mean not letting sentiment get in the way of responsibility. We do few favors by enabling bad behavior. But oh, it can be hard to put into practice!

Yesterday I removed a dead mouse we’d caught that had been living in and crapping all over our car for the past year. If you’ve listened and attended to the non-human world that chooses to live in close proximity with humans, you know the remarkable negotiations that can happen — on both sides. Ask spiders to leave a bedroom, and sometimes they will. Contact the moles in the yard and request they leave the garden alone, and sometimes they will.

It works both ways. Clean up the trash the previous owner left in our woods, came the message shortly after we moved in. Leave the undergrowth along your property lines, for habitat. Let the backyard weeds flower and go to seed. Then you can mow — just later in the season.

Sometimes we can reach an accord and live harmoniously. Sometimes one or the other side steps across, and learns the hard way. The non-human world has been asking us to clean up our messes for quite some time. We haven’t bothered, for the most part, and the payback continues to come due with each passing year.

Is this love?

Like you, like us all, I’m a work in progress. Love is a gift of attention and work, energy and time. You might call this the law of reciprocity, or balance, or harmony. Maybe a law guiding us on the way to love.

Other rules for this game of living arise in the world’s wisdom. One that’s bandied about a lot in New Age and Pagan circles, but too often without adequate exploration, is “As above, so below”. From what I’ve seen, it often works the other way, too, in ways I’m still discovering: “as below, so above”, insofar as what I do today has a definite effect on other planes, not just this physical one. Cultivate a negative habit, and it spills over into the quality of relationships, into opportunities missed, into other self-defeating behaviors, into dreams, and so on. The universe builds in multiple directions, not just top-down. It may be a uni-verse, a single turning, a whole in itself, from a certain perspective, but it’s poly-valent, too.

The law of paradox has also taught me a lot. “The opposite of an ordinary truth is a falsehood, but the opposite of a profound truth is, often, another profound truth”. I’ve carried that one around for decades, and it’s proven its value. It seems like a harmonic linking us with another plane, part of “as above, so below”. It teaches me to look more deeply at my own life, to mine it down to the marrow for meaning. And it’s a helpful first rule of thumb for testing a truth in the first place. (Do its opposites generate corollaries?)

Then there’s the law of unity, appropriate for a uni-verse — not any of our superficial, political unities, or a politically-correct drive for equality (limited and partial harmonics as they are), but a demonstrable unity, at work whether or not we believe in it or enforce it with merely human laws. It precedes us; it’s a thread in the pattern, part of the Web. It means, among so many other things, that the human sense of isolation and loneliness, of separation, doesn’t mirror the truth of things, but is rather a deception, a learned and self-reinforcing lie. It also means that whatever we do has consequences. We matter in so many ways to the whole and to each other, beyond our capacities to comprehend. The Hindu mystics put it in theistic terms:

The one Godhead, secret in all beings, the inner Self of all, presiding over all action, witness, conscious knower and absolute … the One … fashions one seed in many ways (Svetasvatara Upanishad).

But we all have sensed it, fragmented it may be, refracted, momentary, transient, flickering past — or sometimes longer, depending occasionally on a chemical or alcoholic lift, yes; or in meditation or ritual, or arriving unlooked for, unawares; or at the birth of a child, the death of a parent, in love, wonder, awe, deep emotion. Given all our many backgrounds, perspectives, filters, worldviews, we understandably give it different names, explain it variously. But it’s a near-universal in human experience.

mtftle1In 2012, on the centennial of the anonymous 1912 publication of the Kybalion [free pdf/public domain], J. M. Greer published a reworking of the seven spiritual laws it explores in his Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. In Greer’s latter version, the seven laws re-emerge as statements of an ecological spirituality. [See here for posts examining each law].

Note that these aren’t things anyone is called to believe: they’re scientific facts, that much-abused word. One of the things that means in practice is that anyone can witness them in action, and draw their own conclusions from them. Turns out what we need to know has been around under our noses for at least as long as we’ve been here.

Other laws or rule for the game? If you took up my suggestion in the previous post to write down your own rules, you have some in hand. Denise did: for her, love tops the list.

Our understanding of life has the greatest impact when it’s put in terms we can grasp — especially when we put it in those terms for ourselves. Mine won’t work completely for you, simply because they’re mine. Yours are for you. We need individual understandings, because we’re individuals.

It’s because of the law of unity that we’re each individual, each one. For this reason we can also (learn to) value another’s freedom, even as they acknowledge ours. So the law of freedom also ranks high on my list. Grant others the freedom to be who they are, in accord with their granting me my own. This one much of the planet is still learning, to judge by daily headlines and our widespread experience of life in this world. “Your freedom ends where mine begins”, goes one popular formulation, and vice versa.

Tomorrow, to round out this discussion, I’ll post “Eleven Strands of Educational and Life Philosophy”, which I composed as part of my application with a teacher’s placement agency some two years ago.

Love, unity, reciprocity, paradox, and freedom — some of my rules. And my game? Druidry helps to keep waking me up, though I still drowse a lot.

What’s your game?

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Images: Lehman Brothers;

Looking for a Title   3 comments

Now that I’ve chased away, as I usually manage to do every few weeks, a few incautious new readers who thought they’d follow my blog — until I said something indigestible to them — you and I remain to take stock. It’s part of my job description, in fact: blogger must intermittently provoke, offend or banish a portion of readership, if only to establish and maintain some semblance of integrity. That’s one route, anyway, to blogger bona fides.

Otherwise I’m just a spiritual politician, telling people mostly what they want to hear, scrambling for votes or likes. Please don’t merely “like” me. We’re not in primary school, right? Life isn’t, despite what the weak magic of  social media enchants us to believe, a popularity contest. We’re not even in secondary school any longer. Read and ponder what I’ve said, and test it — not just with your opinions, but with your life. As I try to do, in spite of that annoying and near-universal tug toward hypocrisy.

So there really aren’t any rules? my inner teenager asks. The previous post was a feel-good piece. Love is all you need. All paths lead to the same destination. We’re all in this together.

And we are. Except.

Anyone who practices an art or craft knows that rules, especially rules-of-thumb gained over long experience, can be really useful. Gardening? Plant marigolds with tomatoes. Tuning your guitar? Start with your sixth string, the Youtube video instructs, held down on the fifth fret. Guidelines for what to do, how to tackle challenges and complexities. Received wisdom. Even, if I can use the word, a tradition. We rarely need to start from scratch.

When we’re young, we’re told to color inside the lines. What happens if you color outside the lines? Nothing. You’ve colored outside the lines. What you do is what you get. Maybe a well-meaning adult scolds you, or not. A little later, perhaps a reward or penalty. We know how early such patterns and personality traits get set. Some kids without prompting will color up to the lines so neatly an adult couldn’t better it. And they’ll get praise for neatness and attention and whatever other labels get put on noticing boundaries and respecting what they have to teach.  Because they do have much to teach. Just not everything.

All right, teenaged self. What do you want rules for, anway? To push against, so you can declare yourself an original? To piss off a special adult, or adults in general? To run roughshod over, ’cause you’re such a rebel? Win the attention of possible partners, producers or profit-sharers? Welcome to inverse conformity: you’ve still let the rules define you. Can you make your own liveable set?

Robert Frost said writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. He meant it disparagingly, but it’s actually just another game. Handball. Without a single thing labeled “net”, nearly every surface becomes playable. Players don’t stand opposite each other, but — often — side by side. The rules: changed, but still present. Because that’s what a game is. It’s hard to make “whatever” into a game very many folks want to play.

Yesterday John Beckett posted “Get Over Your Fear of Religion!” tackling the frequent superficiality of much contemporary spirituality. On at least one online forum I visit, his post predictably sent some into a tailspin. Beckett notes, “Some of this [the “spiritual but not religious” movement]  is an understandable reaction against negative religion, but much is an avoidance of the work required to build any real spiritual or religious depth”.  Some scolding is good for me.

Of course, our reaction against stifling religiosity also has ancient roots in human experience. It will never go away as long as we face complacency and laziness in our cultural institutions and practices. As a certain rabbi once observed a score of centuries ago, “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life”.

But beyond the pleasurable intoxication of a numinous moon or molten sunset or gold-drenched sunny afternoon, there’s more. “If you want a deep spiritual practice”, John continues, “that will help you handle life’s challenges, build deep and meaningful relationships, and change yourself and the world, you’re going to need religion”.

The first part sounds like what many people say they want. The last clause, though, tosses a dead mouse into the punch bowl.

Whatever else needs to happen as a consequence of mouse or punchbowl or tossing, reactions to the incident will reveal something to me in my own thinking and practice that I need to work on. Maybe you or I will take the bowl to the kitchen and bring out a fresh one. Maybe we’ll just cringe a little, and wait for somebody else to fix things. Maybe we’ll fish out the mouse, or shame the tosser, or ask for better punch-bowl covers, or mouse-traps. Or we’ll take to raising larger mice. Whatever our roles, the incident jolts us. Your outrage is yours. I do mine just fine, without help. But I don’t want to stop there, but start.

Over the decades, I’ve noticed life becomes custom-fitted to teach each of us what we need to learn. It gets to know us, scouts us right up to our weaknesses. I’m not always talking “fair” or “easy” or “blessed”, either. What I hold on to most tightly I’ll probably be compelled to relinquish. Rigid things tend to break. The gods prodding humans to grow. Or evolution fine-tuning a whole complex of eco-systems, sharpening the ability of each species to thrive by choosing the most adaptable individuals and going forward with them because — quite simply — they can change. A hundred thousand lemmings die, but one, slightly different, flourishes and becomes the progenitor of a new species. Ancestral lemming, I salute you.

If we’re changing, how could all the old rules possibly serve? Because rules can change, too, and most of the ones that trouble us and dog our heels are ones we’ve made for ourselves that haven’t changed with us. A few other parameters we encounter, like this pesky aging-and-mortality thing, and finite planetary resources, and cause and effect, we’re still learning to work with. It’s just that from time to time we confuse human rules with spiritual law. Confuse them so successfully we think they’re the same thing, until we find they’re not.

Imagine your ideal set of rules for how you’d play the game. Or laws, if you’re going for large-scale. Work to get down in writing at least three or four of them — you may uncover more — then try them out on your life, checking for fit, and then try them on the lives of a few other beings. Revise as needed.

Next post I’ll post mine.

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