I will not be tamed

This is a repost of something I wrote 2008.07.02.


Dark of the Moon tonight. It’s raining. The clouds are a dull grey with a tinge of olive, and the rain is a soft patter outside my window, interrupted in its rythym only by the passing of cars and the occasional sloshing of an animal or person.

I stepped out into the night, wearing only scooby-doo sleep pants which have been worn and abused so long there are holes and rips that define their shape as much as the fabric does. The rain was light, almost non-existent as I walked around the corner to the small grassy lot; across the street where there are bushes and flowers and trees.

A call to say ‘I honor you’ but much sweeter of sound and connotation.

I compare the wild spirit of the rain and the dark moon with the rigid motion of prescribed ritual and I want to laugh. The power here, standing in the grass, in the presence of the natural divine, is not met by the formulas of ritual. I lift my heart in thanks to three great names, and to the forces that surround me, and I laugh as the wind blows my now-wet hair around my neck. I glow darkly, fire curling around my fingertips. Gun-metal grey mixed with vibrant earth-green, and recently a shining blue that wraps itself in veins and cords through and beneath the flames that race along my skin.

I am a wild thing in my heart. My power is the rushing force of the waterfall or a mighty river. This is my gift, and my danger. I will not be tamed, it is not my way. But a waterfall that floods the plains and drowns the crops is worse than a fickle stream that is barely able to coax a few root vegetables from the earth each season. It must be known, if only so that the crops may be planted elsewhere, or the rivers course changed somewhat.

May I find the balance that I see here. May I find control that does not seek to tame the natural divine in me, nor unleash it wildly upon my life.

Always Unexpected

One of the most interesting things in my life is the way I feel when the spirits answer my call.

You would think that I would get used to it. That it would seem ordinary. I even occasionally imply that it is somehow ordinary or commonplace. And in some respects it is important to understand the commonality of mystical experience. Caitlin Matthews has a great quote in Singing the Soul Back Home about that:

The Common, mundane nature of mystical experience is one of the best-kept secrets; its neglect and cover-up has given us a society in which we have no framework for speaking about our mystical perceptions — be it a sudden impulse or synchronicity, the urge to write a poem or song, or a vision of immense beauty. — Caitlin Matthews (From: Singing the Soul Back Home pg. 33)

This commonality is crucial when teaching people to find the mysical experience in their life. It is true in an objective way.

But it is also false in a subjective way. I never expect it. It is always a surprise and a blessing. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve felt the fire running in streams around my body; nor how often the spirits have come to embrace me when I send out that mental call; nor how many times I’ve knelt or sat in prayer and heard the voices of my Gods reach to me in response.

Every damn time is a surprise. Every time is a gift that I try to cherish and honor. Every time I lean into the world and feel it lean back. Every little grace and every mystical experience. They all surprise me. Every time I reach for it a part of me expects that nothing will respond. And it is a gift when it does. Every time the power is there before I’ve even thought of it, or I know the answer before asking the question.

The beauty and terror of it is that I have no understanding of what makes me worthy of any of it. I like to believe that I am exceptional, but it is hard to separate what is me from what is the grace given me. So I try to respect it and love it with each new surprise and adventure. I give myself over to mystery and uncertainty, and I trust that they will always lean into me as I lean into them.

When I see carbon-gray and green and blue flames wrapping my body and limbs like ribbons I’m always surprised. I forget, then I remember. I smile and I close my eyes and I trust and I surrender and then I act, and then I remind myself that I am a vessel. I occasionally carry the flame, I am sometimes a conduit for it, an instrument of it, but not the source.

Masochism

I didn’t start out as a masochist. As early as I can remember I’ve been interested in bondage, but being hit or disciplined physically rarely if ever entered into the equation.

I’m not sure when that changed, but it did. I remember when I was parting ways with my first lover. She said to me: “You want to avoid those gay Masters, they’re too rough for you.” And from what I’d experienced I figured she was right. When we she hit me it was for punishment, and that is how I reacted. It was something to be avoided at all cost. I knew other people had a different view of it, but I could never quite get my head around pain as play.

Sometime between 2002 and 2007 though, many of my fantasies started to take on a more violent hue. They still had the elements I was accustomed to. Lots of rope and chain. Inescapable bondage involving cages or tables or prison cells.

But there were bruises too. And guys hitting me. Hard. And canes and paddles and, of course, floggers. Somewhere I’d taken a turn. Pain had gone from something that was inexorably tied up with the concept of punishment, and become something to be chased. Not like a drug craving. More like skin hunger. The same way I longed to be close to people, to touch and hold, I found myself longing to be struck, to have marks on my shoulders and ass and chest and thighs.

It was gradual. I didn’t know it was happening. But as I look back on it I realize something kind of fascinating. My growing masochism was a sign that I was healing inside. When I was younger I submitted to the flogger or paddle because I deserved to be punished. I had a core belief that I was bad, and pain drove that away. Punishment for something inconsequential served as an emotional proxy for that internal judgment. I felt relief when it was over, but it was always about punishment.

When I was in my 20’s I spent a lot of time individuating. And while I’m nowhere near enlightened, I convinced myself that even though I’m flawed I’m actually pretty worthy of love. (I’m speaking of my mind here, my heart is fickle and sways with the trees on this matter.) And as I felt less and less that I deserve to be punished, I became more and more aware that the pain was actually part of something really beautiful.

When I stopped focusing on the concept of punishment; when I began to forgive myself and the world around me; it became clear that I could choose what I deserve and what I don’t deserve. Freed of the limitations of punishment I was able to experience physical pain in a different light. Once it stopped being something that was by necessity an act of attrition or atonement, I started to realize that it was something I enjoyed and needed.

It turns out that the masochism was always there, but I had placed severe limitations on it, perverting it to enforce a psychological need I wasn’t even aware of. Once that need left I was able to appreciate it for what it was, which has led to some wonderful experiences. Not only wonderful for the masochistic pleasure of it all, but because masochism is one of my avenues to the divine. It’s one of the roads I am meant to travel, but for years the door was misappropriated and used as a wall.

I don’t regret how long it took me to start enjoying my masochistic side. Now that I have this understanding I’m grateful and humbled that it could provide a pressure-valve for some of the darker parts of my psychology. I believe it is because of that pressure-valve that I was able to transform the psychology it was protecting me from. My masochism allowed me to heal. And now, it affords me the luxury to indulge, to luxuriate in the intensity and the ordeal.

I fight it every step of the way

Sometimes the Gods are quiet.

Other times they are loud.

Often times they are somewhere in between.

When they are bossy, it is best to listen, but the wisdom of obedience is not always in our nature.

And so it is for me. Obedience is one of my core values, but it is an ideal to which I aspire, not one I excel at. My Gods have indicated to me, via a variety of methods, that I need to find a healthier more sustainable lifestyle. More accurately they’ve BEEN indicating it for several years now. What began as subtle encouragement grew into less subtle encouragement, and then into warnings and commands and calls to obedience. And over and over again I made small efforts. Tokens of obedience that would not even get them on a bus.

It’s not that I didn’t want to take their advice. Honestly, it’s not JUST that it’s easier to eat crap and laze about all day. It’s that I didn’t have, as a friend who was channeling once told me, “the courage to act.” The fear in question here isn’t fear of change. I welcome the change. It is the fear of responsibility. In order to act to make the changes I need, I have to accept that I am responsible for all the choices that led me here. I have to be willing to see those choices as a pattern and understand why I made them and learn to make better, healthier choices.

Changing my lifestyle isn’t about going to the gym or eating less frozen pizza. Those are some of the obvious, explicit results of the real work. The real work is invisible to the naked eye. In order to make real, lasting change, I need to transform the internal patterns that create the disorders I’m trying to resolve. And that is where courage comes in. Humans are dumb. We create demons for ourselves as naturally as we breathe, and besting those demons requires that we access the core of who we are. And facing both the demons, and the core truth of ourselves, is fucking scary.

But it can be rewarding. I’ve learned a lot. Mostly I learned how much more I have to learn. I discovered that my psyche is riddled with shame and anxiety and loathing. Far more than I knew was there. I’ve also discovered that a battle scarred psyche can still nurture orchards that bloom and bear fruit. I’ve found that I had absolutely no idea how strong I am inside, or how much that strength undermines me. I’ve found that counter to my expectation, I am absolutely full of and capable of feeling and expressing love for myself and the people around me. But I’ve also found that I have practically no idea how to go about it. I’ve learned that my resources are wasted on surviving when I could be thriving.

And knowing these things gives me a much deeper understanding of why that courage was so elusive. Why is it so hard to simply give in and obey? It turns out there are many reasons. The most obvious is that obedience that is not hard-won is worth little. This is why sovreignty is so crucial to my understanding of obedience.

Leaving the obvious alone for the moment though, there is a more important reason. Obedience on faith changes the explicit world and relies upon those changes to transform the implicit. It is not the obedience that my Gods demand, it is the transformation. And my struggle with obedience hastens the implicit resolution. It forces me to observe, evaluate, and analyze what lies within my explicit behavior. It is painful and challenging and frightening, but it brings me closer to Apotheosis in a way that simply following orders does not.

And I think my Gods like the challenge. If they wanted a puppet they would not have come to me.

The Emperors Clothes

I feel like I’ve been writing a lot of heavier things lately. I can’t really help it, there are heavy things on my mind. I try, at least a little, to soften the blows, to lighten the weight. But it is what it is.

Tonight I don’t know if what I want to share is heavy or not. I don’t see it as heavy, but I’m not sure that I have a fair scale upon which to place it.

One of my favorite books is erotic literature. That’s not the thrust of it. It’s “The Reunion” by Laura Antinou, which is the fifth book in her Marketplace series, and in my opinion is among the best written erotic novels of the modern age, if not all time. Unsurprisingly, the erotic flavor is of bdsm.

In it, one of the characters, Chandra, says this:

A collar does no more than create a space which only you may fill. And how can you fill it unless you are not missing parts of yourself?

This is one of the things that I have expressed to myself over and over again in various forms. While in this context there are clear overtones of bdsm and submission, the underlying principle is not inherently charged with eroticism of any kind. Put another way she is saying:

No title or role completes you. You must be complete in yourself in order to fill the title you claim.

Essentially, nothing and nobody can make us feel less empty or less complete inside. We can not fill ourselves with nourishment drawn from the explicit trappings of our lives. Completeness is a personal journey, a personal commitment. It is what is implicit to our nature, that which underlies our explicit behavior, that defines us.

And that’s something that I am striving for, yearning for. Completeness. Implicit and Explicit congruence of my self-image.

Many of my friends and relatives are constantly asking me if I’m dating, or if I’ve got a frequent playmate. And while I know that they want to see me happy, I’m not convinced that their idea of happiness is even what I really want. And I know that a partner or partners won’t somehow magically make me happy. A romantic entanglement adds a lot of complexity to anybodies life, and while I’m not against complexity I’m not sure how much more I can handle right now.

More importantly though, I want to find happiness with myself. I want to find a deep and abiding self-love, and I don’t know that a relationship is the way to do that. Add to those doubts the very limited success I’ve had with relationships past and I am honestly just not into it at the moment.

All that said, I’d be lying if I said I want to be single. I don’t. I envision a lot of potential scenarios. Most of the time I’m part of a kinky poly group. I’m not dead-set against having a single boyfriend (or even girlfriend, although I’m not convinced that would ever work), but the whole me & you forever thing just isn’t part of my imagining or envisioning of a perfect world.

And even ignoring the idea of a relationship in the romantic sense. I would love to have someone(s) to share kink with. To experiment and celebrate and explore. There are a lot of things that you can’t do solo no matter how creative and clever you are. I’ve spent a lot of years alone with my body, and it yearns to do a lot of things it’s been denied. I want to feel like I’m stretching the boundaries of my pain/pleasure threshold again. I want to feel my skin and lips and body-heat sliding along the sweat covered skin of another person again.

But the truth is, I don’t want any of these things more than I want to feel happy with myself. More than anything I want to feel like I’m living up to my potential, to my expectations for myself.

I don’t logically believe that these desires are mutually exclusive, but my heart is well and truly convinced that I can’t have good, deep, relationships until I’m in love with myself. Still, I’m slowly trying to open myself to the possibility that I don’t have to be perfect to share myself with other people.

But I don’t spend my evenings pining for romantic or sexual relationships. I don’t feel that I’m incomplete because I don’t have them. Lonely sometimes, but not incomplete.

So what’s my point? I’m not sure I have one. Maybe the point is that I’m full of contradictions, but I already knew that.

Maybe the point is that the emperor wasn’t any less of an emperor because he wasn’t wearing any clothes. He brought to his garments nothing but who and what he was, regardless of whether those raiment’s were material or immaterial.

Oh also, now I’m horny.

Ferry of Foundation

It was the queens barge, first. Long before it was the vessel of the king, ages of memory lost to the sparkling sea of time.

In it she ferried the first seeds of the sparkling stars from the heavens, the seeds that grew, sparking in their own immanence to blossom into the worlds, to spin about each other and fertilize themselves.

It has a flat bottom for it does not cut through the sea or float upon its surface but skims across the veil of reality. Its prow appears as a crook, upon the crook a lantern, within the lantern a sun come from the dross of her skin as she spun it into the warp within which we weave.

And having set her work upon its sea she faded from it, leaving behind her ghosts and guides.

And the king, eventually rose, and found the barge adrift amidst the firmament and he journeyed upon it and in her wake, but could see not where she had finally gone, only the glimmering figments of her passing. And this knowledge made of the king the God.

The Intuitive Complex

A great deal of the modern pagan movement revolves around the practice of magic. I’m not really satisfied with that and I’d like to change it. But that is where it stands today.

There are a lot of people doing really good work in the pagan communities that has nothing to do with magic. But as it stands, the most interesting thing about us is that, in general, pagans believe that our actions have reach and impact beyond the physical. We practice magic.

I’m cool with that. I practice magic. There are plenty of pagans who don’t, and I know some who get irked that magic is the first thing that people think about when paganism comes up. There are even those individuals and groups for whom the practice of magic constitutes the entirety of their paganism. I don’t mind them either, I used to be one of them.

But I’ve been noticing something recently that is beginning to bug me like nothing else. There is an expectation that if you are a practicing pagan then you must be a magic-worker. And more, you must also be an intuitive. Oh, and you must be sighted as well.

For the record I think the term “psychic” is too connotatively overloaded to be useful. The terms I prefer are Intuitive and Sighted.

An Intuitive refers to a person who is able to lean into their intuition and draw conclusions and knowledge from thin air with a high degree of accuracy. A Sighted person is someone whose subtle senses are strong enough to intermingle with their every day waking perception.

While we use the term Sighted it does not imply that this sensory input is visual in nature. The Sight encompasses all of our senses.

There are other words to describe other experiences, but for my purposes today Intuitive and Sighted will suffice.

There is a very common belief amongst our community that “Everyone can do everything.” I think this is a really important starting place, but we can’t and shouldn’t stop there. It’s not inaccurate, but it doesn’t make sense. Sometimes people are born without legs, or with eyes that don’t work quite right. Individuals vary widely and we do a disservice to ourselves and our community when we operate under the expectation that everyone has to be able to do all the same things.

It is much more beneficial to give ourselves and each other the right to diversity and uniqueness. Which brings me to my point.

You can be pagan without being Intuitive

You can be pagan without being Sighted

You can be pagan without practicing magic of any kind.

That was a lot of really big text, but I think it’s important. I’m extremely lucky to be Intuitive and have at least some Sightedness at my disposal. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past decade learning to make the most of it and use it effectively and responsibly. But as I’ve begun teaching and writing more I’ve realized that we have a really bad habit of teaching classes and workshops as if everyone has spent years of their life honing these faculties.

If you’re teaching a seminar on advanced journeying practices then assuming that your students are practiced soul-travelers probably makes sense. If, on the other hand, you are teaching an introductory course on circle-casting the assumption that your students will all be able to perceive the energies and spirits in the space may be unreasonable. When we do this we are creating an environment where a portion of our students will feel excluded or insufficient because they aren’t Sighted or Intuitive or they haven’t developed those skills enough to make casual use of them.

And really, they don’t need to. The vast majority of things that we practice as pagans can be done without leveraging any atypical awareness. And in my opinion, we should have the knowledge and ability to do this work at it’s foundational level.

Even spiritwork has its roots in ordinary physically observable reality. The cultures and traditions that gave us our modern practices were not (we assume) abnormally Intuitive or abnormally Sighted. So unless you believe evolution has been selecting against these skills (which I don’t) that means that your average person today has about as much active Intuitive awareness as your average person at any time in the last few millenia.

So how did our ancestors do their work? How did people tell when the spirits were present? When there was an omen they should pay attention to?

They paid attention to what was going on around them.

The vast majority of a healthy daily practice is accessible and observable without any extraordinary senses. Spirits bring smells or emotions or temperature changes or weather changes with them. The presence of a God or Goddess or Big spirit typically makes a space feel emotionally sacred. The physical light seems more crystaline or sharper. The presence of the ancestors often relaxes us and makes us feel safe. The presence of Angels or other powerful entities we work with in Ceremonial magic has a tendency to make technology go a bit wonky, to make the air feel electrified. Static Electricity is more common, and in the case of angels the room or building appears to be more ordered and logical.

We can interact with etheric energy using nothing but our physical senses and body. We can see and interpret omens using our visual and intellectual faculties.

We need to learn to be ok with being average. As I implied recently in A case for religious servants, not every pagan needs to be able to do every different type of pagan thing. It is ok to have lay-practitioners and clergymen and teachers and diviners and magicians and counselors. And it’s ok for anyone who wants to learn to learn the foundations of all these things. What’s not ok is for us to assume that everyone HAS or SHOULD learn all these foundations.

I really want a digital Moleskine

Sometimes I sit down and I try to start writing, and the first few sentences are on the screen and I stare at them. And I think to myself. “Well, that was shite.” or, more frequently, “What the fuck am I trying to say here?”

Usually I have this experience because I’m not sure what it is that I am trying to say. I don’t know what to write so I just let whatever happens to be in my field of vision or thoughts come out on the page. Today it was a pen.

I looked at my desk and saw my stylus sitting there. It’s black, and the tip is soft rubber. Precision is impossible with it. I was looking at it and realized that I am incredibly frustrated by the lack of a good digital analog for simple pen and paper. I want to be able to pick up my tablet, pull out my stylus, and scribble away like I do in my moleskine. Until that happens I will always need a notebook and pen with me. I know the technology is still young, but it drives me insane.

The number one interaction I have with computers is entering text. And when it comes to entering text with a keyboard I’m extremely efficient. But there is no on screen keyboard in the world that can be utilized as quickly or effectively as a good old qwerty keyboard. Voice input could work, but believe it or not I don’t always want to be talking while I’m taking notes or writing.

Why hasn’t this problem been solved yet? Where is my tablet that behaves like a moleskine?

Skill and Lack in Loving

I’m good at a lot of things. I suppose that for order to be maintained that means I have to be bad at a lot of things too. Well I kind of am.

One of the things that I’m worst at is self-confidence. I’ve done a lot of work on this, and the fact of the matter is that I talk a really good game, but it’s just not real. I’m not self-confident. Not about anything. I am constantly trying to convince myself to be. I keep thinking that if I play the part it will eventually stick. The act does stick pretty well, but the emotion has never really caught on.

I don’t remember this most of the time. The vast majority of the time I’m pretty convinced of my own confidence and stability. But then some asshole has to go and compliment me on something. And I just don’t know what to do. At all.

I’m even worse at compliments than I am at self-confidence. I don’t know how to accept them gracefully, how to trust them, or how to act towards a person who has just given me one. I do my best. I try to be honest and grateful. “Thank you, that’ means a lot.” I try to be sincere and also give credit where it is due. “I can’t really take credit for that, but thank you.” I try to defer. “You’re very kind.”

But I just suck at it all. I don’t know how it looks to other people. Maybe it looks totally natural. But it doesn’t feel natural. It feels uncomfortable, awkward, and as though the follow-spot is right on me and I didn’t think to learn the lines.

People have called me out in the past for not being humble enough. I don’t even know what to do with that. I think they’re picking up on the fact that my humility is fake and misreading it as pride. It’s not really pride. My humility is fake because I honestly don’t believe or recognize that I have anything to be proud of.

That’s not entirely true. I am a proud person. I am proud of things that I’ve done and things I’ve made. But I’m proud of the things, not of myself. No matter what it is I’ve done I can be happy with it and proud of it, but that is about the product not the act. Does that make any sense at all?

I’m proud of what I’m writing here. I like the words. I like that they’re vulnerable. I like that I’m not struggling with them. I know I should feel some sort of pride that I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable but I kinda don’t. I feel vulnerable, and a little weak. I feel sad. I feel proud of my words, but not of me.

So what should humility look like for me? Should I defer that it was nothing? The words of the divine spark aren’t nothing. They are beautiful and special. I loved them and I was full of joy and pride when they came out of me. But I don’t take credit for them as much as I might like to. What does it look like to be humble when you have trouble believing in your own worth?

I’m not sure. I might never figure it out. I’m trying. Every day I’m trying.

I know all that was probably kind of hard to read and a little painful. I’m happy you made it down here. It’s not as bad as it probably sounds. Not as sad. My life isn’t supposed to be easy. I told one of my teachers once that part of my path is to suffer profoundly so that I can offer my hand to those who suffer and help them along roads I already know. I’m not sure that I would have chosen this particular form of trial but I have mostly come to terms with it.

I often wonder how to explain this, but the words seem to be present now. There is a big big difference between knowing and feeling. I know that I am beautiful, gifted, talented, special, and loved. But I don’t often feel those things. A big part of my life is learning to feel them. Some days are worse, many are better. The better days don’t outnumber the worse ones yet, but they outshine them. The bad days blur together. They’re a haze. The good days are exceptional. They shine tall and brilliant.

And I am learning not to passively accept the bad days. I have forgiven myself for not feeling loved. I forgive myself for not feeling all the things I know to be true. And when I can’t feel them I reach for them. I push against the walls inside myself and I struggle to reach past them to feel love. Some days I can see it just out of reach. Other days it is nowhere to be found. And some days I grasp it and pull it to myself and throw it about me like a blanket and try to drink it in and feel it in the deepest parts of my self.

Have I said too much? I don’t have anything else right now. Just stillness.

It’s kind of OK to be wrong. No, Really

I used to write whatever the fuck I wanted. Some days I still do. More often though I find myself self-censoring things that go through my mind.

I’m not talking about self-censoring stupid shit. We all have brain-filters and we have them for a really good reason. Nobody wants to hear me say something incredibly offensive because I didn’t think about how something sounded before it came out of my mouth. (FYI: This actually happens more often than I’d like. Fun fact, you can actually see me mentally kick myself. Some of my friends think it’s amusing.)

I’m talking about self-censoring shit that doesn’t need censoring. Why do I censor it? Fear. Somewhere in the last 10 years I realized that not all the things I write down are going to be accurate. Sometimes I am going to get things wrong. And there are so many educated, erudite thinkers out there that spend so much time trying to get things right. Somehow I taught myself that if I couldn’t be right about it I shouldn’t put it out there ever. Since then I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time avoiding things that I really believe because I can’t prove them, or because I don’t have the time or skills to do the requisite research.

And to a certain extent that’s good. I don’t have any desire to be the guy that is always going off half-cocked with nothing to back me up. But I’ve kind of given myself a phobia about it. I’m constantly afraid that I’m going to put something out there and it’s going to be wrong. And I hate being wrong.

But ya know what? Fuck that shit. Fuck it until it is decimated. That’s bullshit. It’s absolutely valueless fear. It doesn’t protect me from anything, cause gods know I’m wrong plenty even with this crazy fear. (Maybe I shouldn’t write that last part. Some members of my family will have a field day if they ever bother to read that sentence.)

But seriously. Fuck. That. Noise. I’m done cowing myself for no good reason. I was reading a book recently that is a bit dated. It’s not a bad book, but the author was a little young when he wrote it, and some of the stuff in there is, well, wrong. I have a lot of respect for the author, but he’s definitely wrong about some things.

And that’s been the catalyst for this post. If an author I respect wrote something that turned out to be wrong and I still respect him, can I not afford the same leinience for myself? And damn straight I can. I am as deserving of compassion as the next guy.

So there you have it. Short and sweet. Hopefully you won’t come to hate me for occasionally being wrong. ;D