Do you ever feel like you’re just “hanging out”? I don’t mean in the good sense of those words; I mean in the sense of that desperate kitty cat on the poster, just clawing his way to hold on so that he doesn’t fall off the rope! Saint John of the Cross (Catholic/Christian) described such periods in our lives as The Dark Night of the Soul. The Christian Bible tells us of Christ crucified, just “hanging out” on the cross, between murderers and thieves, to save the whole world from its sins. And in the Norse Tradition, we have the tale of Odin hanging himself upon Yggdrasil: the ultimate shaman’s death experience.
For those unfamiliar with the story of Odin (or Norse Mythology at all, for that matter), the All-Father (roughly cognate to Yahweh/Jehovah in Judeo-Christian tradition) went to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, to seek the power of Knowledge and Wisdom. He climbed that great tree, cut himself with his own spear to feed its hungry bark with his blood, and hung himself upon the tree for nine days and nine nights. Much like Christ on the cross, Odin’s self-sacrifice is believed to have torn open the fabric of Creation (remember that part in the New Testament where it says that the curtain in the Temple was torn in two? Same thing.) and allowed the Rune Spirits to appear to him, and teach him the runes (written language, as well as a divination and magickal tool). The end result of Odin “hanging out” was the beginning of True Wisdom for All.
“Hanging out” wasn’t pleasant for either Odin or Christ, yet for some reason, we humans have the gall to think that it should be pleasant for us. That it should be easy somehow; that instead of desperately clawing our way up the proverbial rope, like the little kitten in that popular poster, we should be joyfully swinging from said rope while we “hang out”. What gives us the audacity to think such a thing? If “hanging out” was that difficult for gods, why in the hell should it be a joyride for us?
In The Dark Night of the Soul, Saint John of the Cross writes:
“Spiritual persons suffer considerable affliction in this night, owing not so much to the aridities they undergo, as to their fear of having gone astray.”
From an early age in our society, we are unfortunately taught that if something is difficult or unpleasant, it means that “whatever it is” is likely punishment for something that we’ve done. Some of that, I think, can be pinned on how pervasive the assumed Christian worldview has become in our society, but not all of it. Let me be clear on what I mean by “assumed Christian worldview” before I move on to what other factors make us think this way: that whole “eye for an eye” thing in Christianity? The whole “if you go astray you will be punished in equal portion” thing? Yeah, that went out with the Old Testament! Too many Christians seem to be missing the entire point of Christ “hanging out” on the cross in the first place! Okay, so what do I mean when I say that not all of our “if something is unpleasant, clearly I did something wrong, and it’s punishment” worldview comes from that assumed Christian perspective? The concept of karma and karmic repayment in Hinduism, Buddhism, and even modern Neo-Paganism is also responsible; we can’t pin this one solely on the Christians. Now, please don’t take that as me saying “there’s no such thing as karma”; karma is, as they say “a right bitch”, and definitely exists, but it’s a slippery slope at best, when it comes to the idea that if something is difficult or unpleasant, then obviously we’re being punished for something else we’ve done previously.
No, Saint John of the Cross got it right: the difficulty and unpleasantness we experience when going through the Dark Night of the Soul are patently not punishment, they’re tempering to make us stronger and wiser, in exactly the same way as one tempers steel in fire, but it is our fear that they are somehow punishment for our having gone astray that makes us believe that “hanging out” should be easy for us, when it wasn’t even easy for gods. Being tempered isn’t pleasant, anymore than harsh instruction from a parent–designed to help a child grow and learn–is pleasant. Priscilla, an early female leader in the Christian faith, puts it this way in the Epistle to the Hebrews (yes, that was written by a woman!):
Others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through–all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as His children?
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? …At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. –Hebrews 12:4-11, The Message
Sometimes when things are difficult and unpleasant–when we’re forced to “hang out”–it’s because we did something right enough to deserve deeper wisdom and greater maturity, instead of because we’ve done something wrong. “Hanging out” makes us grow–that’s what Priscilla means when she speaks of a mature relationship with God. It deepens us as humans; brings us closer to the gods (whichever ones we favor). While it may be hard to see such dark times as an actual reward, exercising such discernment can make all the difference between whether we put our head in our hands, cry buckets, and shout to the Universe “I freaking give up!”, or not.
I am, admittedly, “having a day” today. Today, I feel like I’m “hanging out”: like my whole life just ground to a halt in some sort of unasked for pregnant pause.
My usual response to a day like this one would be to honestly either sit around and cry about it (yes, I’m that guy!), or sit and stare at the walls and feel sorry for myself, or stomp around the house like an angry spoiled child, but not today. Why is today different from all the other days in the past just like this one? Because today I realize that “hanging out” isn’t punishment for something I’ve done wrong, but instead a reward for everything I’m doing right. Now, I’ll grant you, in and of itself, it’s a pretty sucky reward, but I have faith that what I’ll gain on the other side of it is worth this feeling. “Hanging out” has forced me to “take a break”, and review what I’m doing, as well as what I’m not doing, and look around from this height at which I presently find myself hanging at all of the other possible directions I could be doing in. This “pregnant pause” has reminded me that ultimately, all that I do, am doing, and will do is not solely my own, nor is it solely up to me: ultimately, I am just the messenger, and I need to “get out of the way” of Those who would speak through me. At risk of potentially offending any of my more “hardcore” Heathen or Pagan readers, there is definitely great Truth in this passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, so please humor my “Paganizing” of it:
Now the Gods have us right where They want us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us. This instruction is all Their idea, and all Their work. All we do is trust Them enough to let Them do it. It’s Gods’ gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor instruct ourselves. The Gods do both the making and the instructing. They create each of us to join Them in the work They do, the good work They have gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. –“Paganized” from Ephesians 2:7-10, The Message
I am ready to join Them in the work They have gotten ready for me to do. In the meantime, I’ll just be here, “hanging out”…..
For those of you who are unfamiliar with any sort of Asian spirituality, Samsarameans “the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.” It’s a Sanskrit word, having its roots in Vedic traditions (read: India), which is fully explored as a spiritual practice not only in Hinduism, but in Buddhism as well. Samsara is viewed as a cyclical wheel, from which we desperately need to be liberated: the ultimate spiritual ideal is to achieve Nirvana (Buddhism) or Moksha (Hinduism), essentially breaking the wheel of Samsara. This is accomplished by finding one’s True Self, knowing one’s own Soul, thereby ending the suffering of ignorance, empty desire, and the unethical actions to which both of those things lead. For those of you familiar with my other work, and with my daily spiritual practices (Druidic Heathen), it may come off as a bit odd that I’m suddenly creating art with a Buddhist-Hindu “backbeat”. For those who know me best, however, it comes as no shock at all that I needed to “get this art out”, or that I needed these assets myself, to be able to fully express the depth and breadth of my spirituality fully.
Regardless of the shell I’m wearing (I artist journaled about that yesterday; see below), on the inside of all of that, I’m a Chinese-American, with a heavy influx of Norwegian and German bloodlines. My first faiths, as a child, were Buddhism, Taoism, and Episcopalian. When I first began my journey down this Druidic Heathen Path on which I’m presently travelling, it gave me great comfort knowing that the Celts, Germanic Tribesmen, and even the original Norsemen all shared an Indo-European cultural root: the same cultural root which also gave us Buddhism (and Hinduism). That sort of let me know I was “in the right neighborhood”. Truth is, there is a large amount of my Buddhist/Taoist root that I’m just never going to “shake”, nor do I wish to. It’s perfectly congruent with everything in which I so deeply believe.
As a Chinese-American, my artistic roots also lie in Asia: my first forays into art were with traditional Chinese Watercolor (to which I desperately need to return at some point!), and most of my earliest pen and ink drawings were of dragons and martial artists. As I’ve evolved into a digital artist, I haven’t left those aesthetics behind. Taking the leap into the world of creating digital assets that enable others to express themselves artistically through digi-scrap and digital (and hybrid!) artist journaling was a bit of a rude awakening to my cultural sensibilities: almost everything that is out there on the market that is supposed to have “Asian flair” has a tendency to be non-Asians’ idea of what Asian art looks like, rather than authentic. You wind up with a lot of cartoon pandas, and fortune cookies, and Chinese takeaway boxes. While I hate the term “cultural theft”, because I think it leads to a certain level of pomposity, and most of the time only serves to further divide and segregate what should be a globally multicultural society, what I found “out there”, in the “digi-scrap/AJ world” was stereotypical at best, and offensive at its worst. I needed to do something to make that right.
While all of this was floating around in my fevered brain, in November of 2016, panic struck America. I don’t like to get political in this blog (or anywhere else), because generally in the wake of the last election, I’ve found being political only breeds firestorms, and firestorms only breed a certain vapid level of hatred, rather than the peace I’m oathbound to promote, but regardless of which side of the aisle you or I are on, I think we can all agree that in November 2016, something on the level of meteoric catastrophe hit the world’s psyche, and pushed it off of some previously undefined edge. I was immediately reminded of the history of the Cultural Revolution in China (which, for those unfamiliar with the term, was decidedly not a revolution, in the positive sense of that word, but actually a cultural apocalypse), and I knew: Samsara‘s time had come.
Samsara’s time had come, but unfortunately, so had Christmas/Yule, which meant “holiday selections” needed to be our primary focus at Iaconagraphy, and my “passion project” would need to temporarily take a backseat. So I bided my time, finding things that were suitable for extraction, and made the first draft of the artist papers that would eventually become the ones you find in the Collection today. Then January rolled around, and it was time for the first Gathering of 2017, and I was forced to continue to bide my time, eeking out an element or a piece of word art in between, as I needed them while I was creating pages to help us make the shift from strictly digi-scrap to an artist journaling focus. Finally, here we are in February–almost four months later–and I can finally show Samsara to the world.
But this set is about far more than digital do-lollies that will make your pages look pretty; ultimately, this set is about breaking the wheel. Now, more than ever, the oath I took in March of 2016 as Rigfenneidh of this Grove are important, and I find they suddenly aren’t just important to me, as one individual: they are important to all, that everyone might learn to live that way, and perhaps fix this world in the process, and get it offthe wheel, for once and for all. It’s so easy for me to sit here and type that, but how does one live that way, when they aren’t Rigfenneidh of some teeny, tiny Grove who considers themselves responsible for the welfare of other people?
Newsflash: we are all responsible for the welfare of other people!
And we’re all living in a time when everybody is itching for a fight, but few are willing to fight the right way, or for the right things, or sometimes neither know nor care what that means. That old adage of “the best defense is a good offense” is leaving the whole world blind, and scratching and gnawing at each other in its blindness. The best defense is love and kindness. Admittedly, that sounds very tra-la-la. But let’s face it: if love were easy, we’d all be in it; we’d all have it; it would be everywhere, and it’s not. Likewise, if kindness were easy, we’d all be doing it. The modern ideals of love and kindness are sanitized concepts that have more to do with rainbows and unicorn farts than with the actual concepts of what love and kindness really are! Love is not chocolates and flowers and romantic sweet-nothings whispered in some lovely’s ear, and kindness is not smiling blankly and saying “have a nice day”. No, love–real love–is a willingness to put yourself between something dear to you and danger, no matter what that might ultimately mean for your welfare. Love says because, not despite, even when all of the becauses suck out loud. And kindness–real kindness–is an inner will to do what is best for others especially when the other person doesn’t deserve it. It’s a form of practiced grace, for all of you out there with Christian backgrounds who actually understand the New Testament implications of that word. Neither love nor kindness has a single thing to do with being nice. Nice is just a very benevolent way of saying “clueless”. Both real love and real kindness can call us to fight with righteous fury, but the keyword in this sentence is righteous, not fight….
Peace is another one of those words that we have over-sanitized; we can mostly thank the Flower Children of the 1960s for that. In our society, we tend to have this vision of what that word means that includes some idyllic setting, with everyone “making love not war”, amidst enormous clouds of vaporous smoke (possibly of an intoxicating variety). But that is no more real peace than our over-sanitized view of love and kindness are real love or real kindness. Real peace is Truth. Not my truth, not your truth; The Truth. Real peace is freedom from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, and obsession. How do we break free of all that? By learning The Truth: that all things (including people, even the unpleasant ones) are connected, and deserve to be treated with compassion. There’s another word we’ve over-sanitized: compassion. We tend to view it in modern society as a sort of “pet-pet-pet” mentality, when in reality, it is something far deeper (and somewhat darker) than that. Compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering”. That’s right, folks: compassion demands more of us than band-aids and kissed boo-boos; it requires us to actually feel something, and then, beyond that, to actually do something about our feelings! While that may not sound terribly peaceful by our modern standards of that word, it’s the only way to bring peace. If we could ever stop to realize that everyone is going through the same thing–the same suffering–just on different levels and in different ways, through different things, we would be much less apt to get annoyed by others. We wouldn’t be as easily distracted from The Truth by all the shiny bells and whistles that society tries to throw at us in an effort to get us not to feel such things. Our anxiety levels would diminish (because there really is something to that old Southern saying that “misery loves company”), and we would become far less obsessed with chasing after the things we think are going to make us happy, and instead focus on what actually will: doing the right thing by other people and ourselves.
Which brings us to the doing of all of this: teaching those who need teaching and helping those who need help.
In our society, we’ve so often cast the teacher as the “know-it-all” with the loud mouth and the striking ruler who bases everything on logic and reason and their overabundance of mental capacity that the very words teach and teacher have become near-synonymous with forcing knowledge down someone’s throat or into someone’s brain. But in the earliest societies–some of which I draw from in my Druidic Heathen practice–one could not teach unless one was also a poet, an artist, or a storyteller. In those societies, it was understood that it was the heart, not the head, which needed to learn lessons. Former priest and spiritual author Matthew Fox made a beautiful statement about this:
“The Celtic peoples, for example, insisted that only poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous; it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners. What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow?”
“Knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous.” That aforementioned view of the teacher as a pompous force-feeder of knowledge (whether we like it or want it or not!) is born largely out of our tendency to teach from the head, not from the heart. When we stay caught up in our own brains, we gravitate towards a facts-and-figures way of living that leaves little room for the compassion that is required, if we want to have peace, love, and kindness. In other words, it leaves little room for The Truth. There is also absolutely nothing whatsoever compassionate about force-feeding anyone anything, knowledge or otherwise. Force-feeding is, in fact, in and of itself, a form of power trip, and such power trips can be soul-crushing. It’s important that we move from such force-feeding toward teaching those who actively need teaching, rather than teaching the ones we think need to learn a lesson. There’s a very big difference between those two things! People who actively need teaching are those who have already shown, through their actions, words, and deeds, that their heart is “operating on the same wavelength” as your heart, whereas those we think need teaching tend to be the exact opposite: they’re the ones we have unceasing wars-of-words with, who never seem to come out on the other side of those conversations one bit wiser than when they first strolled in. But why teach those who actively need teaching, if they’re already “on the right track”, so to speak? For that matter, what does one teach such people, if they already know the basics enough to be on the same wavelength in the first place? Shouldn’t we instead be exerting all of our energies on the people who clearly don’t have a clue, even if we have to hold them down if necessary? No! At its best, true teaching is an exchange of ideas–a process of questions and answers which goes all the way back to Ancient Greece, and the Socratic Method. It requires a dialogue. Those who are unwilling to engage in true dialogue cannot learn a blessed thing! For those people, we have a different teaching method: teaching through example. And that doesn’t just mean setting a good example in the way that you behave and speak, that also means employing the simplest form of education known to humanity: teaching through symbology. Why do you think pre-school children respond best when taught through play, or through picture books? Because those methods of teaching use symbology to get the point across when language fails us. Symbols communicate to the heart in a way that sometimes words cannot. This requires a return to the artist, the poet, and the storyteller–lofty goals by modern standards for many of us. But there is a poet within all of us; an artist; a storyteller. Every human being is a collection of stories; every doodle or artist journal page or bit of digi-scrap is the work of the artist within. We are all forced to become poets when something is so wondrous it defies normal words, whether at the birth of a child, or at first falling in love, or when the sky turns to porcelain after a February snow.
Everyone needs help. Those who trouble us most need it most of all. That person who makes you so angry that your blood boils just thinking about them: that is a desperate cry for help. Again, this teeters woefully on the edge of tra-la-la. When we say “help others” in our modern society, we get caught up in images of “hands across America” (or wherever else); “hands touching hands”…it very quickly becomes a Neil Diamond song, and we’re all swaying with our own hands in the air at a Red Sox game in Fenway Park. Yet again, that is not the true meaning of the words to help:
help: to save, rescue, or give succor; to make something less difficult or easier; to contribute to; to facilitate; to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need; contribute strength or means; render assistance to; aid; cooperate effectively with; assist; to be useful or profitable to; to refrain from; to avoid (usually preceded by cannot); to relieve or break the uniformity of; to correct or remedy.
Yes, that “hands touching hands” sense of the word is in there, but what most find surprising are the last bits of the true definition: to refrain from; to avoid; to relieve or break the uniformity of; to correct or remedy. Sometimes the best help for someone is not a loving pat on the back, but instead a swift kick in the rear! Continual allowance of letting a person make you so angry that just thinking about them makes your blood boil isn’t helping you, or them. Chances are, it’s not hurting them, either, though it is hurting you. When I say that their continued behavior is a desperate cry for help, I don’t mean help of the “pat on the back” variety; I mean that second kind. Perhaps if someone refrained from being in their presence, or avoided their attitude, or maybe even went out on a limb and relieved or broke the uniformity of their behavior, by calling them on it–by correcting them–it would remedy the situation, and help them become a better human! Certainly, such forms of help need to be undertaken from the viewpoint of the heart, not the head, so that they do not become dangerous power trips of their own, but correction is a form of help. Just sitting around “bitching about it” isn’t helping anyone, however: it’s not helping you, it’s not helping the person who listens consolingly as you complain, and it’s definitely not helping the person or situation causing you to feel this way in the first place! One can only accomplish this “second sort of help” if one is also actively living a lifestyle that promotes that more “traditional sort of help”, however: you need to correct yourself, by living a compassionate life, before you go off correcting others.
This is the only way we can break the wheel:
Understand The Truth: we are all connected, and everyone and everything deserves to be treated with compassion.
Defend The Truth through love and kindness, with vehemence when necessary.
Understand that Peace is Truth. Spread it accordingly.
Teach those who need teaching through dialogue; teach everyone else via life-example and symbology.
Help everyone, including your Self.
I invite all of you to grab some digital assets (that freebie we released yesterday comes with a 30% off coupon for your next total purchase!), and create an artist journal page (or even a Facebook Meme–Canva can help you out with that!), and come on over and post it to our Facebook Page (or even to your own profile with the hashtag #Iaconagraphy). Spread The Truth; break the wheel!
I’m writing this on a Wednesday, and as my keyword for the year is Mindful, I’m quite mindful of the fact that Wednesday is Odin’s Day, from the Old English Wodnesdaeg, meaning “Woden’s Day”. Since one of his kennings is “Galdr Father”–“father of incantation”–I thought it would be very fitting today to talk about turning balderdash into galdr-dash. In other words, I want to talk about the words we use, how often we talk, and our tendency as a race of beings to speak just to be heard, or in order to have something to say.
Face it, we’re living in a world right now where everybody has an opinion on something, and most people unabashedly do not keep those opinions to themselves. Once opinions have been voiced, other people then feel the urgent need to vehemently express their own opposing opinions, and what started out as a snowball rolling down the proverbial hill quickly turns into an avalanche!
While I try very hard to keep (political) opinion out of my social media marketing, and even my conversations, I do find myself having a tendency toward a constant need to say something (say anything, even, sometimes), just to keep the proverbial ball rolling, at all. It’s the nature of the beast: if you don’t keep your Page updated, keep newsletters flowing, etc., not only your marketing but indeed your financial stream (such as it is or might be or become) comes grinding to a halt. But ultimately, isn’t relationship-building far more important than any post reach, number of subscriptions, or even sales figure glaring back at us from our computer screens?
When we feel the need to talk just to be heard, or because we like the sound of our own voice, or even because we really like it when that post reach exceeds 1,000, the words we are speaking and the posts we are making are merely balderdash:
balderdash: senseless talk or writing; nonsense; foolish words or ideas.
Wouldn’t we build more relationships and accomplish more good in this world if they were galdr-dash instead?
galdr-dash: words of power, and with real meaning, intended as incantatory, while they may or may not maintain such a tone.
I don’t care what your faith-base is, words have power. This is even acknowledged in the Christian Bible:
A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of the mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything–or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: you can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue. –James 3:3-7, The Message
The things you say–even when they’re typed–can change a person’s whole world in an instant, for good or for ill. So what if we were all a little more mindful of how we use our words? And what might it actually mean to intend them as incantatory?
incantatory: a written or recited formula of words designed to produce a particular effect.
To intend your words as incantatory means looking at their intended purpose–what they might bring into being in this world–rather than simply “spouting” them. It breeds mindfulness. For example, when I say “I love you” to my beloved, I’m not just saying three tiny words, off the cuff, the way most people say those words a thousand times a day to a spouse or lover: I’m saying them with the purpose of reaching her heart, and kindling something inside it, which then wells up into the outward sign of a smile on her face. When I say “have a nice day”, it’s not just some off-handed nicety, but instead intended as a blessing which I hope will have the end effect of, in fact, causing the Powers-That-Be to bestow on the person that I am greeting a pleasant day.
Because I’m actively trying to put this into practice in my life (and urging you to do likewise!), I find myself quiet often, especially at social events. If I don’t have something worthwhile to say that might actually bring some good into the worlds of the people with whom I’m communicating, I tend to keep my mouth shut. This may make me come across as shy, or perhaps even sometimes a bit stand-offish, but I promise you: I mean well. And I am trying my best to bring this into practice in my social media interactions and marketing as well. If something isn’t worthwhile, I simply don’t post it, numbers or no numbers. So far, it seems to be working well. This is also another reason for the newsletter becoming a monthly rather than a weekly offering: if I don’t have truly worthwhile things to put into your inboxes, which are going to effectively make your worlds a better place, I have no right to be in your inboxes in the first place!
So, I urge you to give this a try in your own lives: before you speak, consider the purpose of your words. Will they heal the person to whom you’re speaking? Will they bring more light into this world, or more darkness? Might they lead to a firestorm of opposing opinions? I’m not saying “don’t cause fights” or even “don’t fight”, because sometimes fighting is actually necessary to promote Light and Right in this world of ours, that’s a simple fact of life. I’m not even saying “always be kind”, because too often kindness can be seen as weakness, and taken advantage of. What I am saying is to make sure your words count: that they be empowered, and intended to actually bring something Rightinto being. If they can’t, won’t, or don’t do that, practice silence. You never know what wisdom you might find there in that quiet space….