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Rock Aching Against Water

Original art and blessing by Connla Freyjason; Thrud from a previous render by Daniel P. for Iaconagraphy (Thrud image only available at Red Bubble by clicking this image; opens in new tab)

I have spent most of my life attempting to emulate the famous Bruce Lee quote “Be water, my friend”, but for the past two weeks, I’ve felt more like the rock than the water: rock aching against water.  Most of you already know that we’re in the midst of selling our home and attempting to find and buy a new one, and I’ve said before: moving is hard.  As we go deeper and deeper down this tangled path, however, I’m discovering more and more every day that those three words are really too mild of a statement for precisely how difficult this entire scenario actually is.  “Be water, my friend” went flying out the window, leaving nary a feather behind, somewhere around June 11th, and it’s been all uphill from there!

For a moment, let’s talk about what that quote means, before we talk about its opposite.  In full, Bruce Lee said:

“Don’t get set into one form; adapt it, and build your own, and let it grow, be like water.  Empty your mind; be formless; shapeless–like water.  Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup.  You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.  You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.  Now, water can flow, or it can crash.  Be water, my friend.”

Basically, what this means it that you shouldn’t get locked into patterns; that you should basically learn to “roll with the punches”, and somehow keep landing on your feet.  It requires being mindful of your environment and surrounding situations to the point that you can easily “change your shape” to fit that environment and those situations–the way water becomes a cup, or a bottle, or a teapot.  It implies that you are adaptable; that you can take virtually any situation and “make it your own”; take command of it; know when to flow, and when to crash. Ultimately, “being like water” means being completely open to the fact that there are infinite possibilities open to us; it means being hard and soft at the same time; it means accepting the possibilities of success and failure equally. It is to believe that anything can happen, and that it actually might.  From a Heathen perspective, it means being comfortable with the ebb and flow of Wyrd, rather than afraid of that ebb and flow.  When we close ourselves off to all of that, we remove any chance for a sense of accomplishment, relegating ourselves to a constant state of feeling stymied, trapped, out of control, and basically doomed.  

And that is where being the rock, instead of the water, comes into this discussion.  Rocks don’t typically move.  They are static entities; their shape is their shape, and they aren’t exactly legendary for adapting.  Instead of adapting, they break and erode.  Generally, with a rock, “what you see is what you get”, which is why we have phrases like “written in stone” and “set in stone” to denote things that are unchangeable or immutable.  Rather than changing its environment, a rock is changed by its environment: moss grows, or the rock is broken apart by rushing water, or eroded into sand.  “Rock people” (as opposed to “water people”) see Wyrd as something which is likewise set in stone, and they live in an environment of fearing that Wyrd.  It is a life of feeling as though something unknown is constantly impending, and almost every creature alive fears the unknown.

Up until June 11th, I was doing a fairly decent job of “being water”, instead of “being rock”, with this whole home-selling-home-buying scenario.  I had dutifully packed up most of my office without batting an eye, looking upon the whole affair as the first key to a new future in our lives together. I was, in fact, actually excited about the whole thing.  I had begun shopping around online for potential new home prospects, and we had already toured a few open houses. I began embracing the whole concept of “mobile home living” and the “mobile home lifestyle”, which honestly tugged at my California-born heartstrings in ways that I couldn’t even begin to readily describe to my partner or anyone else.  I began feverishly creating home-plans (complete with decor motifs and furniture placement) at Roomstyler, and researching everything I could find on home makeovers (including fantastic accent wall treatments).  I resolved that I was going to become the “ultimate house husband” upon moving to our new locale, complete with all that such entails, right down to making sure dinner was on the table promptly at 5:30 every day when my Beloved gets home.  And I was super excited about all of that.  Wyrd would take us where we needed to be, and I had ultimate faith in the Gods in bringing us there.  So what changed?  How did I suddenly go from “water” to “rock”?

Prepping for our first open house, on the heels of our favorite future home prospect being pulled from the market, while suffering from the worst outbreak of pustular psoriasis we have ever endured started my downhill slide.  Still, I tried to remain hopeful, as we went that Wednesday to tour two other home prospects, the first of which we were both absolutely in love with.  Cat-in-tow, we went to tour two properties, both of which had promise, and I immediately came home and sat down the very next day and started plugging in our furniture and coming up with decorating motifs via Roomstyler.  Yes, I was terrified about where my health was taking me, but I kept reminding myself that soon our lifestyle would be way more laid back, and that somewhat helped me through. I continued to pray nightly (as I always do), even as I put my job on hold because I couldn’t write or even make art through the fever and the itching and the fear.  I tried to keep my chin up, and wade through the itching, the pain, and the knowledge that this could be the outbreak that ended both me and Michelle, and remain hopeful. I tried to stay water, my friends.

On the 22nd, that prospect we were in love with sold to another buyer.  I tried not to let that get me down, as my health was improving (however slightly), and instead focus on the other prospect we had toured.  The more of our furniture I crammed into the houseplan of it on Roomstyler, the more cramped it became, but I found “work arounds”, and kept plugging away.  “It’ll just be cozy”, I reminded myself and my partner; “and we love cozy, right?”  Meanwhile, we scheduled two more open houses, and I watched my Beloved work her tail off while I had to sit humbly by and try to “pray away the pain”.  I began to feel guilty that I couldn’t do as much as I had done around the house previously and internally beat myself up about that fact.  I began to pine for another property we had found that is totally our dreamhouse, but also totally un-financeable.  I began to hear the Princess Leia quote from Star Wars: A New Hope replayed over and over again inside my head, only with a real estate theme: “The more you tighten your grip, the more mobile homes will slip through your fingers”.  Except our “grip” didn’t feel tight at all; instead, it felt more and more like “one hand clapping”: an appendage constantly reaching out for what it wants, yet only grasping air. My downward spiral from “water” into “rock” had officially begun.

I am officially breakingeroding, and turning into sand.  Where once I sat out in the swing to watch the bunnies and the birds, and it would bring me peace, now I sit out in the swing and watch the bunnies and the birds to hide my tears.  What will life be like in a place where I can no longer hear the coyotes sing?  All I want to be able to do is look out my window and see a tree, and it doesn’t even have be my tree; it just needs to be a tree!  All the while I am constantly reminded that I am a financial disaster, living on the good graces of the people who love me, and cannot help with anything whatsoever except maybe a little housework here and there, and right now, I’m not even fully able to do that.  I feel like a piece of dandelion fluff blown on the wind; some magical thing, perhaps, to the eye of a child, but when it’s all said and done, wherever I come to land I will grow into a weed.  And weeds are a nuisance; they leech all of the good away.  My nightly prayers have begun to feel like something I say by rote.  Where once there was faith behind those words, now that faith has been replaced with a very definite desperation.  I still sing galdr, yet each time I do so, I am reminded of the two homes previously that I have tried to “galdr into existence” for us that have gone to other buyers, even as our own prospects grow ever more slim. I am spiraling ever deeper into a pit of despair, and I’m having a very hard time finding a way to climb back out of it. No longer caught up in the ebb and flow of Wyrd, it has instead become a wave which I fear will drown us all.  

This morning, I pulled Uruz for my daily rune-draw.  I do this every morning, asking the Gods to tell me Their intentions for me this day: how should I live; what should I do; to what should I put my energy?  Immediately, the blessing for Thrud which I had been led to create weeks ago popped into my mind, and most especially the line: As rock as it aches against water.  We don’t tend to think of the pain the rock endures, as it is broken apart by rushing water, until that moment when we have become that stone.  As Heathens, the words “the strength of mountains” sound like a fantastic thing to have; like something for which to actively strive.  That’s all well and good until one is actually asked to endure; then and only then does one realize just how tough it must be to be a mountain!  

So how does one go from being “rock” back to being “water”?  

Flip that switch in four steps:

  • Restore hope via gratitude.
  • Give yourself permission to believe in miracles; in infinite possibilities.
  • Define your ultimate possibility.
  • Ultimately believe in your ultimate possibility.

The first step is the restoration of hope.  That’s the “thing” I lost a good grasp on, starting around June 11th, and then pretty much totally on the 22nd.  As this proverbial stone has continued rolling downhill like an avalanche, things have come to feel more and more hopeless. And, as in that famous quote from the TV series Lost, “hope is a dangerous thing to lose“.  Perhaps the easiest way to flip our brains from a “doom cycle” back to a “hope cycle” is via gratitude.  Being grateful for the things around us provides the rational mind–that part of the brain that tends to be the “doomsayer” in the first place–with evidence that good things can and do, in fact, happen after all.  I end every day, no matter how shitty, with a litany of gratitude to the Gods for every single good thing that happened throughout that day, no matter how small: everything from “thank you for that heron that flew by my window this afternoon at two o’clock” to “thank you for time with my Beloved and Kili”.  So, clearly, I have a relatively decent “gratitude system” already in place, yet here I am still: a rock, instead of water.

Restoring hope should begin to pave the way for a restoration of the belief in infinite possibilities.  In other words, giving oneself permission to honestly believe in miracles.  Two weeks ago, I wholeheartedly did; now, notsomuch.  I believe that was the true turning point for me, with going from water to rock.  One can only be told so many times that something is impossible before one actually gets with the program and realizes that something is, in fact, impossible. And once we reach that point, miracles cease being a possibility.  The permission to believe in them is officially revoked.  Author Marianne Williamson, famous for her books on alternative spirituality, including A Course In Miracles, has this to say about giving oneself permission to believe in miracles:

“A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love–from a belief in what is not real, to faith in that which is.  That shift in perception changes everything.”

Breaking that down from a strictly Heathen perspective, believing in miracles means understanding, accepting, and (most importantly) allowing the concept that all of those infinite possibilities–all of those miracles–are not utangard, but instead, innangard.  In other words, miracles aren’t something that happen to someone else out there in the big somewhere elsebut are instead right there, waiting for us, within our own circle of influence.  We fear what is outside our circle of influence, while we love what is inside our circle of influence.  When all of those infinite possibilities becomes things which are outside of that circle of influence–when we have that “one hand clapping” feeling that I described earlier, which makes us feel very out of control–we come to fear those possibilities, rather than love them.  The further we push possibility away from us, the more we come to fear it, and the more out of control we subsequently feel.  

So the third step is to define your ultimate possibility.  Your ultimate possibility should be the best possible outcome, based on the good things already being detailed by your personal “gratitude system“.  By basing the ultimate possibility on things which are already happening within our present circle of influence, all of those infinite possibilities become innangard, rather than utangard. My ultimate possibility, therefore, would be an attainable home that is sustainable by me, even given all of our health issues, which will require me to show off my interior design skills in effectively homemaking, because that is the “part of this bargain” which is actually within my circle of influence.  I cannot buy us a house; I can’t make that happen.  But I can make it a home. I cannot control whether or not there are trees in our yard-to-come, but I can learn to garden and grow things inside as well as outside. Home-buying is outside my circle of influence; it is utangardHomemaking, however, is something at which I excel–something I have always longed for the opportunity to actually do–and is therefore inside; it is innangard.

The final step, then, is to believe ultimately in that ultimate possibility.  Believing ultimately means that you put your heart and soul (all four parts of it!) into making that ultimate possibility an ultimate reality.  In my case, that means that rather than pinning all my hopes and dreams on this specific property, or that one, I instead put all of that energy into learning and preparing to do all of the things that are congruent with my ultimate possibility.  For example, if I want to be able to look out my window and see a tree, I need to start learning how to either plant one, paint one, or otherwise create one, rather than sitting around crying and moaning about “please, Gods, give me a tree!”  If I’m so obsessed with having “a room with a view”, instead of pinning everything on a specific property that has that view (which could just as easily slip away as not), I need to be developing creative ways to make a room have a view.

Ultimately, Wyrd is neither shaped for us nor set in stone: it ebbs and flows and changes with our every breath and our ever-changing attitudes.  When we trap ourselves in a cycle of hopelessness, then that becomes our Wyrd.  Instead of running like rabbits from shadows in the dark–from those things which are outside our circle of influence–we must come to realize that such behavior simply calls our worst fears to us.  By living our lives that way, we are literally bringing the worst possible Wyrd into existence.  Instead, we must focus on those things which we can control–those things which are inside our circle of influence–and take charge of those things.  Be grateful for them, and then do something with them and about them.  Even if it requires the strength of mountains; even if it hurts, like rock aching against water. 

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Remember How To Play!

In a recent post, I talked about play as one of the “ingredients” of authentic you.  Today, I’d like to elaborate on that a bit further.  Given the current political climate, playing might be the last thing on your list of things to do.  Most of us are too busy worrying or arguing in favor of our personal political opinions to devote time to such a silly thing as play, right?  But the truth of the matter is, playing isn’t a silly thing at all. In fact, it’s precisely what we need more of in our lives right now.

Playing is something that many adults insist they have outgrown, and that most teenagers will tell you is stupid, and yet those same adults and teenagers will, if given the chance, go to a baseball, basketball, or football game in order to watch other people get paid to play, or will sit in front of a video game for hours, or will engage in horseplay with their friends at a pool party or gathering. You are never too old to play! The way we play just changes with age. There’s a song in the Disney version of Mary Poppins called A Spoonful of Sugar. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve probably heard the song. It says:

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun;

You find the fun, and snap! The job’s a game!

And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake;

A lark; a spree; it’s very clear to see!”

If you think this is a bunch of sweet, sentimental drivel (because the writer of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, certainly did!), let me provide you some proof from real life that it can actually be true. Someone I love very much works two jobs. Her day job is an office job handling very important issues for the company; her second job is at a local fast food restaurant. Her days are exhausting and long. Yet, within both of those jobs—and especially the second—there are moments where something happens, and she finds the fun, and snap! The job’s a game! What if we could make that snap happen? Guess what? We can!

When you are faced with something stressful—any job or activity—you can always turn it into a game, simply by turning it into a personal challenge that you need to win. Now, some would argue that that is setting oneself up for failure, because what if you don’t meet that challenge, and, therefore, lose? That sort of thinking is why we now have Little League Baseball teams where there is no score, and everybody gets a “turn”. There’s a great film with Billy Crystal and Bette Middler called Parental Guidance that demonstrates what I’m talking about. In the film, they play old-school grandparents who are put in charge of their daughter’s three kids for an extended period of time. Billy Crystal’s character is a former sports announcer who really wants to get “back in the saddle”, and he absolutely loves baseball. Imagine his surprise when he attends his youngest grandson’s baseball game and discovers there is no spirit of accomplishment available to these kids, because since the possibility of failure has been eliminated, so has the possibility of success!

You must allow yourself time to play—whether that means turning your present job into a game, or actually taking the time to play in whatever way fills you with joy. Playing for you might mean dragging a toy across the floor for your cat, or it might mean painting your nails, or it might mean cooking a good meal. Whatever takes you to that place where you start to treasure time instead of feeling pressured by it, you need to start doing it now, because when we begin to play, as with the aforementioned Little Leaguers—that’s when we start to open ourselves up to infinite possibilities.

The brilliant martial artist, film star, and philosopher, Bruce Lee understood what I’m talking about. He said:

Water is the softest substance in the world, and yet it can penetrate the hardest rock, or anything—granite, you name it. Water also is insubstantial; by that I mean you cannot grasp hold of it; you cannot punch it and hurt it.”

We should all seek to have the nature of water, for to be like that–to be formless, shapeless, like water–is to fully embrace the infinite possibilities that I’m talking about opening ourselves up to through play.  To be like water means to be both hard and soft at the same time; to accept the possibility of failure at the same time as accepting the possibility of success. It is to believe that anything can happen—and it actually might! When we close ourselves off to either extreme—success or failure—we remove for ourselves any hope of a spirit of accomplishment, just like those aforementioned Little Leaguers. To go through life without the possibility of that—no wonder you might be at breaking point! A three-year-old doesn’t generally go into a game of let’s-pretend considering the outcome—there is no win or lose; it just is what it is. They therefore go through the course of play and come out on the other end with a spirit of accomplishment. They’re fearless. They don’t sit around and dread playing house or fireman or whatever, because they don’t worry about what others are going to think about their performance as they play, and they don’t concern themselves with whether or not they’re going to win or lose. Even if their imaginary fireman falls off the roof in a blaze of glory, or their imaginary cake “falls” because they were jumping up and down in their play kitchen, they’re happy with that outcome because it is how they imagined it; they realize they are the one in control. And they can claim that control precisely because they understand that there are infinite possibilities.

The biggest difference between you and that three-year-old is that the three-year-old doesn’t realize they are opening themselves up to the infinite possibilities; they just do it, whereas you’re obviously going to have to work on it. And that work isn’t going to be easy, more than likely, especially since you might already be at breaking point. Hopefully, if you’ve already started the process by cultivating gratitude and the other “ingredients”, this will be slightly easier than it might have been otherwise.

So how the heck do you do that? How do you go back to being as fearless and worry-free as a three-year-old?  Whatever is breaking you down to the lowest common denominator right now, how would you have looked at that same thing when you were three?  Let’s use the present political climate as our example, since that seems to be on so many people’s minds right now.  People have died and are dying (with possibly a great many more deaths in the future) thanks to the actions of a few people bent on extremist religious views and a subsequent act of terrorism. Now thousands more people are homeless and seeking shelter wherever they can, away from the horrible treatment of their tormentors.  Those people are being treated as if they are the same as those who are making them flee their home country in the first place, and arguments are breaking out everywhere between strangers, friends, and loved ones, most of whom have absolutely zero control over this situation at all.  How would three-year-old you deal with that?

Three-year-old you might be just as frightened–if not even moreso–than grown-up you.  Three-year-old you might run to your parents and ask if the bad people are going to come here and bomb something next.  Three-year-old you might need to sleep with the lights on, and hug their blankie extra close at night.  Three-year-old you might be scared to even go to the grocery store, much less places where large groups of people gather, like subway stations, or airports, or shopping malls. And when the grown-ups try to make three-year-old you go to places like that, three-year-old you might pitch a temper tantrum, the exact same way that adults are pitching temper tantrums all across social media right now!

Another scenario might involve three-year-old you deciding this is a great opportunity for a game of let’s pretend, wherein three-year-old you pretends to be a soldier defending their homeland from the evil terrorists, or a doctor helping the sick and the injured, or a refugee trying desperately to escape by playing hide and seek with their pursuers.  This three-year-old version of you understands that fear and worry are best dispelled through play, because play opens us up to infinite possibilities, instead of leaving us at breaking point.

The three-year-old soldier sees the world in black and white; good guys versus bad guys.  They take a look at who did the bad thing, and those people are the bad guys, and then they take a look at who got hurt by the bad thing, and those are the good guys.  That may seem like an overly-simplistic way of looking at the world to adult eyes, but there is actually a tremendous amount of Truth in that perspective because often children understand what we cannot: when bad things happen to people, those people are victims, and the victim is always the good guy.  This simplistic worldview breeds active compassion: compassion that doesn’t just sit there, but aches to do something about all the horrible things it sees happening in the world.

The three-year-old doctor cannot play without someone to treat; without boo-boos to fix.  Teddy bears become bombing victims, and baby dolls become refugees.  The more victims are sought out and found in the toy box, the longer the child can play.  Once again, three-year-old you arrives at the understanding that victims are the good guys, and the entire foundation of playtime becomes active compassion: compassion that doesn’t just sit there, but aches to do something about the bad things in the world.

The three-year-old refugee casts themself as the good guy, while the people seeking to keep them out of other countries, or driving them away from home are automatically understood as the bad guys.  They understand that they’re the victim in this scenario–they’re the hunted; they’re the prey. I mean, face it: that’s how hide and seek ultimately works, right?  If you’re the one hiding, then your opponent is seeking; they are hunting you.  This, too, breeds a level of active compassion which most adults seem incapable of right now, because it causes us to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  We are more likely to practice active compassion if we fully understand what the victims are going through; what they’re enduring.

In the end, all three of these three-year-old versions of you are the ones in control: their situation pans out precisely as they imagined it, so they always win, and there is no possibility of loss or defeat. Why? Because let’s pretend doesn’t work without its inherent infinite possibilities.  But what do these three scenarios teach us to do about the present political climate? How can we, as adults, play our way through that and come out on the other side still feeling like responsible, intelligent adults who didn’t just sit on our hineys, but actually did something?

As adults, we can play through this situation the same way as the aforementioned three-year-olds: in your mind, play out those three scenarios, and see if you arrive at a different place–mentally, emotionally, and spiritually–than where you were before.  When we allow ourselves mental playtime like this, we should find ourselves back in a place of control, where fear and worry no longer hold sway.  Once we find ourselves freed from worry and fear, we no longer need to fight each other, and can instead fight for the good guys, or against the bad guys.

Whatever you are presently facing in your life, apply “three-year-old you” to it, play through it, and see what sorts of possibilities suddenly pop up!

**Portions of this blog post appear in my upcoming book, Start At Zero, which will hopefully be available sometime during the holiday season!