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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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Advent Event: First Day of Advent: Vigilance Renews Hope

We ask you–urge is more like it–that you keep on [bringing light to the world], not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance.

–1 Thessalonians 4:1, The Message

(Paraphrase of [bringing light to the world] added by me.)

You don’t have to be Catholic, or even a Christian, to celebrate Advent, but isn’t it interesting to see that these words are in one of the traditional Bible verses used in Churches on the First Sunday of Advent? How many Christians do you know who actually do that–who go through the world bringing light, living their whole lives as a spirited dance, instead of getting bogged down in a religious plod?  You might find it even more interesting to know that the Gospel traditionally read on this day says this:

But be on your guard.  Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.  Otherwise, that Day [when goodness finally comes to overshadow negativity throughout the entire world] is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once.  So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch.  Pray constantly that you will have the strength and the wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet [when that Day comes].

–Luke 21:34-36, The Message

(Paraphrases within [] added by me.)

Isn’t it just too easy to get caught up in all of that, at this time of year–the drinking, the parties, the shopping–and lose sight of who we really are and who we are truly meant to be?  We get so obsessed with finding the perfect material gift for that special someone, that it’s all too easy to lose sight of the very real non-material gifts we’re giving them on a regular basis, and that they are also giving to us.  What’s more important? Buying that person the super-rare comic book that costs a gazillion dollars, that they’ve been wanting to get for months, or thanking them for being such a light in your life that you’d be willing to pay that crazy amount of money to buy them something in the first place?

We live in the mundane world, so we have a pretty nasty tendency to become of it. That’s not some pseudo-Christian psychobabble; that’s the damn truth!  It is a simple fact of our human existence that we tend to get so caught up in the material–because, let’s face it, sometimes the material is a matter of survival–that we often completely ignore the spiritual.  What is the spiritual, in the first place? In my new e-book, Dragonfly Theology, I define the spiritual as that force within each person that gives them life, energy, and power; it appeals to their true nature, who they really are.  Therefore, to be truly spiritual may be accurately defined as “the quality or state of being in touch with one’s true nature; with who you really are; an ability to recognize what actually gives you life, energy, and power.” Becoming of the material, mundane world, instead of just living in it, can make you lose sight of who you really are, and if you lose sight of that, you’re lost; you’re doomed to a hopeless life full of constant sadness and disappointment.  If you don’t know who you really are, nobody else is going to know it for you, and ultimately that is going to lead to a lot of people making assumptions about you that lead to constant disagreements, arguments, and backbiting. That’s a pretty miserable existence.

So, then, what exactly is hope, and what can it do for us?  Essentially, hope is to want something to happen or be true.  We hope our lives don’t turn out to be miserable messes; we hope that we can leave a positive impact on the world around us and on the people we love.  It’s a very small word for a really huge concept.  It can also seem like a namby-pamby granola pipedream, if we aren’t careful about how we treat it.  In today’s world, we tend to define hope as what we’d like to see happen or be true, but that usually doesn’t pan out. We have no belief in the things we hope for; they’re just fairytales we weave to keep ourselves marginally happy.  But that isn’t what hope really is or really means, at all.

We’ve got to “check ourselves before we wreck ourselves”, and that’s where the theme of vigilance comes in.  To be vigilant is to “carefully notice problems or signs of danger”.  In order to look for those problems and signs that might let us know danger is coming, we’ve got to know what the dangerous thing is, in the first place.  So, what’s the danger here?  What’s looming out there, just on the horizon, poised to pounce and totally screw up our lives?  The negativity of the mundane, and all the crap that comes along with it! I’m talking about things like an inability to form loyal and true commitments (which is totally gonna screw your relationship prospects!); things like constantly living in fear of judgment, all the while judging everybody else (which is also gonna really screw up how you interact with other human beings); things like addiction and greed; things like negative entities that come creeping into your home to make things go bump in the night and scare the bejeesus out of you (because yes, those things are real; you don’t have to believe in them, but they sure as hell believe in you!).

In order to avoid the negativity of the mundane and all the crap that comes along with it, you’ve got to come to understand yourself as a spiritual being that dwells in the mundane, but is not of it. In the words of Jedi Master Yoda:

Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter.

You are not the body you’re up walking around in (that shell that the world sees; “this crude matter”), nor are you the world that it’s walking around in. You are the individual that is walking around in that shell; something bigger, greater, and deeper than most people could ever perceive on the surface.  That’s the real you, and that true you is a being composed of energy, that cannot be destroyed, only transformed.  Because we are beings of energy, we are also connected to all the other energy that’s out there–good and bad, but hopefully, mostly good–in the trees, the sky, the rocks, the rivers, and, most importantly, in other people.  And it’s your job, because you are a luminous being, to shine, because that’s what luminous things do:  they spread light.  Got that? That’s who you really are, and that’s who I really am, and that’s also who that person who just cut you off in the check-out line while Christmas shopping is meant to be, they just haven’t figured it out yet.  Until you realize this, and own it, you’re “asleep at the switch”, the way we’re cautioned not to be, back in that passage from the Gospel of Luke.  Just because that Gospel is from the Christian Bible doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to it if we don’t identify ourselves as Christians: often when words have been considered wise for thousands of years, they gained that reputation for a reason!

Now we know who we really are, and we know what the danger really is; it’s time to get vigilant.  Look at your life.  What are the problem areas that might lead you down the path to the danger we have defined, or that might lead that danger to your doorstep?  How often do you focus on the worst aspects of a situation or a person, instead of the best ones?  How often do you do as we say in the South and “act ugly”–being mean, vengeful, or vile-tempered towards other people–instead of trying to beautify a situation by making it nice and pleasant?  How often do you curse things and people–saying bad or negative things, whether it’s about the state of the weather or about someone’s chosen lifestyle–instead of praising those same things and people–spreading compliments and gratitude?  How often do you just chalk your hopes and dreams up to pleasant fairytales you’re weaving to keep some modicum of happiness in your life, instead of actually believing and achieving?  If you’re doing more of the former than the latter with any of those things, then you need some serious work!  You in danger, chile! (said in the voice of Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Ghost.)

It’s time to renew your commitment to being who you really are: to being a creature of hope, instead of a creature of empty fantasy; to being a luminous being. Empty fantasies are never going to get you anywhere good in life; they just build us up so we can keep getting let down.  You’ve got to start lighting up your own life, before you can spread light into anybody else’s.  What is the best thing about you? I don’t mean shallow things like “wow, I’ve got great hair”, I mean deep things like “I treat people with genuine kindness” or “when I love, I love deeply”.  What is the most beautiful thing about how you behave towards others and yourself?  How often and in what ways are you really and truly thankful for things, and how often does your Self-talk include compliments to you, from you?  What is the one thing you hope for the most, and how can you achieve it? Believe it! When we come to focus on all of those things–what is true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, and gracious–we move ourselves out of the shadows, and into the light, and then we can start spreading light.

And then we’ve got to live all that: we’ve got to go through life like it’s a spirited dance, spreading our light from one person to the next. We don’t plod; we dance.  There’s a great old story from France about an acrobatic monk that illustrates not only what happens when we go through life accepting who we really are and spreading light, but also what can happen if we decide to plod (or be held back by “plodders”) instead:

A long time ago in France, probably in the Middle Ages, there was a monk in a monastery who grew quite sad when he realized that, unlike the other monks, he really didn’t have any great talents to offer Christ as a gift at Christmas. All the other monks could do the “really cool stuff”, like make gorgeous, illuminated manuscripts, and write music, and sing songs, and compose prayers, but he possessed none of these talents, and so was left feeling quite unworthy. All of the other monks were bustling about doing all of these fantastic things, as gifts for Mary and Her newborn Son, while he sat around, feeling less and less worthy as a Christian. So he made his way down to the crypt beneath the abbey, and prostrated himself before the statue of the Holy Virgin, and confessed that he was sorry, but he wasn’t talented enough to have a suitable gift to bring for Christmas.

And that’s when the Holy Spirit gave him an epiphany: before he had become a monk, he had been an acrobat, a tumbler, and a juggler, in a travelling show; something like the circus clowns we have nowadays. It occurred to him that at the time of our Savior’s birth, Mary had been, in fact, a young girl–a teenager of about fourteen. Surely she had enjoyed laughing, and clapping her hands, and surely she had passed these gifts of joy on to her Son, the Christ-child? So he resolved that this would be his gift to the Queen of Heaven and her Blessed Son: he would tumble for them, and juggle; he would entertain them, and perhaps make them laugh and clap their hands.

He stripped down, removing his habit so that only the bare tunic beneath remained, and he began to dance. Dancing was followed shortly thereafter by spectacular feats of tumbling and juggling which belied his age and his monkish stature–because we all know that French monks in the Middle Ages were portly little gents, right? Picture for a moment that fat little monk tumbling and juggling, as the Holy Mother and Christ looked on there in that quiet crypt that day! He tumbled and he juggled and he danced, until he fell in a swoon at the feet of the statue of the Holy Mother.

And then a truly wondrous thing happened: Mary herself stepped down from the pedestal, and wiped the sweat from that monk‘s brow with the hem of her glorious white mantle. And not only that, but she was joined by angels and archangels.

This happened every day.

Now, there was another monk in that monastery who quickly became gravely suspicious of the tumbling monk, because our tumbler stopped showing up for the Matins service every morning. So this other monk–we’ll call him Friar Suspicion–decided to follow our tumbler one morning down to the crypt. There, shadowed in jealous secrecy, Friar Suspicion stood and watched the tumbler’s entire performance, and then, as the tumbler collapsed at the feet of the Holy Mother, he watched in awe as Mary stepped down, and ministered graciously to the faithful performer, recognizing the love which filled every action this monk had just performed both for Herself and Her Child.

Immediately, Friar Suspicion hurried to their abbot, and told him everything he had seen. The abbot summoned the tumbler, who fell down at the feet of his Father Superior and begged mercy, fearing that his actions would be seen as uncouth, and that he might, in fact be ejected from the monastery. Quite the contrary happened: the abbot, recognizing the true meaning of what the tumbling monk was doing, and the fact that the tumbling monk‘s actions did, in fact, please both the Queen of Heaven and Christ, instead made it known to all of the other monks in the monastery that the tumbling monk should be held in the highest esteem. And he was, right up until the day he died, when all of the other monks witnessed the Holy Virgin by his bedside, personally receiving his soul into Heaven.

For the tumbling monk gave neither gold nor silver, nor are gold and silver what are demanded by God; instead, he gave love–true love–freely of his own heart, the one gift which God loves the most. The one gift which each and everyone of us can also give.

The tumbling monk realized who he really was, and then worked hard to spread light with that knowledge, and he did it, not in a plodding, dogged, sad-sack way, but through a spirited dance. That’s what we’re all called to do, so get to it!