Thursday, 29 April 2010

Post No. 109 - The upside of being neo-Pagan

Let me begin by saying that I consider being called neo-Pagan an insult: it has overtones implying that identifying as pagan is lacking in intellectual rigour, on the grounds that one has not meticulously researched and slavishly adhered to a form of paganism as it was in it's heyday.

Well, things change - in fact, I would dare to suggest (timidly, from a position cowering behind the couch, being disdainfully sneered at by 2 out of our 4 cats - who are here for no good reason that I can see) that sometimes the greater intellectual rigour may be required to take something from the past and make it relevant to the present.

This is a struggle that many Christians, a group too often treated dismissively by pagans (in my experience), are familiar with. The Christian's struggle is often splashed about by the media (e.g. the various Anglican crises over the years [I was raised as an Anglican]), which possibly makes it easier to be cynical and dismissive, but many of them are quite genuinely trying to do their best to adapt their faith to a world that IS different now (there is, for instance, the little matter of scientific knowledge, beginning with the Renaissance, which has irrevocably changed how we view the world [Note 1]; then there was the Reformation ...). In fact, the reasons that there are differences between the original forms of Christianity and what we see now (including the Catholic church!) are why I have proposed referring to Christianity as neo-Christianity.

Well, there is an upside to all this neo business.

Much as the Christians no longer have to follow the dictates of the Old Testament (you know, the ones about selling relatives into slavery, raping widows and acting in ways that generally could reasonably be considered homophobic [see various bits of Leviticus]), which is, of course, largely due to some bloke known as Jesus who brought a New Testament (I don't see Jesus as being any more - or less - Divine than the rest of us: I see Jesus as a gifted, spiritually advanced person - who probably DID perform the miracles attributed to Him, but a man nevertheless), us pagans no longer have to follow those bits of paganism such as human and animal sacrifice (the Celts are pretty widely suspected to have had a bit of a thing going about head hunting).

We can take advantage of several thousand years of evolution since the time of the Celts, and be gentler and more inclusive - without losing anything as a result, in my opinion.

This train of thought was stimulated by an article at the "Viking Answer Lady" an interesting site for anyone who is interested in history, such as myself - and this is the sort of site I would consult if I was ever to actually get around to joining the SCA) on homosexuality in Viking society, which:
(a) showed how misogynistic BY MODERN STANDARDS they were, and
(b) how fundamentally different thinking is now compared to those times.

I am a lesbian: I am glad I live in an age and a nation where I have some inherent rights as a lesbian (there is still discrimination, and some nations are still appalling in their treatment of various minorities - but they are slowly becoming fewer). I am a woman: I don't want to go back to an age where there were so many constraints on what I could do or be.

This current age is not perfect - far from it, especially given the glib attitudes of too many people in developed nations towards under-developed and undeveloped nations, and to socially dispossessed people (such as the homeless) in their own society, but it is still better than the world was hundreds or thousands of years ago.

It is, believe it or not, less violent (see here, here and here), and health care is generally potentially better (I am a diabetic: if I was living more than a few years ago, I would be in serious problems, and quite probably dead).

If it means acknowledging those imperfect improvements, and to practice my faith in a way that is gentler and more inclusive, then I will say I am neo-Pagan.

Love, light, hugs and blessings


PS - if saying I'm neo-Pagan means pandering to intellectual arrogance and elitism, then I won't :)

Note 1 - if I am ill, I will use both "complementary", or "alternative" medicine, AND "conventional medicine. I know about the theory of germ causation of disease I work with that in my day job), but I also know about the importance of the psyche, and feeling good about oneself, and having good energies about oneself. In a sense, I blend old and new - I CANNOT use only old ways - to do so would not be true to myself.

This post's photo is from Pambula, on the NSW south coast.

Tags:moral relativism, perceptions, about me, arrogance, change, learning from mistakes, science, evolution, angst, Christianity, Celts, head hunting, sacrifice, Viking,

First published: Thursday 29th April, 2010

Last edited: Thursday 29th April, 2010

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Post No. 108 - Some thoughts on the Tim Weiner book "Legacy of Ashes", about the CIA

My membership of organisations such as Amnesty International and other human rights activism, involvement in personal growth, passion for history and general social conscience starting with my upbringing) has been pretty good at avoiding having the wool over my eyes too much, but I found a kind of macabre fascination with the revelations in Tim Weinner's book "Legacy of Ashes" Doubleday, 2007, ISBN 0-38551-445-X), a book about the CIA. Much of what was in the book I knew, or knew of, but the level of personal disclosure from ex-CIA agents, people close to Presidents, CIA documents and other documentation is ... fascinating. The responsibility of people such as Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy for some rather disquieting activity is disturbing.

The people, "projects" and organisations written about, and at times almost book itself, have an ambience of "it is OK for the USA to take actions to destroy other people/nations in promotion of one ideology" - things like seeking the "regime change" in Chile when Allende was overthrown, but there are other perhaps less well known examples which you can read the book to see for your local library for a loan if you cannot afford to buy one [mine came from a second hand shop] - and, if they haven't got one, ask to to get an inter-library loan).

The greatest surprises, however, in the book are the good stories, such as the key role Director of Central Intelligence John McCone played in the strategy which avoided war in the Cuban missile crisis (I'll have to revise my view on the film "Thirteen Days", which I rather like because of its prevention of war theme), the warning by Richard Helms (someone I don't view favourably) that the US military was becoming divorced from reality in Vietnam McCone had earlier warned that the war would arouse national and international discontent), and the level of effective internal appraisals from time to time. I use the CIA's "World Factbook" as a quick reference from time to time, and the CIA website now has what I would consider good statements about inclusivity, acknowledgement of past mistakes, etc - all probably forced to be there because of things like the US House of Representatives and US Senate committees scrutinising the CIA, and the growing level of public outrage over matters such as the invasion of Iraq, and the lack of forewarning about "9/11" which, interestingly, had more or less been a predicted outcome of some earlier cut backs of the CIA).

As far the whole espionage thing goes, there is a relevant quote in the book, in the section discussing the Iraq failures:

"The meaning of that failure was left for the CIA's chief weapons inspector, David Kay, to explain in full: "We think intelligence is important to win wars," he said. "Wars are not won by intelligence. They're won by the blood, treasure, courage of the young men and women that we put in the field. . . . What intelligence really does when it is working well is to help avoid wars."

Now, as far as this blog goes, what is relevant are the lessons on what can go wrong with a group, particularly any group that tends to be somewhat insular (as some alternative groups I have been in have tended to be - which does NOT apply to the groups I am in now): problems such as "group think", the adoption of a mutually reinforced view of the world/the group/"outsiders". In some groups, such as the Exclusive Brethren or the CIA, the consequences of that can be extreme the CIA started its association with torture back in 1950, and the Exclusive Bretheren has been in court in recent years over its political activities, and has been criticised over its attitude towards ex-members having contact with family members (such as children).

On a milder note, I have seen the damage caused by personality clashes, infighting, bickering and other group dynamic problems within groups such as sailing clubs and even a dairy goat society.

Any group can - PARTICULARLY if it or its members think they are above the possibility - make such mistakes.

I am a great believer in the adage that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat its mistakes. This book about the CIA is a useful sourcebook on what can go wrong with a group. It is also a very example of situations where individuals either did, or should have, weighed up their personal ethics against the expectations of being willing to be unethical (e.g., commit illegal acts such as murder, torture, etc) for "the greater good", and made some questionable decisions ... [Note 1]

Of course, having identified the mistakes, the next step is how to learn from it ...

Note 1 - something I have decided to do is see the film "The Fog of War", to see how Robert McNamara views his past decisions: as well as group dynamics and group ethical issues, individuals have ethical issues to address in a wide range of situations. I left my last job because I considered the company had treated staff, including some of my team members, unacceptably morally - although there was absolutely NO doubt that the company acted legally. I left because I considered staying would be a tacit moral endorsement of the actions - I was lucky, in that I had another job to go to, although I gave up massive job security at my previous position, and things haven't particularly been smooth sailing in my new job. Once, a few decades ago, I threatened to take a previous employer to the ethical committee of the Institution of Engineers, Australia: that worked, but also led to me copping some flak. Attempting to do the right thing, such as be a whistleblower, is sometimes not easy ...

Also, those who fail such moral tests can place pressure on others - such as, say ... the supermarket staff member who marks down prices just before they buy those items, who may put others in the unenviable position of having to choose between reporting what is effectively theft, which may result in inadequate (or no, in one case I know of) backup from management, let alone action against the thief.

These situations are less ... "spectacular", less grandiose and impactful than the mistakes of those in positions of power: nevertheless, the moral tests of character may be the same.

The wheel of life turns: prince one lifetime, pauper the next; powerless one lifetime, powerful the next - and, in that next life, drawing on the lessons absorbed into one's being in other, "lesser" situations.

Love, light, hugs and blessings


Tags: history, learning from mistakes, group dynamics, courage, personal responsibility,

First published: Sunday 25th April, 2010, Anzac Day (see here, here and here), which is the day after the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide

Last edited: Monday 26th April, 2010

Post No. 107 - A personal reaction: I am Sam (film)

I've nealy finished watching the 2001 film "I am Sam" (these things can take some time in my house with breaks for cuppas etc). I found the film moving, although I can see why critics would consider it sentimental. One thing it did remind me of, though, is that I have often thought I was truly blest a few years ago to have a friend who had Aspergers: this friend's questions prompted me to critique my life and society, and gain a deeper understanding as a result.

(Their cooking was pretty good, too :) )

Love, light, hugs and blessings


Tags: cross-fertilisation (ideas), attitudes, awareness, perspective, daily life, discrimination, personal characteristics, personal responsibility, philosophy, Aspergers, disability, family, parenting,

First published: Wednesday 21st April, 2010

Last edited: Wednesday 21st April, 2010

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Post No. 106 - Distant marriages and "growth orientation"

Once upon a time (hint: fantasy story coming - with profound apologies to Douglas Adams[1] and George Lucas[2]), in this galaxy, but still far, far away, there was a planet. On that planet, the people looked much like us (that is to say, they were carbon based bipedal lifeforms), but they had a few differences.

One ... day - we'll call it that for this story, although they called it something else entirely unpronounceable - a few people from this planet were sitting round having a chin-wag - well, talking, actually, as they couldn't really wag their chins (no that we can either, even though some of us use the phrase). Now on this planet, when people got married, they did something really, really unusual: they based their decision on who they got together with on important things, like which "life orientation" they had.

"Life orientation", for the purpose of this fantasy story, means which broad path of spiritual evolution one is on:
  1. the path of devotion, where one develops love for oneself and a small group and then, as one evolves, one has love for a broader group of people until one has "universal love" - which we, on this planet, know as Bhakti Yoga
  2. the path of hard work, where one seeks perfection in what one does, until one appreciates the perfection that is the Universe, known on this planet as Karma Yoga
  3. the path of developing the mind, where one trains one's mind to greater levels of ability, known on this planet as Raja Yoga (a path many mystics may find themselves upon)
  4. the path of knowledge, where one studies and learns more and more until one achieves enlightenment that (a path scientists and some mystics may well find themselves upon), known on this planet as Jnana Yoga
Speaking of this planet, one of this group of people had been here, and ze[3] explained how people on this planet based their decision on who they could or couldn't marry on such irrelevant factors as skin colour ("Really?", asked a brindle coloured member of hir audience) or ethnicity, what religious sect they belonged to (or their parents belonged to), what socio-economic status they had (ze gave up trying to explain what that was), even what sex or gender they were - and they limited the number of people in the marriage to only two!

By now, hir audience just knew ze was pulling their leg appendages (metaphorically, I hasten to add - that wasn't some strange habit they had in their culture), and were rolling round on the ground (literally, not metaphorically), roaring (metaphorically) with laughter (literally).

So they all wiped the tears away from the tear ducts (not located near their eyes, oddly, and agreed that they had just heard a very funny tale, and went on to exist happily for the rest of their ... "days". (Hint: end of fantasy story).

Sigh ... what a pretty story :D OK, so now, moving on to reality.

I am a human rights activist, and have been most of my life (courtesy of my involvement with Buddhism). One of the areas that I have been active in (in part due to self interest, given that I am a polyamorous lesbian) is legal relationship recognition, where I have been seeking to have society remove the relationship discrimination that has been imposed as a result of other religions (mainly, in my society, historical neo-Christianity, although it must be noted that there are Christians who do not discriminate - for example, the Metropolitan Community Church, and individuals and groups in other versions of Christianity/neo-Christianity who choose not to discriminate).

None of this, of course, means that any one individual should not make a choice about who that person wishes to be with: obviously, love should be present for a start, and that in itslef often requires a certain amount of harmony (though not necessarily as much as many people may think - consider the saying "opposites attract"). That is a topic I've done some thinking on, and I consider some thought about which life path people are on could be useful.

We tend to make long term commitments on the basis of love, and that is not always enough (even worse when people commit to a relationship to, in effect, satisfy their sexual needs because their culture won't permit them to have sex before marriage). My explanation of relationships (in the context of a few tens of thousands of years), is that we tend to be with people who are going with us in roughly the same direction in life, and at roughly the same speed. If someone changes their basic direction of life, or changes the speed at which they wish to travel, the relationship may come under strain, no matter how much the people concerned love each other. (My partner has the saying that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime; if you're not there for a lifetime, when the reason or eason are over, it is going to be most healthy for all concerned to move on.)

Say, for instance, one partner decides they wish to pursue spiritual development, and the other wishes not to make that change (as happened in a previous relationship of mine). There is a great deal of accommodation that can be made (and was made), but it places pressure on the relationship - it's a bit like the arrival of a child: everything changes, and, no matter that both may have wanted the child, there are still changes to the relationship to resolve and adapt to. (That previous relationship, incidentally, ended for other reasons.)

For this post, I've decided to invent a term "growth orientation". In much the same way that we consider sexual orientation (i.e. same sex attracted, opposite sex attracted or bisexual[4]) and relationship orientation (monogamous or polyamorous), I am proposing that we should consider the way that we are inclined to achieve growth. (I haven't called this "spiritual orientation" because people on some paths may not realise that they are actually achieving spiritual growth - I'm thinking particularly of a scientist or atheist who is on the path of Jnana Yoga, for instance.)

As set out in my little fantasy story at the start of this post, I am proposing that this would be on the basis of the four major paths to realisation of the Hindu tradition:
The description (interpretation?) I've given of these is not the standard or conventional Hindu: for that, click on the links (and you should do so - especially before repeating any of this post of mine to others: I'm NOT claiming to be Hindu, or to be using Hindu traditions - what I am doing, is using Hindu traditions as a starting point).

Each of these is clearly a valid life choice - the scientist who is aligned with the Jnana Yoga path is as valid as the philosopher following the Raja Yoga path, or the house-husband (or wife, or other) who is keeping a loving home and nurturing a sane, capable, loved family.

It is probably less clear that the person dedicated to some form of work is also following a valid life path. In my experience (Oh Goddess I hope yours is different!), often that is assumed to be some person who is working long hours at their day job, lots of unpaid overtime, as a way of avoiding relating to family at home. Well, it is not: any person who has ever sought to do something well, whether it is spending time for a charity, perfecting a skill (music, writing, or a paid job) or doing housework/running a home well, is, in that quest, following the path of Karma Yoga.

That brings up the point that we are probably all a mixture of paths, but first I want to have a gripe: there is a rather widespread tendency to assume that personal relationships (family, lovers) is the most important thing in life. Films are made advocating leaving unreasonable work situations for romance (can't remember any the examples I was thinking of when I was planning this post - can be difficult to jot such notes down when sitting in traffic as it unpredictably starts and stops ...). Well, there is merit in setting priorities, and I thank the Goddess for the advocacy now being done on work-life balance, but there is another aspect to this, another line of argument: there are tasks which are so important, of so much value to other people, that is worth one person choosing not to get involved with intimate relationships for a time, perhaps one lifetime, for the sake of that task.

Let me immediately clarify that DINKs (double income, no children) choosing not to have kids so they can have expensive apartments and lifestyles is NOT such a task. However, Ralph Nader, I understand, is single, in part, because of the demands of his dedication to the cause of safety. I know the demands of political life, and consider having a family and being a politician a VERY difficult combination - the 80 hour plus weeks, the periods of ten nights or more away from home, the demands of meeting deadlines (if a story comes out in the media, you need to respond: you can't take time off for a six year old's birthday party, and then expect to get the same exposure in the media a day or so later [except for the howls about whether or not you are dedicated enough to the job ...]).

Of more relevance to this post, though, is the person I read about in Ruth Montgomery's "Strangers Among Us", a walk-in who was busy organising spiritual/New Age seminars to spread urgently needed knowledge, and didn't have the time to fit this into finding a partner and maintaining a relationship. Or ... perhaps you may wish to consider the time Mother Theresa devoted to helping the poor. Or ... perhaps a Japanese master of pottery making pots which last a poor family a lifetime. If any of these people had a demanding family situation, they would possibly not have got that task just mentioned accomplished. (All of this reminds me of the person who posited that same sex attracted people evolved so they could take an independent overview of society's direction, state of being and health, as having children was so all consuming.)

I should also point out that, if you are in a situation where you HAVE family responsibilities, you cannot, in my opinion, walk away from them: they may be demanding or difficult ("challenging"), they may prevent you pursuing a newly developed interest in spiritual or psychic matters, but you took on an obligation - especially to any children, but also your partner, and are honour bound to consider their needs and your commitment. That is not to say that you must stay in a situation you find unpleasant, but if you are supporting others, from a spiritual point of view you need to make fair and reasonable provisions for them, and you should discuss your feelings with your partner before leaving: there may be other solutions. (Exploring the polaymorous aspects of my nature has led to an increased appreciation of, and commitment to, communication.)

Returning to growth orientation, if person A is 90% Bhakti oriented, person B is 80% Jnana oriented and person C (I am considering a potential triad in this example) is 100% Karma path oriented, they will have some conflicts to resolve - e.g., person C may seem at times to be a perfectionist to person A, and person A may seem at times to be unnecessarily emotive to person C, and person B may seem to be vague to both. None of which is incapable of being resolved, but it is better to go into situations with one's eyes open, rather than be naive and say "love will conquer all". Sometimes love needs a dictionary, encyclopaedia and a push to communicate openly and honestly.

Love, light, hugs and blessings


[1] Author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
[2] A key person responsible for Star Wars
[3] There is a third non-gender specific set of pronouns: ze instead of he/she, and hir instead of his/her. These are NOT, as was once claimed to me by a small minded manager, for use with trans people who idetify as a particular gender: they are for situations where either a person has chosen not to identify as male or female, or cannot identify as male or female (e.g. bigendered, and some intersex people)
[4] bisexuality is JUST AS VALID as same sex attraction, or opposite sex attractyion, in my view

As a final note, a digression, my partner, a woman who has helped me recover from a previous abusive relationship, explore the world of polyamory and rediscover the joys of love, put a newly bought CD on while I was finishing this: Echoes of You, by Josh Bennett, who was playing as the support act for Totally Gourdgeous: it is well worth a listen, particularly if you like sitar (he apparently was once asked to play for Ravi Shankir).

This post's photo was taken on a work trip to Moe, in the Gippsland region of Victoria.

Tags: growth orientation, personal responsibility, philosophy, communication, control, emotions, evolution, interpersonal interactions, Bhakti, Jnana, Raja, Karma, Yoga

First published: Sunday 18th April, 2010

Last edited: Sunday 18th April, 2010

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Post No. 105 - A change of affirmation

For most of my life (I nearly wrote "adult life", but I've done this since I was a kid), when I am doing my breathing/visualisation exercises, I often chant (usually mentally, to avoid waking the rest of the house) "peace, love, joy", which are (some of) the energies I want to bring in/build in the world, and in myself. Fairly obvious, I think, why I would want to do that :)

Well, after four decades, I've altered that chant: I have added honour and respect.

Respect is basically around respecting other people, their free will, their choices, and, above all, their personal boundaries. In the last decade, I have encountered major problems through people not respecting my boundaries - actually, it goes back further than that. When I wrote "last decade" I was thinking, in particular, of a former partner, who's family kept indulging in petty crimes which, apart from the time, effort and money involved in court appearances, made my dream of standing for election to the Senate impossible (as a member of several minority groups, I would come under extra media scrutiny, and their petty criminal activities would be used to attack me). However, I've also encountered problems with lack of respect earlier than that - for instance, lack of respect (leading to discrimination) in the workplace around my being lesbian, and around gender identity issues (I've even, many years ago now, had someone who I had thought a friend end that friendship because they considered I should have talked to them more about what I was going through, when I was in a phase of self denial!) It goes back much further than that, however: I've been bullied at school, and subjected many times to the nasty Australian "Tall Poppy Syndrome" (attacking people who dare to be different, or excel, people who, in the Australian vernacular, "get above themselves" - I do know this occurs elsewhere, by the way), and, as a kid, often held myself back to avoid being hassled.

That still happens, often in a more insidious way, when people praise small efforts as large, which then makes anything I try to do which could exceed that potentially problematic. As an example of that, when I first joined an Amnesty International adoption group, I wrote 70 letters in my first month, which caused problems as another member had written fewer, but a number which was, for her, in her circumstances (with kids), an excellent number.

So ... I want to bring into the world, and into my life, more respect, which would accept that people are in different circumstances and what is excellence in one situation is not in another, and that is OK, and that people have rights (such as privacy, i.e., not being subjected to invasive questions, or having others presume rights to access/use personal property when they don't [or fail to respect such usage if permitted]).

Solution? Add it to my chant.

I also want to bring into the world more of the old fashioned values where one has personal integrity, is self reliant, and doesn't do the puerile indulgence in petty crime out of boredom, or to "belong". Hence, honour.

And now, I have to go get ready for a family event that honour dictates I attend :)

Love, light, hugs and blessings


This post's photo was taken from Mt. Dandenong around this time last year - autumn.

Tags: chant, personal characteristics, personal responsibility, ethics, interpersonal interactions, love, peace, joy, honour, respect, affirmations,

First published: Sunday 4th April, 2010

Last edited: Sunday 4th April, 2010