Embracing Joy in Dark Days

Where I live, we are right at the fractal edge of spring: winter is stuttering, and between rains come bright, fresh days in the 70s, rich with the scent of flowering trees and lush grass. There is no doubt: the Wheel has turned. Winter has run its course.

It’s days like these when the urge to be outside is almost irresistible: to breathe that scent, stretch out my limbs and welcome the warmth of the long-gone sun. To walk in shirtsleeves and feel that sensuous, liquid air flowing around me.

It’s heady stuff, and it conjures forth optimism and energy. Things are looking up!

Then I see a headline. And the pit of my stomach sinks. Until I catch myself, and let myself enjoy again.

I have spent a long time in the political world, and have experienced personally how it can eat your brain. Tracking what is going on in the news and responding to it both emotionally and politically can become an obsession. And for those whose path demands of them not only reverence, but activism, it is easy to feel it is our duty to remain ever-focused on the harm that is being done in our society, to be unswerving in our attention, effort and comprehension of that harm.

Well, let me go on the record here to say that is nonsense.

Living in times when terrible things are happening is not the occasion for wearing a hair shirt. We need not feel guilty for enjoying the sensual pleasures that are in our lives. In fact, they are what will help to sustain us as we fight the fight we must fight. There is no reason to feel badly about having a wonderful day, despite the latest abominations of the Trumpenfuhrer. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. It doesn’t mean you’re just riding along in your privilege and being a “good German”.

It means you’re living your life. Even as you apply your caring and effort to changing the direction our society is going.

Both are necessary. Both are valid.

I don’t in any way advocate losing sight of the plight of those who are exposed to harm by this reckless and ignorant administration of dunces. Including our beloved planet itself.

But I have seen what happens to activists when all they can think about is the ain’t-it-awfulism of the daily news. They lose sight of the point of living a human life, which is not only to be of integrity and service, but to be happy. They become bitter and greyfaced, and seem to draw a grim satisfaction from terrible developments in the news, as if they feel personally validated by tragedy instead of motivated by their opposition to it.

Don’t be one of those. Throw your arms wide and welcome the pleasures of the world. And then do the work we all must to make it a better place.

It’s spring, fer cryin’ out loud!

 

Between Worlds

It’s a thing many Pagans say: “We are between the worlds”. It signifies that within the contained context of ceremonial ritual, we are apart from the mundane—that we are somehow outside of the natural world, and suspended in a space wherein all is possible. Where magic can happen.

It isn’t something I say. I know that whether or not I have drawn the circle or otherwise created the felt sense of a container of sacred ritual space, I am still in the natural world, which is the only world there is. Many things are possible there, but not all. We are constrained by physics, by the nature of sacred Reality. What is found there is safety to experiment—to play—and to connect with one another and the greater whole of the Universe in manners which may be surprising, powerful, transformative, and profound.

Still, the key to ritual freedom, to making the magic of ritual, is suspension of disbelief and release of the stiffness of the internal critic’s voice, of embarrassment and shame. Just as we must do this to play let’s-pretend, to enjoy a book or a movie, so must we surrender our critical minds to the moment in order to submerge ourselves in ritual.

So, rather, I might say, We are here, free beings in sacred space, where so much is possible. Where we may be ourselves, naked hearts before the glory of the Sacred World. Joy is found here, and change, and release, and power. Welcome.

But I digress.

Because we all live in many worlds, don’t we? Not literally, but poetically: the world of home, the world of work, the world of family, the worlds of differing circles of friends. All are facets of the great glittering gem of the one world, but they can feel as different as Earth and the Moon.

Since Pantheacon, I have indeed been between worlds. Part of me, caught in the warm liquid swirls of community and exploration and pleasure that are the Con for me, and the rest plunged back suddenly into daily routines and workaday meetings, tasks, and deadlines. It has been a deeply challenging transition this year, and I didn’t give myself enough time for readjustment. I’m pining, a bit. And disenchanted with my ordinary life, lacking as it is all the newness and near-constant stimulation of the conference.

So what is a man to do, under such circumstances? How does an Atheopagan reintegrate into ordinary experience following a peak experience?

Well, I start by taking care of myself. I have begun my Spring Fast again, eschewing alcohol until the vernal equinox. This weekend, I will tidy my home and catch up on household tasks that weigh upon me. I’m taking time to look at the sky, to watch the sunset and enjoy the shining stars. And, sheerly for self-preservation, I have been trying only to track the barest sketchy outlines of the daily sewerage emitting from Washington, D.C.

Ritually, I light candles on my Focus and contemplate the relics of Pantheacon that rest there. I love and am loved, I think. I am respected and a leader. I am helping to build something meaningful. My community is strong.

Reflecting on the love in my life, on the remarkable, beautiful humans I have been blessed to count as friends and loved ones, I feel blessed. I feel empowered and strong.

At work, I have struggled to focus and be productive, but the sheer volume and urgency of the work drive performance whether I feel up to it or not. Once I have caught up on my sleep after this weekend, it will be better. And I have a friend at work whose interesting mind and respect for me have helped me to feel stronger in that arena than I might have otherwise. We had a visit this evening and it was a real shot in the arm.

But more than anything else, I have begun to plan, looking forward, to create some more of the kind of juicy joy that I had at Pantheacon in the coming months. Not at anywhere near that scale of event, of course, but on the scale I can manage. So I’m thinking about a little gathering for High Spring, and planning for Moon Meet in August.

The latter is really exciting: an Atheopagan festival, where our ways are the mainstream. Where atheists and agnostics and scientific pantheists and naturalistic and humanistic Pagans can explore together what it means to be ritual-enacting, Earth-revering cosmological naturalists, not in the margins around the godtalk of the theists, but as the norm. It’s going to be great!

So that’s how I do it: a little extra self-care to protect the tender parts that came to the surface during the Con, a continuation of my religious practice, and a look to the future when I can have some of that sweetness again.

In these hard times, all are needed. We need to keep coming together, to support one another as we can, even though great distances may separate—but not divide—us.

Take care, friends. Be good to one another, and yourselves, in all your various worlds.

Green Shoots

The light is returning, and after torrential rains, I am enjoying a day of sparkling sun here in Northern California. The hills are emerald green this winter—a dramatic shift from the sickly yellow of the drought years. What a relief.

A week from this evening, I and friends will be leading a ritual at Pantheacon, the largest gathering of Pagans in North America. I’m nervous, and wildly focusing on memorizing the outline and my parts, but I’m also really excited. It’ll be great to see friends I don’t usually get to see, and to hang out with some of my most loved people.

Despite the national horror show, I feel spring’s optimism kindling within me. I have no idea why, though the added light may be a big part of it.

I hope that you, too, are finding reasons for hope this spring. Even as we fight the appalling regime that has taken over the U.S., we must find those moments of joy, the opportunities for sweetness. It is a world filled not only with horror, but with beauty. Never forget.