Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Merry Beltane!

Blessings of fertility and love to all my friends in the northern hemisphere. (And in case Terri in Johannesburg stops by, Samhain blessings for you!)

This holy day and liminal time honors the quickening of desire, the impulse toward life. We honor all forms of sexual love, as well as the love among friends and family and love for the earth and all her inhabitants. May all beings be happy.

Today find a way to honor your deepest longings, and to rejoice in your abundant blessings. May all beings be loved.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Got Bit - the memoir meme

Stewgad is my very good friend in real life, which means I never read her blog. It turns out that sometimes she reads my blog, so I feel a little bit bad about not reading hers. If she hadn't told me last night when I was over at her house that she'd tagged me for this meme, I'd never have heard about it.

The meme is the "six-word memoir," which as you may know by now is a challenge to write your life's story in six words. This meme is inspired by a recent book that collects people's six-word memoirs, called Not Quite What I Was Planning. I actually like that as my six-word memoir, but I'll try to exercise a little more creativity here.

But I'm still going to cheat. My memoir comes in two volumes, each with its own six-word title.

Volume I is Tried to Be Someone Else Entirely. Volume II is Gave Up, Followed My Heart Instead.

(Feel inspired? Haven't done this yet? Then consider yourself tagged.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Desire's end, part II

A couple of months ago, a grumpy old guy named Billy visited this blog and apropos of nothing except the blog's name left this comment:

Hey, there is no end to desire. We have been at that for billions of years.

The whole cosmos is nothing other than sexual energies, it's just in our human forms that it gets all messed up.

So maybe he didn't get the reference to the Charge of the Goddess, or maybe he didn't care, but the thing is, I agree with him. Desire seems to be a fundamental operating principle of the universe. As such, it seems perverse to wish for or anticipate its end.

Feri tradition tells a creation myth in which the Goddess gazes into a mirror and, falling in love with herself, gives birth to the universe. It seems to me at least a lovely metaphor, and I think more than that, to say that longing is what draws us into this world (the parents' desire for each other and for a child, the soul's desire to incarnate). Longing lures us through life, however messy and complicated, and it beckons to us from beyond the veil. How unfortunate it would be, then, to deny the power of this longing, to try to make ourselves, as if we could, beings without desire.

Yet we do just that. We deny ourselves all kinds of pleasure, including the pleasure of simply feeling our desires. Think about the fundamental things humans long for: food, water, shelter, touch, sex, companionship, beauty, comfort, meaning, creativity, expression, and connection to the world around us. Which of these isn't affected by practices of self-denial and wishing things were otherwise? How often do we fear that our wanting something will be too painful, that our desires will languish unfulfilled, and so we cut ourselves off from the wanting? What would it mean if instead we allowed ourselves fully to inhabit our desires, to know them intimately, to know ourselves intimately? Is it too much of a risk? What are we risking? And what do we lose if we don't taste the depths of those things we want?

I know my own litany of fear runs like this. I won't get what I want. I want too much, and that means there's something wrong with me. I don't deserve to want or receive things. I'll be judged. I'll be rejected. My needs can never be met. I'll have to give too much of myself away. It will be too painful. I don't want to be needy. I don't want to risk being disappointed. If I "give in" to my desires, they'll overwhelm me, or someone else. I'm powerless in the face of them. I'll hurt someone. I'll be consumed by them. I'll lose control. I'll feel empty, isolated, alone.

In a puritanical culture, whence come many of these fears, desire is something to be kept under tight control if not altogether annihilated. It's an unseemly artifact of our animal natures. We identify desire with women, in whom it's deemed uncontrollable. Like the feminine, it needs to be mastered. Desire leaves us vulnerable and exposed. We feel its tremors, and we turn away.

What would it be like if instead of trying to master, ignore, or squelch desire, we rode its currents instead? What if we became intimate with not just the contents or objects of our desires, but with the very shape, texture, and taste of desire itself? What if we allowed ourselves to dive deep into the wanting? What if we sat with desire and allowed it to unfold within us, to reveal its layers and secrets, to discover what's underneath the ripples of surface longing?

What if we were honest with each other about our desires? What if, instead of furtively confessing, we boldly stated, explored, investigated, and celebrated them? What if we stopped being coy and embarrassed? What would it mean to take responsibility for desire in the full context of that desire? To work skillfully with it? What if we acknowledged and accepted that we're desirous beings and got to know ourselves as such?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Buddhism on desire

Buddhist meditation launches an individual headlong into a curious yet rigorous examination of desire. Overly simplistic formulations of Buddhist philosophy make many folks think that desire is a bad thing, plain and simple. But the true Buddhist perspective on the all-too-human experience called desire--whether it's hunger for a slice of pepperoni pizza, longing for world peace, or just some good old-fashioned lust--is much more nuanced. Ultimately speaking, Buddhism takes the perspective that desire is 100 percent natural and incredibly positive. The problem, however, is that unchecked fear and unexamined habit can pervert desire into addictive tendencies--habits which are destructive for an individual, harmful for a community, and disastrous for our planet. What Buddhist meditation necessarily reveals to us, moment by moment, is the problematic nature of our impulse for instant gratification.

(Ethan Nichtern)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An interlude on desire and coming back


I'm bound by the fire.
I'm bound by the beauty.
I'm bound by desire.
I'm bound by the duty.

I'm coming back in 500 years,
and the first thing I'm gonna do
when I get back here
is to see these things I love.
And they'd better be here.

First I'm going to find a forest,
and stand there in the trees,
and kiss the fragrant forest floor,
and lie down in the leaves,
and listen to the birds sing
the sweetest song you'll ever hear.

And everything the dappled,
everything the birds,
everything the earthness,
everything the verdant,
the verdant green.
(Jane Siberry)


A thousand years from now, everyone you know will be long dead and forgotten. There'll be nothing left of the life you love, no evidence that you ever walked this planet. That, at least, is what the fundamentalist materialists would have you believe. But suppose the truth is very different? What if in fact every little thing you do subtly alters the course of world history? What if your day-to-day decisions will actually help determine how the human species navigates its way through the epic turning point we're living through? And finally, what if you will be alive in a thousand years, reincarnated into a fresh body and in possession of the memories of the person you were back in this era? These are my hypotheses. These are my prophecies. Which is why I say: Live as if your soul is eternal.

(Rob Brezny)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Desire's end, part I

In Atlanta this past weekend, visiting my friend Scrivener for his birthday, I met Rahim and his partner, both of whom I took to immediately. Rahim asked me about the name of this blog. While I wrote a bit about it way back in the beginning, I've been meaning to revisit the concept of desire. My belief in the goodness of human desire is one thing that drew me to Wicca. So it may seem strange, on the face of it, that (what I take to be) a central and singular text of our thealogy, the Charge of the Goddess, declares that the divine is that which is attained at desire's end. It sounds a little like a common misunderstanding about Buddhism: that to be holy, to reach enlightenment, we must rid ourselves of our desires. I don't think Buddhism teaches that, and I don't think the Charge does, either. But it does pose a puzzle--perhaps a Wiccan koan--and I'd like to worry it a little.

The Charge of the Goddess is a poem written, or channeled, by Doreen Valiente. (The text I quote here is Starhawk's adaptation.) The Charge has much to say about the primacy of desire in human experience. For example,

Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in my Presence, for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and Mine also is joy on earth. For My love is law unto all beings.

Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.

The Pagani tend to like a good time: feasting, drinking, dancing naked around bonfires, singing, drumming, dressing in costume, joking, pulling pranks. Oh, and the sex. Pagans, generally speaking, have sex-positive, libertarian, and libertine values around sex. Sex, like other expressions and experiences of embodiment, is a sacred part of our spirituality (sacred, that is, when it's not profane, if that's what turns you on).

But while we often emphasize the fun aspects of human embodiment--the acts of pleasure--a well-developed Wiccan thealogy, I believe, would also express the sacraments of our bodies sick and in pain; scarred from trauma or abuse; aging, dying. What matters is being present in our bodies, and that can be as difficult during acts of pleasure as it can be when we're in pain. A worthwhile practice for any Pagan, and really anyone at all, I believe, is to practice being present in one's own body. Such presence can be cultivated in various ways: breath work, body work, meditation, yoga, and ritual.

Sickness, pain, and death aren't signs of our fallen nature, as at least some versions of Christianity would have it. From a thealogical perspective, it doesn't make sense to long to be free from our bodies anymore than we long to be free of this earth. (And part of being Pagan, I believe, is to take pleasure in the earth, really to love it, know it, treat it with respect, and give thanks for its abundant gifts.) Reincarnation makes a lot of sense to me as an expression of Pagan thealogy; hey, we get to come back. Reincarnation with the hopeful goal of finally getting off the wheel, of being free from incarnation, makes no sense to me at all.

What then do we make of the final line of the Charge?

For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am That which is attained at the end of desire.

Where is the end of desire? Does it happen in death? When we get to heaven? When we reunite with the oneness of the universe? When we reach enlightenment? When we're really lucky...and thank goddess we don't have to feel the tug of these human bodies anymore? Is the end of desire a desirable state, something we should pursue or at least look forward to? Desire seems essential to being human, in a body, and that is something we Pagani hold sacred. So why is the end something to be attained?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Good things

(1) By all indicators, my sister is now cancer-free for a second time. If you knew my sister, you'd know that cancer picked the wrong girl to fuck with.

(2) Adonis and I have a house under contract. We're keeping our fingers crossed until after the inspection this weekend. The house didn't pass inspection, so it's back to house-hunting.

(3) I fly south tomorrow and back on Monday, and I'm not booked with American Airlines.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Spiritual teachers

I consider myself lucky to have had many spiritual teachers in my life so far. I joke that if it weren't for the Jews and the lesbians, I'd be nowhere, spiritually speaking. Most of my teachers have been Jewish, queer women, or both. Of course, there are the exceptions. The Lutheran pastors of my youth were straight, male, and, well, Lutheran midwesterners, of German or Scandinavian descent. Wonderful, compassionate men, they really were spiritual teachers. (Note to evangelical Christians: I'm not one of those alleged Pagans who was alienated from the church thanks to the failings of its people.) One of the finest teachers I've ever had was Lugh, who as far as I could ascertain was neither Jewish nor lesbian, those being human classifications, and he being a pit bull.

I live in a town with a sizable population of Tibetan Buddhists (both Tibetan and American, and many of the Americans are also, uh, Jewish). Thus Tibetan Buddhism has had a significant impact on my spiritual life. I began studying Buddhism, eclectically and largely on my own, around the time I turned 30 and was preparing for my Ph.D. qualifying exams, i.e., going through hell. I also began studying yoga, and the attendant Hinduism, while I was in graduate school, a few years before I commenced my study of Buddhism. Yoga renewed my spiritual alliance to my body, thus laying some of the groundwork for Wicca.

One of my current teachers is a white, Italian-American Buddhist who grew up working-class and Roman Catholic in the South, a very spiritual, feminist woman with a mouth on her like a sailor. Goddess bless America.

None of my "real life" spiritual teachers have been Wiccans or Pagans. I consider some Pagan writers also to be my teachers, Starhawk--yeah, Jewish--most notably among them, but those aren't people I have relationships with in my day-to-day life. I sometimes worry that as a young group of faiths, we lack spiritual depth or maturity--I'm not sure what the correct term is, and I'm not sure really how to express my point. I know Pagan writers whose thinking I admire, but where are our role models for spiritual maturity? I'm not saying they don't exist, just that I don't really know who they are. Some Pagan writers, a couple of decades older than I--people whose work, I stress, has been important to me--don't strike me as the kind of people I want to be. I'm not saying that a teacher has to be perfect at all. Indeed, I believe perfection is antithetical to any genuine spiritual path. But I want my teachers to have qualities that I admire and want to cultivate in myself. I want to see a journey that compels me to follow suit in my own way. I suspect that some of our finest spiritual role models aren't public figures, and that I just don't have the good fortune to know them.

I treasure my eclectic, syncretic, American spiritual upbringing, and I have a happy spiritual home in Wicca. I would like for some of my spiritual teachers or role models to have a room in that same home.

Who are your spiritual teachers and role models? Who are the people from your faith tradition whom you admire?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What makes us wise

Today is the first day it's been warm--in the high 50s--and sunny. After spending the morning cleaning house, Adonis and I spent two hours walking around the neighborhood: getting mochas at the coffee shop, stopping to talk with friends and neighbors working in yards, assessing the little house for sale that we have our eye on, pausing to love up the neighborhood dogs. It finally feels like spring. (How I long for a garden and dogs! My dad cautions us not to buy a house just because we want dogs, but of course that's exactly why we're buying a house. Oh, and it's a good investment. Unlike most places in the U.S., my little town hasn't been hit by the housing and mortgage crises. Prices continue to climb. Why do people move here? Don't they know winter is six months long?)

Tomorrow is the new moon in Aries. Even as the cold days have lingered here in the north, I've felt the shift in energy that early spring brings. I'm moving more, working off winter's lethargy, and feeling stronger, more vital. I have a renewed taste for raw, bitter, green things. I'm starved for sunshine. Adonis and I seem to occupy the slightest lull, a suspension, before the activity of summer commences. Beginning this week, we're both traveling. Adonis is headed to New York City a couple of times for work; I'm headed to Atlanta to do healing work and visit my good friend; and we're traveling home together at the end of the month to celebrate my grandmother's 98th birthday.

I've been thinking a lot about happiness. This past year has been challenging for me: lots of intense growth and new life emerging, but also, and perhaps not coincidentally nor paradoxically, stark confrontations with mortality and grief. It's been just six months since I lost my beloved Lugh. On that very six month date, last week, my sister had cancer surgery (and is doing well). I'm learning something about the kind of happiness that depends on things going my way, and about the kind of happiness that can arise independently of felicitous circumstances. I'm thinking about happiness as a spiritual practice and what that entails for me. I often dream of that lyric from Sinead O'Connor's song "What Doesn't Belong to Me;" I take this to be a profound thealogical truth:

And the goddess meant for me only joy.