Archive | light

[Almost] Everything Has A Use

For the last year or so I have really come to see, perhaps because of my affinity for learning from Life, that everything has a use. It’s one of the things I want to talk about before I leave for my ‘goodbye experiment.’

I don’t necessarily believe that everything happens for a reason. I sort of believe the quote by Kierkegaard (I think it was him?) that we can only understand life backward, but we must live it forward. We can see the thread of our life and how things connect, but I’m not sure that means it all happened for a reason. We may reach certain places or have certain experiences that lead us to other moments, experiences, and places, but…I’m not sure that means they all have a reason. It’s very tempting to look backwards and say, “Ah, X had to happen so I could reach Y,” but I really don’t believe that’s true. It’s just the choices we made along the way.

We like to tell stories about our lives, to find meaning (it is, I believe, a very necessary part of human existence and culture)- so looking back and connecting the dots in a way that is meaningful to us is highly valuable (it’s also highly valuable to notice what we tell of our story and how we tell it). But also, sometimes shit just happens in our life and we have to deal with it. Of course, how we deal with it sometimes determines where our life goes, but, again, that doesn’t mean there is a reason for all (or any) of it.

That said, I still believe that everything has a use. Every bit of our life has a use. Every bit of the Universe has a use. Everything that exists has a use.

Our emotions show us the truth of our heart and our experience.
Sadness shows us when we miss the mark for our desires.
Anger shows us when our values have been ignored or dismissed.
Joy shows us when we have received what we desire.
Love shows us the best of our desires and wishes for self and others.
They all have a use.

It’s easy to see where good things have a use. Houses, cars, stores, roads, telephone towers, forks, shrubbery. But ‘bad’ things also have their uses. Although, I will say that ‘bad’ things often only have one use.

Violence is sometimes necessary to topple dictators, Nazis, and other oppressors.
Hatred is useful because it shows us where we fear.
Intolerance is useful on the intolerant. (See ‘The paradox of tolerance.’)
Breaking promises is useful when our truth changes.
Lies are sometimes necessary to create safety. (See your local domestic violence shelter.)

There is one set of ‘things’ that are never useful, though. And those are the ‘-isms.’ The outcomes of unfairness and oppression and ranking differences judged from things we cannot change.

Racism.
Sexism.
Homophobism.
Transphobism.
Ageism.
Sizeism/Fatphobia.
Classism.
Ableism.
Religious oppression.

There is no use for any of them. In any case, those who participate in oppressing are only showing what they hate, and thereby, what they fear. (We can say that perhaps these things are useful because they show us exactly where others fear, which can help us educate them. Again, this may be the only useful thing about them. And I’m not sure it’s worth having them around for this particular type of ‘useful.’ I’d much rather we didn’t have them at all.)

In my life, everything has had a use.

My fear.
My pain.
My desire.
My perspective.
My ego deaths.
My joy.
My creativity.
My hope.
My love.
My truth.
My choices.
My mistakes.

It’s not that everything, every moment, of my life has been useful. It’s that there is always something useful in what’s going on in my life.

The most important part of coming to understand this, for me, is that it has helped me accept myself and the world as it is. This doesn’t mean the world isn’t a mess (it does need changing). But to change anything we have to see it clearly and accept where we it is/we are at this moment in time. And the understanding that everything has a use has helped me accept what’s going on- even (perhaps especially) when things are rough. There is something useful here, inside this difficulty, for my life, for my growth, for my understanding of the world.

As I said at the beginning of this post, perhaps I hold this view because I believe in learning from my life and changing because of what I learn. I suppose if someone refuses to learn then this viewpoint is moot. But I don’t personally know another way to think of the world or how to live. Life presents each of us with repeated lessons, with unique opportunities, with stories we want to break free from. And I believe the only thing we can do with those experiences is learn from them. That’s how we become who we are, who we want to be; it’s how we make the world a better place.

I believe everything is useful on this strange, human journey.

Thanks for being here with me, fellow travelers.
All my love,
Joanna :: xoxo

::: ::: ::: :::

If you need a pop culture reference to go along with this, here you go.

Thank U | Alanis Morissette

How ’bout getting off these antibiotics
How ’bout stopping eating when I’m full up
How ’bout them transparent dangling carrots
How ’bout that ever elusive kudo

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

How ’bout me not blaming you for everything
How ’bout me enjoying the moment for once
How ’bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How ’bout grieving it all one at a time

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

The moment I let go of it was the moment
I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down

How ’bout no longer being masochistic
How ’bout remembering your divinity
How ’bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How ’bout not equating death with stopping

Thank you India
Thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness
Thank you clarity
Thank you thank you silence

 

 

0

Sunday Prayers

Hello, fellow spiritual travelers, my broken-but-working-on-it peeps. Life has been changing and things are delightfully good, and I’m so glad to be who I am, the age I am, and where I am (holy shit, yes!). And I am going to sink deep into this feeling, because it doesn’t come around often.

Where my heart is at these past few days…

 

“Tantra says sex is very deep because it is life. But you can be interested in Tantra for the wrong reasons. Do not be interested in Tantra for the wrong reasons, and then you will not feel that Tantra is dangerous. Then Tantra is life-transforming…

It has been asked, ‘what is the central subject matter of Tantra?’ The answer is you! You are the central subject matter of Tantra: what you are right now and what is hidden in you that can grow, what you are and what you can be. Right now you are a sex unit and unless this unit is understood deeply you cannot become a spirit, you cannot become a spiritual unit. Sexuality and spirituality are the two ends of one energy.”

Osho

| I’m not sure that I’d agree with all of this, because I believe our sexuality and spirituality nourish each other- that’s been my experience. But, yes, you are the central subject matter of Tantra. |

::: ::: ::: :::

“This is my living faith, an active faith, a faith of verbs: to question, explore, experiment, experience, walk, run, dance, play, eat, love, learn, dare, taste, touch, smell, listen, speak, write, read, draw, provoke, emote, scream, sin, repent, cry, kneel, pray, bow, rise, stand, look, laugh, cajole, create, confront, confound, walk back, walk forward, circle, hide, and seek.”

Terry Tempest Williams

| This is how to have faith, and also to be alive. I think being alive is its own act of faith. |

::: ::: ::: :::

Life on Earth

Wild Horses

A Youth Written in Fire

| Snow Patrol’s new album is really different. And I like it. Gary Lightbody – former priest and current poet – hits some very deep places in his own psyche. It’s quite beautiful to listen to. |

::: ::: ::: :::

Images from my ‘beautiful’ board are inspiring me and keeping me grounded lately. Summer’s passion is finding it’s way into old frescoes and fields of poppies. When the humidity rests atop my skin, I pull my hair up from my neck, sweat with a smile in the shade, and dream of Paris in the Fall.

::: ::: ::: :::

Big love from this gorgeous, hot day and my happy heart,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

0

Summer Solstice :: Sensual Treasures

[[ There are so many things I want to write about right now. I have posts about beer + baths, the sensuality of safety and the sin of beliefs sitting in my head. They will find their way out. I’ve been so angry and full of despair these past few days, so I am sitting on my bed writing this instead. With a packet of Pez and a Mike’s Hard Lemonade at my side (because there is a part of me that is still 12 with the ability to buy alcohol). I am also remembering that today is a very special day our house {personal thing} and I am delving into the joy of that to keep my spirit afloat. I hope you are well, fellow travelers.]]

 

Photo by Max LaRochelle on Unsplash

 

Happy Summer Solstice to my Northern hemisphere peeps! (And Happy Winter Solstice to my Southern hemisphere peeps!) Today is the longest day of the year- the day with the most light. Which means it is also the day before we begin turning towards the dark again. I always find this kind of strange because summer seems so full of light, and yet we are losing 7 minutes of it each day as the summer meanders along. Human perception is so weird sometimes. In any case, these are the things I’m looking forward to enjoying this summer. [And here’s the list of what I was hoping to enjoy at the Spring Equinox.]

the first jump into a cold pool
late nights by the fire with friends
popsicles (orange!)
the blessing of central air
the smell of tanned skin + salty hair
chubby babies in swim diapers
nights so hot you sleep with no covers
the taste of salty skin, the smell of his sweat
the scent of campfire smoke in hair
s’mores
laying back, closing your eyes, and feeling the heat of the sun on your skin
walks on the beach
library days
adventures with the kids
the sweet anticipation of The Big Vacation
the sting of burnt skin in the shower (I burned the shit out of my shoulders this week)
the feel of cold, cold water down your throat, on your skin, after hard work
sitting under the trees, listening
watching the crew team from my friend’s house on the water
sparklers
the feeling of wrapping up in a towel at night because that’s all you’ve got
drive-in theaters
how the heat smells
sweet corn (with lime juice and salt)
the first cool wind in August
ripe strawberries (and real whipped cream)

::: ::: ::: :::

What sensual pleasures are you waiting to enjoy this summer, fellow travelers? Today is the doorway to summer fun- run through it like it’s 95 degrees and the sprinkler is on full blast.

Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

1

All These Paths, Leading To The Same Place

You thinkers, prisoners of what will work:
a dog ran by me in the street one night,
its path met by its feet in quick unthought,
and I stopped in a sudden Christmas, purposeless,
a miracle without a proof, soon lost.

But I still call, ‘Here, Other, Other,’ in the dark.

William Stafford, “An Epiphany”

::: ::: ::: :::

[That is one of my favorite poems by William Stafford. He was an unsung word genius.]

I read something a few weeks ago and had an epiphany. One of those moments when everything – years of practice, a fragment of metaphor, and a spark – comes together and you realize something important. I was reading a quote by Pema Chodron, a famous Buddhist nun and meditation teacher. She wrote, “Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

And in the moment I read that, I suddenly understood something about my various spiritual practices over the years: they have all been about me trying to accept myself.

::: ::: ::: :::

I grew up Protestant (American Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ) and in that tradition, humans are sinful. They are full of sin because of the choice Adam and Eve made to eat from fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What that looks like in modern terms is being regularly told that I was bad everywhere but in my soul. That I was inherently ‘not good’ and ‘less than’ and ‘blackened by sin’ (and a whole bunch of other Bible verses I’ve forgotten twenty years later…). With only one exception*, I don’t believe much good comes from the Judeo-Christian spiritual path; we certainly have plenty of evidence that it causes war and hatred and I believe it stems from this basic understanding of our selves as inherently bad.

After years of being a good ‘Bible-thumper’ I left the church because the world it spoke of as inherently wrong, bad, and sinful was not the world I experienced. The world I knew was full of amazing things and people and choices. I had girlfriends who had successfully weathered abortions, read re-interpretations of Bible stories, and enjoyed a drink with a couple of gay people and those things made it awfully hard to believe what was in the Bible, and what was being preached about it, anymore. Like a lot of people, I left and headed East.

For many years I studied the Tao te Ching, having been introduced to it in a college class about Eastern literature. I found it delightfully simple and also satisfyingly deep as I spent time with the verses and ideas. There was precious little dogma, interpretation, and certainly no mention of ‘sin.’ It felt like a good place to settle. And for a few years, it was.

I travelled other paths: Paganism, Unitarianism, Shambhala Buddhism, Tantra, Witchcraft. I’ve changed paths often. I became an ordained ‘interfaith’ minister (which I’m not sure is even a thing, but I’ll talk about that at another time). I have travelled around to various paths, texts, and rituals because they served my spiritual needs at various places along my path. And also because I love to fall in love and this was a way to connect with different ‘partners’ at the table of religion and spiritual development. (Today I see that there are appropriation problems with that kind of spiritual path, but that’s for the another post, as well.)

All of these spiritual paths were most definitely about me finding pieces of myself inside those traditions, texts, ideas, theologies, and metaphors. But my epiphany is that my most important paths have been about self-acceptance.

 

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

 

I’ve meditated for close to 20 years. I’ve used various forms, but mostly breath meditation (although I have used more sensual sub-genres of breath meditation at different times). For many years, I used the RAIN method, where you Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify with whatever thoughts or feelings you have during meditation. But it was in reading Pema Chodron’s words about befriending ourselves in meditation that I really came to understand its purpose was far more soft than I had been experiencing it. It was about accepting myself, the totality of myself. To be who we are, in compassionate acceptance of ourself- whatever that self may be experiencing. Meditation was about completely accepting myself internally.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a practicing witch (the intensity depends on the day and the person, though- heh). And magic has been something I have been playing with for a long time, as well. My magic mostly involves words: rituals, prayers, handmade soliloquies spoken into the void. Only recently have I taken instruction in the more modern facets of witchery. And the one thing I learned there is that good magic involves self-acceptance. Magic that does what you want it to do involves acknowledging the totality of all that you are in the world: sinner and saint, angel and demon, mother and whore. I can be good, very, very good. And I can also be wicked. If I pretend to only be light and love, my magic sputters and doesn’t get very far. But if I acknowledge and accept all that I am, my magic is far more powerful. Magic, of course, is about how we are in the world and how the world reacts to us and our desires, to our energy and our vibe. And so magic has been about accepting myself as a human in the world, moving from internal to external.

Tantra has been something I’ve only picked up in the last five years or so, and it was most definitely about accepting myself and my sexual needs and desires. In some ways, this website has been partially about spiritually bypassing my sexual desires and needs – and Tantra is one way to both accept and bypass sexual darkness. I can’t say this blog has been entirely about bypassing, because I have certainly shared my pain and frustration and growth here, as well. But Tantra has been about self-acceptance inside of relationship, especially intimate relationship. Tantra is about the balance and alchemy of masculine and feminine (not the same as ‘male’ and ‘female,’ please remember). And my path inside of Tantra has been about accepting and balancing not just the masculine and feminine within myself, but also the dark and the light. I can be the most fun, delightful, loving sexual partner, and I can also want to live out dark fantasies (starting with having an affair, which I used to want desperately. Also remember that what is ‘dark’ is different for each person; my personal ‘dark’ might bore the fuck out of someone else). Tantra has been about accepting myself inside of intimate relationship.

Beyond each of these paths – to accept myself internally, to accept myself as part of the world, and to accept myself inside of partnership – there is something else I find incredibly valuable: Western psychology. (I am most familiar with Western psychology, but other modalities of healing the psyche are equally useful and valid. I have used food, prayer, movement, and many other tools to heal myself and others; I am for ‘whatever works’ to heal people.) Most of us wrestle with some piece of ourselves that feels ‘broken.’ And perhaps we do have ‘broken’ pieces inside us. When we do, psychological tools are often useful in helping people heal (again, I am a firm believer in using what works, even if that isn’t in the professional literature). Our brokenness is often not our fault (trauma is rarely something we do to ourselves), but we are responsible for healing our brokenness once we know about it.

Knowing about our brokenness is key to self-acceptance, I believe. But we must also know that sometimes our dark, our ‘bad,’ our ‘shadow’ isn’t brokenness- it is just a part of us that needs awareness and acceptance. The same awareness and acceptance we give to the parts of us we are pleased with or that are accepted in public.

Having this epiphany about self-acceptance and realizing I’ve been on quite the search for it has brought me a lot of excitement and calm in the last couple of weeks. If what I have been looking for is self-acceptance, there is no need for a spiritual path. Learning to accept and love myself is the path. So, all this time, I was just looking for pathways and guidance to leave behind the belief that I was bad and sinful and dirty and begin to trust in the whole of myself. Yes, there are broken bits that need fixing and healing, but there are also parts that are simply waiting for me to accept them, because they aren’t broken, they’re just judged.

And, of course, the great joke from Life is that this is the gift I most easily give other people: acceptance. Whatever darkness you feel or fear, I will listen to it and love it and accept it, without judgement. It’s so easy to give others the medicine we most need. (And so I am also a giant cliche. But, I think we already knew that.)

I will definitely continue with meditation, magic, and Tantra, but now I know what they are in service to, and where to place my energy. I suppose self-acceptance is my path now. I am grateful for the strange and varied path that got me to this place, and I feel a deep sense of grace in knowing I’m not ‘sinful’ anymore. Jung was so right about acknowledging our darkness rather than hiding from it, there is both power and grace in that acknowledgement.

I love you, beautiful people. And I want you to know you’re good, even when you’re bad.
Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

*I believe that spiritual paths are suitable to different levels of psychological and spiritual development. And Christianity, as it is practiced in the West today can be useful to people who need a benevolent (hopefully loving) and also parental-style experience of god. For instance, people who are in recovery. Having a god that both loves you, wants you to do well, and will punish you if you don’t can keep people with addiction issues on the straight-and-narrow. But that’s about the only place I’ve seen it be as useful as it can be; many other places Judeo-Christian concepts and interpretations have caused a lot of fear, shame, and depravity. There are folks who are stripping off the parental piece of Christianity and evolving it into something more accepting and, honestly, Christ-like. People like John Pavolvitz and Nadia Bolz-Weber. But this article on Satanists also gives me hope.

 

 

0

The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life is Rebel

We are born into boxes.

When they pull you up and out of the womb, the first thing they say is the first box you’ll be stuck with: “It’s a boy!” “It’s a girl!”

You are born into a family with rules and norms already established, which you will be expected to follow.

Religion.
Sexuality.
Politics.
Behavioral norms.
Expectations for how your brain should work.
Et cetera.

Now, only recently have we come to understand that maybe this isn’t the best idea. That there ought to be room for people to define their own life, to describe their own gender, sexuality, politics, religion. But this is a very recent development.

As a parent, I certainly had no idea of this when my children were born. I knew I didn’t want to put as many requirements on them as my family had on me, but I was definitely not thinking about letting them define their own gender at the time they were born. (Although this seems like a reasonable thing, 13 years later.) I did expect that having children would bring people into our family and that they would be expected to function within this family until they were able to care for themselves. I see now that this was also slightly misguided. Already my kids are defining their lives away from our family rules (cool but also hard). I have to remember that rebelling, and becoming who they are, is the best thing they can do. And the best thing for our family.

::: ::: ::: :::

I’ve been thinking about rebellion a bit lately. That we are given, or accept, these boxes at various points in life and, quite often, they do not end up fitting who we are as we grow into our own truth. The boxes we are given may be as foundational as gender (M or F, pick one?) and breaking out of that can be a long, hard path. More often, I think we have to break out of the boxes of sub-culture: religion, politics, job expectations, etc.

I had to break out of the sub-culture of Christianity, a sub-culture that served me well for many years.

I had to break out of the sub-culture of ‘normal’ heterosexual marriage. [Have I told this story before? The day after we were married and headed out to our honeymoon, I sat my husband down, crying, and said, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore! I don’t want to be a ‘wife!’ ” He was a bit taken aback, but understood what I was getting at. I did not want traditional marriage roles. He gracefully said we would not be ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ then, but ‘partners’ – and so we have been.]

I had to leave the sub-culture of conservative politics.

I have been gradually transforming what sub-culture I relate to in my sexual identity.

I refused to enter the sub-culture of ‘busy kids’ where everyone has multiple activities. [Dare to be bored, my children!]

As an entrepreneur, I have left the sub-culture of ‘9-to-5 job.’ [They punish you big for this one.]

And more.

But it is in leaving these sub-cultures, in making my small rebellions, that I have become myself.

It has been in the moments of saying, “This does not work for me. This culturally-decided rule does not fit who I am or how I wish to live,” that I have created my own life, and been true to my deepest and best self.

This is messy work.

It is hard to leave behind boxes that supposedly guarantee the successes our culture offers. Certainly, as a white woman, even when I ‘rebel’ I still get the goodies- the money, the safety, the support our society calls ‘success.’ The stakes are higher and the punishment worse for people of color, indigenous people, disabled people, and others who dare to rebel.

There is a woman I follow on Facebook- Isabel Faith Abbott- who writes and speaks about rebelling in the medical realm. She refuses to accept the story of the ‘good warrior’ who deals with health issues and puts a smile on at every appointment or dismisses her pain and suffering (or tried to ‘make love and light’ out of it). She is a rebel whose quality and authenticity I hope to achieve. (She also just does not put up with the bullshit of our society and I learn a lot simply from reading her work.)

On the flip side, I know a hundred people who have not felt able to rebel around their work, and so are stuck with the ‘golden handcuffs.’ Income that provides for their needs and wants and safety, but a job that actually sucks the life out of them. (Some call it ‘slow suicide’ and I don’t think that’s far off from the truth.) Their choosing to not rebel leaves them empty, if safe. [I have begun to wonder about how this plays out with white women who politely protect racism…another post, perhaps.]

 

Photo by Aashish R Gautam on Unsplash

 

Rebellion is often hard, painful work. It can be hard due to emotional pain, leaving family, leaving work, leaving ideas of our self and who we are (or who we thought we were). In some cases there is deep punishment for rebelling. This may be with money or access to healthcare or simply access to our own bodies (I think of women in this and other cultures who have no say over who and what is done to their bodies; their rebellion may mean death) or many other things.

But the rebellion is often worth it.

Because to be able to be true to one’s own self is what the soul calls for. 

And to shake off or refuse the boxes that we are given throughout our life is a call to soul development, soul loving, and soul truth. It is being real.

To accept yourself, and thereby carve your own path, is much of what we are here to do. And I believe it makes the world a better place. When we show the fullness of who we are, we make a bigger, brighter, better version of the world to live in. We make more faces for God to love and laugh through.

Be who you are, fellow rebels. The world needs your colors and light and truth.

And I will be here, cheering you on.

Big love,
Joanna :: xoxo

 

 

0