Presenting at Loki Fest 2019

Hey all – I know things have been super quiet here lately. Full time employment kicks my ass, as do all the side gigs and chronic health issues and aging cats and family stuff and all the rest that’s involved in just maintaining the meat.

In the midst of all this though I’m excited to be presenting at an online conference later this summer! This means that not only do people in this hemisphere have no excuse for not showing up, it means that I’m not required to wear pants for the occasion (no promises either way, though).

The online conference is FREE; you just need to register. The info is on the flyer, or email the organizer (also on the flyer). It’s all on the flyer. I’m just presenting, I can’t tell you loads about registering or getting there or anything. If you’re in California, there will be a weekend of rituals and celebrations. It’s a scent-free event that will take place (in part) in a public park. Again, contact the organizer for information.

64948755_10217899015134234_5101897470875533312_o

What am I presenting? It’s called Sweet Idolatry, and it’s all about venerable images. This is a new conference session that I brought to PantheaCon 2019 (San Jose) and SpiritCon 2019 (Salt Lake City), and will be revising and improving with additional material specifically for Loki Fest. It’ll be good. I have lots of pictures.

Recognizing hang-ups in my sacred relationships

While listening through a back episode of the Satsang With Shambhavi podcast on appropriate relationships, a very important question was raised. To paraphrase, she asked why we love who we love. If the only answer we could come up with was about us and about how we feel, and not about the one we love, then we’re ultimately making that other person into an object that satisfies some need of ours and not actually appreciating them as an individual full of qualities that are loveable regardless of how we feel. (Again, I’m paraphrasing. You may enjoy hearing her explanation for yourself in an episode called Dharmic Relating and Appreciation.)

Although Shambhavi was speaking from within her own tradition and that context certainly needs to be respected, I found some applicable wisdom there that really made me review some things in my own relational dynamics. I know I hang on fiercely to my sacred relationships, and still experience fear and anxiety rising out of unresolved emotional baggage – baggage that the Powers really don’t deserve to have hauled onto Their doorsteps day after day. Even though the only thing I am actually capable of offering is myself, I do have a certain obligation to make sure that this offering is as good as I can make it. I can be humble in acknowledging the need for improvement while also being brave in its pursuit.

Sure, some days all I’m capable of is dropping some incense on the altar, offering respects, and saying, “Maa, this is all I am.” There are days when I’m too tired, too heartsick, too drawn out to even take refuge in the practice. All I can do is present myself as I am. All I can focus on is how I’m feeling, and I trust that even this is accepted.

All the same, I can’t even think of the number of times when I’ve resisted various shifts and moods in my primary spiritual relationship(s) just because I’m scared of how I’m going to feel as a result, or what’s going to happen to me. For all the times that I’ve bravely and happily leaned into change (or not so bravely and not so happily!) there have been at least as many times when I’ve begged the process to stop.

I can readily admit that no small part of this not-so-occasional resistance and reluctance is based in various traumas and abuses, as well as all kinds of psychological pitfalls that have developed over a lifetime of not-so-very-gentle treatment. And yes, I can also admit that one cannot force oneself out of these traumas and abuses and psychological pitfalls just by dint of wanting to, or just because one decides that one’s adopted piety is going to be stronger than deep-seated anxieties. You can’t strongarm yourself into suddenly becoming a whole and healthy human being, but you can certainly bully yourself into repressing your shit for another few years and mistaking that for healing.

Even after having gone through a lot of personal growth and relational improvement with our supportive and beloved Powers, we’re going to find a lot of blind spots. I still find myself focused a lot on how I feel within one relationship in particular instead of focusing on what about Them is so loveable and how I can celebrate that. I still find myself focused on clinging to the facets of the relationship that I feel reasonably secure about getting a positive message from – that message being basically, “you’re loved! you’re safe! you’re accepted!” See, even after all this time, there are Powers in my life that I fear will leave – and once again this has nothing to do with Them and everything to do with ME and about how I feel. Because even though I trust Them, I fundamentally feel that I am unworthy of love. Even though They have never left me behind, I fundamentally believe that I will always be abandoned. And so I keep hauling this baggage into my relational dynamics. I’m scared to move past this stage even as I ask for deepening knowledge and experience.

Of course, none of this is to say that we need to stay in abusive relationships with Powers or people. Recognizing abusive dynamics is extremely important, and people who have experienced abuse all too often explain away their emotional experiences by finding ways to justify the abusive party’s actions. However, it’s important to recognize that the subtle objectification that occurs when we allow ourselves to utilize another person or Power as a way to fulfill an emotional need, we are opening the door for an abusive dynamic to potentially occur. Even if explicit abuse does not occur, a relationship will still certainly fail if the parties in a relationship characterized by this kind of emotional objectification don’t correct the problem. To use a crude metaphor, emotional objectification is a bit like using a masturbatory aid for one’s emotional gratification; the other person is there to help you feel full of gooey, loving emotions – and it’s quite obviously problematic if there isn’t a lot of sharing-alike of those gooey, loving feelings in return.

Also, none of this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t feel good in the relationships and contexts that we are in. It is entirely natural to desire positive emotional feedback from the practice traditions we’ve chosen to adopt and the Powers we are in relationship with. What’s problematic is desiring this positive emotional feedback without examining why we want it, or how  we go about getting it, or what we do as a result of not getting it. Examining our thoughts about the relationships we’re in and why we tend to drift away from things when the gooey feelings run out is important. Are we really only in a tradition for the next rush of brain chemicals? Are we really only pursuing a sacred relationship in order to feel that rush of love? Feeling those rushes aren’t intrinsically bad or negative. We have to determine for ourselves how ethical we are being – to ourselves and others! – as we go about pursing those rushes. We have to determine for ourselves if there are simpler, more straightforward, less costly ways of achieving the desired emotional end.

I *don’t* want abusive dynamics in any of my relationships. I *do* want to explicitly recognize and celebrate the features in my relational partners that are so very worthy of appreciation. I *don’t* want to just focus on how I feel in these relationships. I *do* want to think about how I can make my sacred Beloved happy. I *do* want to go beyond the fears and anxieties I’ve drug around with me my whole damn life. It’s hard, though. I suppose it’s absolutely some of the hardest work any of us can ever do.

Worshiping Loki audio book now available!

With any luck, I can paste a bit of code and you’ll see a PayPal button appear; you don’t need a PayPal account, you should just be able to enter your payment card data and download the mp3 file directly.

 

***

Hurray and huzzah, the hard work of a whole year is finally finished. The audio book version of Worshiping Loki is finally available for sale. I started working on this project, um, a long time ago. I started laying down the audio that would turn into the final version of the project a calendar year ago.

In all honesty, it’s not perfect. “I can talk into a mic” I thought; “I can edit an audio clip,” I thought. And I could – but there was a lot more to making an audio book than those two tasks. It took so. much. time. Editing 4 minutes of audio would take around an hour. And then I would go back through it and do it again. And probably a third time in the final pass. I did get a bit faster at all the steps as I went on but yikes. It really does take for fucking ever.

Yes, there’ll be an audio version of Heartroad. With any luck, it’ll be even better than this one. And the next one will be better than that. And so on.

I really, really want to make polytheist and pagan religious material more widely available. I know that a single shitty audio book recorded in actually-a-video-studio is not going to solve the myriad issues of accessibility affecting these communities, but this is what I can contribute at this time.

 

 

 

Faith in proof

A few days ago there was a back and forth on a friend’s social media account about the differences between faith and proof. One person asserted that they didn’t have faith in the gods because their past experiences provided them with proof of the gods’ (presumably positive) influence in their life. Furthermore, in the unfolding of the conversation, ‘faith’ and identifying as ‘of faith’ was attributed to Christians only (and presumably those who had yet to jettison whatever conditioning came along with being suffused in a culture colored by these particular faithways).

Several other people pointed out that faith as a concept was not unique to Christians, nor was having faith in the High Ones (by whatever names or attributes we ascribe to Them) something that characterized Christian faithways as such. I pointed out (with some degree of snarkiness, I have to admit) that non-Christians were just as likely to describe their own faith in their divinity-infused worldview in terms of proof, as well. That is, we have faith because we have been giving proof of some kind. In other words, we have a trusting confidence – and/or a hope, and/or an optimism – that the Powers we are in relationship with will continue to relate to us in a meaningful, increasing way. Whether that means we hope that the gods will help us endure difficult times, or whether we will be aided towards successful outcomes, or whether we desire ongoing emotional reciprocation in a way we can recognize and respond to doesn’t much matter. Something has to have already happened such that we feel it’s worth our mental effort to expect – or hope, or desire, or even leave the possibility of maybe just maybe please – future reciprocation will occur.

We have faith carrying us towards the future because something happened in the past.

The religious milieu I was raised in made me elaborate promises about the rewards of faith, about the rewards of trusting that a god was there listening to me and caring about me. And while I remain open to the possibility that that deity is there, somewhere, they and I clearly didn’t click on some level. Reciprocation was never in evidence, regardless of my child’s confidence in the words of the people around me. Many people discover – and fail to discover! – divine reciprocation in precisely this manner. A particular deity or face of divinity is championed by their devotees, and a person might be persuaded to invest some emotional confidence in that deity. If that confidence pays off, the person then has the emotional proof they need that their initial faith was, indeed, rewarded. If that confidence doesn’t pay off, the person may wander off to find something else entirely to invest emotional confidence in or they may be open to trying again. It depends on what they think they stand to gain (and lose) as a result of making that first emotional investment.

Because let’s face it – people don’t usually make formative decisions about their spiritual lives based on the kind of metrics that govern most other choices. (Sure, there are those of us hijacked into various practices, and who persist as a matter of self-preservation, but that’s a rather separate conversation.) We’re not choosing deities to love or traditions to participate in based on future employment prospects, household financial goals, miles per gallon, or whatever. We’re balancing ideas we have about complex, subtle concepts like the soul, afterlife, sacred emotionality, sacred community, the continuation of tradition, and so forth. We come up with equally complex and subtle metrics by which to see how they fit into any new spiritual practice or relationship we might consider taking up; when balancing currently-held ideas against the emerging proof offered by new spiritual experiences, a fragile battle can occur. Here we might even find a crisis of faith.

In a way, faith or confidence in the networked complex that includes the Powers and the relationships we share with Them rises out of what experiences we judge worthy of being called proof. While individual traditions might provide guidance on what faith is, how it is cultivated, and how it is expressed, what it means (and even what it should be called) is by and large up to us to individually decide. At the same time, trying to ‘splain why someone else should not have faith is entirely unhelpful. The hidden soil in which one’s confidence and yearning for the Powers is sown is quite private; even through close self-examination we can’t always say what grows there.

**

People have sometimes asked me why I worship Loki. The best answer I have is that He has proven Himself worthy of worship. Although I hold up almost two decades’ of experience with Him as the foundation of faith in Him, my heart feels weak at the enormity of the expansive mystery that continues to surround Him. My confidence is based on proof that comes from past experiences, yes – but my faith is rooted in knowing that I am willing to always face whatever mystery He turns towards me. I have confidence in Loki, and I have faith in myself.

PantheaCon and SpiritCon programing

If you’ll be at PantheaCon, you’ll be able to find me presenting Beginning Devotional Practice and Sweet Idolatry: Image Veneration in Paganism and Polytheism. Both will take place on Monday (assuming the schedule doesn’t change, which it always could). Sweet Idolatry is a brand new session, and I’m super excited to share it with everyone. PantheaCon is held in San Jose, CA; this year it goes from Feb. 15 – Feb. 18.

This year I’ll also be sharing Advancing Devotional Practice in the Temple of Antinous hospitality room at PantheaCon. I’ve updated the talking points this year, so if you’ve been to this session in the past, feel free to join us again for a fresh take on this conversation.

Unlike most conference sessions I do, this one is a guided conversation where participants are encouraged to share their experiences and thoughts to a level they feel comfortable. I hope to build personal and collective confidence in ourselves as able to address the complex situations that arise during long-term emotional engagement in polytheist and pagan religious traditions. Please join us! (Exact time/date to be announced.)

advancing devotional practice na 2019 sample

I’m planning to offer divination at PCon, which is something I’ve done most years. I have to sign up first thing on Friday, so I won’t know for sure which time slot I have until I get there. I’ll keep y’all updated with details as they develop. My rate is $20 for 20 minutes; I’ll have some tarot and oracle decks. If you want to schedule a reading, let me know ahead of time and I’ll be sure to make some time for you.

If you’re in the Salt Lake City, UT area, be sure to stop by SpiritCon taking place March 30 – 31 (you can find the info on Facebook and on their website). I’ll be presenting Sweet Idolatry there, too. I won’t be vending or offering readings at SpiritCon this year, but I’ll be around to talk and catch the other programing. I’m excited to support this homegrown UT convention in its second year.

 

All Names, All Forms

Before I begin, I have to disclaim what I’ll be saying. Everything I’m saying here, I’m saying on behalf of my own practice. Although a number of teachers and traditions have given me the immense benefit of their wisdom, I don’t speak on their behalf; I am not interpreting these teachings except insofar as I have received these teachings and strived to understand them within the context of my own spiritual practice and longings. That is, my understanding of the teachings I have received will always be limited, and although I continually hope for improved knowledge and greater insight, the understandings arising in my heart and mind will always be uniquely my own, subject to change and growth.

I don’t have the authority to provide you with a vision of a teacher’s or a tradition’s body of wisdom, so don’t look for those kinds of authoritative statements here. If, however, the practice you do and the practice I do happen to have some similar points, or if you feel that the particular homework I’ve done as a student is helpful in your own studies, I can be glad that we have found ourselves in the same classroom at this time and place.

Let’s begin.

**

The Devi said,

“This world that you are experiencing now is nothing but my power. The only remedy for your ignorance is to worship me as your innermost Self. Surrender yourself to me with one-pointed devotion and I will help you discover your true being. Abide in me as I abide in you. Know that even now at this very moment there is absolutely no difference between us.”

This excerpt is from (one translation of) The Devi Gita, wherein the Divine Mother speaks on many important subjects. Here, She tells in us several ways that She – Her power, specifically – is our only experience. All this experience includes us: our self-awareness, our proprioception, our vibrant kinetic being as well as the indwelling knowledge of our personality in all our boundaries and estuaries.

When read in the private echo chamber of our own head, this can seem like an astonishing and profound statement. That goddess, that radiant speaker who encompasses all of reality, is right here, at the foundation of my being! She’s me, and I’m Her!

When applied outside that little bony echo chamber, this statement can become a little harder to swallow. Sure, we can certainly acknowledge the Divine Mother in the eyes of our sangha, the community of worshipers and devotees who share our practices and path. Sure, we can probably acknowledge the Divine Mother in the eyes of our familiar circles – blood relations, friends, acquaintances, and so forth. Maybe in an abstract way we can apply this principle to all of reality – including humanity as a whole! The work of taking in and fully digesting this basic principle is the work of a lifetime. The work of many lifetimes, if you like.

There are any number of people who like to suggest that “goddess worship” (whatever that means) is the entitlement of a particular flavor of person. What the precise and universal recipe for creating this flavor is anyone’s guess, although there are a handful of common ingredients that people reach for when attempting to set aside times and places for flavors-of-people to get busy with the above-mentioned “goddess worship”. While I am, of course, entirely incapable of explaining the mental gymnastics that must be undergone to reach this desired conclusion within anyone else’s tradition(s) or practice(s), I can point this bit of scripture (and others) to reach a clear and straightforward conclusion about who is entitled (*cough*) to go about honoring, revering, celebrating, communing with, and yes even worshipping this supreme principle within the scope of my own engagement with a worship tradition.

Everyone. She’s speaking to everyone. “There is no difference between us.”

There is no convolution of personality, no quirk of physical manifestation, no boundary of psychology that prevents Her full and unrestrained power and personality from being present at every point in all of reality.

Yes, we may select times and places, and create conditions under which it becomes easier to *notice* this basic truth, but that doesn’t make the basic truth any more truthful. Similarly, this basic truth it doesn’t become less truthful just because we fail to acknowledge it – or choose to ignore it.

The selection and creation of times, places, and circumstances to notice this first and utmost truth must be done in a manner that references its wisdom at every stage. Rituals must be created so that all have the potential to self-include, else we run the risk of failing to acknowledge the pervasive and unrestricted presence of Who we are claiming to worship in the first place. These opportunities for worship and celebration can be created in a manner that preserves the integrity of a tradition and its manner of passing along knowledge. If, however, the human-level mechanics of a tradition – that is, the explanations and justifications for why people must be prevented from having the option to self-include, then a tradition must be reassessed as to whether or not it really takes seriously the Who that is being celebrated.

Who this Divine Mother is, what Her nature might be, and how She might choose to manifest is beyond my ability to contemplate. What I do know is that She is present in the people before me, as well as in all the other expressions of reality that I might come in contact with on a day to day basis. I can choose to remember Her words, or I can choose to forget them.

I welcome trans gender, gender variant, gender expressive, gender expansive, and gender peculiar human realities in my practice, along with those who identify in ways not mentioned. Whether or not an individual personality gets along with mine, or can abide by the rules of time/place/condition, or even wants to be part of my practice are all secondary considerations behind this first. First they are welcome – then they can choose to participate, or not, or to take care of their shit for a while and try again another time. First they are welcome – not because of my personal history, or the personal history of my friends, or the personal history of people I know, or the noble words people have spoken, or the hatred that makes me want to find a counterbalance in a sphere I can control, but because of a fundamental principle underlying my long engagement with a spiritual universe that leaves me continually humbled, speechless, and cherished. Ignoring that truth is to ignore the path itself; thus far I have never chosen to do so. Thus, all are welcome and will be welcome.

**

This blog entry has been written as part of a social media campaign utilizing the hashtag #TransphobiaIsASin . It was launched by the Co-Editors of the #BlackTransPrayerBook to “reframe the conversation about trans people in faith spaces on Tuesday, Jan 15th[.]”

moonset-remixed

Coucher de Lune. Thomas Bresson Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (Wikimedia Commons)

 

transphobiaisasin

Odin and Brenda

At the very beginning of the year we heard the news that a particular species of Hawaiian tree snail died out when the last of its species, a member named George, passed away at age 14. The loss of a species – any species, no matter how apparently humble to tastes deliberately acculturated to charismatic megafauna – is something that should be deeply mourned. We are not isolated from other species, nor from other individual members of our own species, therefore the loss to the matrix we are inextricably part of is understood on personal, interpersonal, collective, and universal levels.

 There was a facet to the intricate prism of life that was present, and then it was not. To all our knowledge, there is no replacing that facet. It does not exist anywhere else in any known or imagined corner of the universe. Our universe is thus less complex, and we have lost the ability to understand some aspect of it because we have lost this particular facet of it.  

We can mourn and wring our hands about the folly that led to this loss, but what can this level of folly tell us about the foolishness of trying to deliberately keep one facet of universal experience out of another facet? Although polytheists are generally on board with the tenet that the Powers (divinities, spirits, ancestral entities, et al) are separate and distinctive in their personalities, several of our various traditions give us wisdom about how divine Powers in particular came forth. Perhaps They all rose from a unified field of divine awareness, or came to diverse awareness from an underlying principle or material, and started their myriad activities from there. Furthermore, our personal experiences interacting with Them is frequently such that They hunt in packs. To borrow a marketing jingle, you can’t worship just one.

 They gods have families. They have friends. They have lovers. They have drinking buddies. They have roommates. They have associates. They have business partners. They have intra- and inter-pantheon connections that our mortal minds boggle at, and nonetheless the pattern plays out with hilarious – and telling! – regularity. The Powers come in packs. Polytheist Powers are not singular. Even if a worshiper might focus on a singular Power that hails from a polytheist context, we are deeply aware of Their connections.  

As an example, in the Norse tradition many of the Powers we know things about, we know via their kennings. Kennings are poetic allusions that don’t always translate very tidily. One of Odin’s names found in Voluspa is Angan Friggjar; this is usually translated as “Delight of Frigg” (Frigga being a primary wife of Odin). Therefore, if we know anything about Odin, even if we worship Odin in a very singular manner, we are aware of Frigga as well.  

Odin does not and cannot exist in a monotheist context. The existence of other Powers (so many others, with so many natures and personalities) are embedded into Him; acknowledging Him is acknowledging the complex spiritual-social universe He’s part of. Trying to blot out the Frigga facet, say, prevents you from understanding the part of Odin that connects to Her. And if your goal is to venerate, honor, acknowledge, or remember Odin in any kind of meaningful way, then that goal must include trying to know everything you can about Him. That means noticing and trying to understand something about Frigga. Via Frigga’s perspective, you will see Odin through a different perspective, and come to know something new about Him. Thus will your goal be furthered.  

An interesting thing about Odin. He’s also called Vinr Lopts (“Friend of Lopt”), although the source for this kenning I could trace back only so far as a Latin dictionary of Icelandic skaldic poetry published in the early 19th century (precisely where this kenning is found in the source lore I’m not sure; perhaps someone can help me). If we’re going to know Odin comprehensively, then we have to be aware of and not shy away from that facet of His nature that has Loki’s name on it. Blotting out that facet robs us of full knowledge of Odin’s nature – and not just of Odin’s nature. Remember how polytheist Powers travel in packs?

 **

 In my publically-available writing and in my speaking engagements I’ve talked a lot about the need to trust our experiences, and also the need to think critically about our practice and our reactions to it. After all, the source lore that forms the historical context for our personal engagement with our polytheist traditions of choice, birth, and/or circumstance sets the stage for our experiences; not in all cases will source lore help us make sense of our experiences very adequately. Personal experience can be extremely messy and yes, at times excessively painful.

 I don’t talk openly about the pain I’ve experienced in the course of my spiritual life because, well, it’s fucked up. In all the time that’s passed since various incidents have occurred, I still don’t know how to explain it. I certainly don’t know WHY these things happened. “Helping me be a better spirit-worker” seems a shit explanation. So does “Helping me be more open to the gods”. I’ve spent a lot of time delving deep into very complex traditions looking for satisfactory answers, and I’ve come up with fuck-all. I’ve just had to get used to living with the pain, the uncertainty, and the lack of satisfactory explanations. That’s not exactly satisfactory, either.

 I don’t think blaming the gods for this is the right solution, and I don’t know why. I don’t think blaming the people who were standing around at the times these things happened is the right solution either, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I have the mindset of “Y’all fuckers are in this with me and we burn or survive together.” Maybe it’s because I was subconsciously demanding that They fix what They broke, even if I wasn’t consciously assigning blame to (all) of Them. Maybe it’s because I didn’t see pain, even excessive pain, as the necessary end to a sacred relationship. (Maybe it’s because I’m fucking cracked.)

 I’m not saying what I did was right or even best. I can say that I’m in a better situation now, considerably. I can say that I’ve learned a lot. I don’t know if these statements are in anyway correlated. I do know that the gods I love have persisted with me, and I have persisted with Them (for the most part. One bailed on me, possibly because my work with Them was done, possibly because I fucking suck and deserve only to be abandoned; I don’t know). I can say for certain that I would understand less about my life and my experiences of embodied existence if I had continually and deliberately and selectively chosen to blot out facets of my interconnected experience, an on-going holographic swell that brings my awareness into closer and closer proximity with the staggering poignancy of sacred Personality. If I had deliberately chosen to blot out those facets – if I had sought extinction events based merely on my limited experience of personalized pain, who can say what knowledge I would have lost as a result? If we lose incalculable knowledge as a snail species exits our solar system, our galaxy, our universe, what is lost when a Power’s presence is lost to a human heart?  

I’m not noble for having stuck with the gods (thus far), and someone is not automatically ignoble for choosing to build border walls to keep out divine experience based on the experience of past pain attributed (incorrectly or correctly) to one set of divine hands or another. The Buddhists measure sentience according an entity’s tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain; the avoidance of pain is in accordance with our nature as thinking, feeling, calculating beings. Sometimes, as someone wiser than me once put it, the prize is not worth the price. The gauzy promise of wisdom won as a result of coming out the other side of a gauntlet of painful experiences is simply not worth the heavy toll of trudging through the immediate and physically crushing pain being visited on the self by others. When those others are deities that (we imagine) should know better, we can’t help but feel resentful. When those others are humans that (we imagine) should have sympathy, we can’t help but feel deep, abiding bitterness and anger. You certainly can’t blame a person for feeling resentful, bitter, and angry – but you can perhaps question an ongoing opting-in to a bigotry.  

For instance, we might entirely understand why a person (let’s call her Brenda) who lived in a neighborhood where, let’s say, all people between 40 and 60 tended to drink excessively on weekends. This person had suffered property damage, business loss, and perhaps even personal injury due to rowdy 40- and 50-somethings drinking heavily on weekends. This went on not just a handful of times, but several very pointed times over a concentrated period of years. Friends and family members outside of the area pointed out to Brenda that not everyone in this demographic drank heavily – well, some did, but not just on weekends. Or maybe they did drink on weekends, but not excessively. Or even if they did, they didn’t wander around hurting people and setting cars on fire. Or maybe a scant handful did, but they lived in other places and others in Brenda’s zip code didn’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush. Basically, Brenda was clearly having terrible experiences with a limited group of people who happened to share a constellation of similarities to other people within other overlapping groups.  

We can certainly understand why Brenda is angry, and she starts refusing to live with or visit anyone age 40 – 60 and kinda doesn’t want to talk to anyone age 40 – 60 (unless she decides that they’re “one of the good ones”). However she is continually presented with a growing body of evidence *that not everyone in this age demographic behaves in the same manner*. She makes the decision to ignore this evidence, choosing instead to continually opt-into her bigotry on the basis of her past pain. Her vision is selective, seeing examples that reinforce her worldview; her hearing is selective, listening to voices that reinforce her opinion, and thus she chooses, over and over again, to never exorcise her past injuries with new experiences.  

We all know a Brenda. Hell, we might be a Brenda in some ways. I know I have a Brenda inside me. I have to fight against a tendency to nurse my entitlement to staying hurt forever.  

But what if I’m wrong? What if I draw the wrong conclusions about my pain and my entitlement to it? What if I end up shutting out the very source of knowledge that could end up helping me?  

Along with the sad news of snail extinction, another interesting article made the social media rounds – this one on intellectual humility. Basically it was about academics learning how to admit that they could be wrong. Just as spiritual practitioners have to learn from our own experiences and gain the confidence required to trust ourselves in our practice, we also have to learn to be wrong. We have to leave mental and emotional space to change course without feeling like we’ve “done bad”. Although opting into bigotry and other known fallacies is never going to serve us in the long run, these are errors we can learn to see. Humility is required, and gods know that’s not an easy thing for anyone to develop. It’s possible, though. It’s always possible.  

Thus will our own multifarious facets achieve greater clarity. Thus will self-knowledge flourish.