The Pagan and the Atheist

I go through cycles in my spirituality. Sometimes I’m more focused on meditation, being still, calming my mind, enjoying the moment, etc. Other times I’m all about the visions and trance journeys, dreams, scrying, and working with guides. Still other times I pull out my spellbooks and get down to business with working some magic.

And then there are periods when all of that is fairly quiet and my agnostic side is dominant.

I never worry when a piece of my path recedes because I know that it will come back around again whenever it’s needed; however, I hadn’t realized why my agnostic side felt so disconnected from the rest of that cycle until I read two very different books: The Spiral Dance by Starhawk and The Atheist’s Way by Eric Maisel.

One was a very well-thought perspective that blended a deep respect for the author’s own beliefs and experiences with a kind of casual take-it-or-leave-it attitude. The author could clearly laugh at themselves, recognized that there was a certain level of absurdity to things, and wasn’t invested in anyone else believing as they believed. They expressed a healthy skepticism about the world along with some deeply held values, and they encouraged readers to make sure that reality testing worked with their own belief system as well. They addressed social justice issues and the way their worldview contributed to that. And they demonstrated respect for the whole person (rational, emotional, conscious, and unconscious).

I hardly expected to be blown away by either book, but after I finished the first, I was quite impressed.

The other book, in contrast, had the opposite effect.

From the first chapter, the author exuded classism and prejudice. They demeaned anyone who did not ascribe to their beliefs and presented humans as having to fight against their very nature and to uproot anything not in line with the presented worldview. Even worse, they used progressively religious, fear-mongering language in favor of the strict form of belief presented, warning of “backsliding” to those who dared stray from their path. All in all, they presented some of the most blatant slippery slopes, straw men, unaccepted enthymeme’s, and naturalistic fallacies I’ve seen in a book, religious or otherwise.

Would you believe it if I said that the latter was written by the atheist?

Despite stating over and over that his readers had the freedom and power to choose what they wanted to believe about the meaning of life, it became clear that there was only one acceptable choice in Maisel’s mind.

I guess up until then I’d never realized that I’ve carried around a mild shame over my chosen path. In my personal dialogue with myself about my beliefs, I’ve always said, “It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not because it is nurturing my psyche and helping me accomplish growth.”

But in conversations with others, I’ve always felt a need to hide my beliefs just a tad, especially around atheists.

It was sort of like I saw this hierarchy of spirituality.

Not being tied to a religious tradition out of fear felt like a step up from where I’d been, but not believing in gods at all seemed like the “better” more “rational” stance. (After all, I had basically chosen my own beliefs partially because they seemed more fun than believing in a non-magical world.)

But the truth is, I’d be much prouder to be like Starhawk than like Maisel.

Maisel’s atheism hasn’t made him more open-minded or more logical. In fact, I dare say that atheists like him and Dawkins are closer to religious fundamentalism than they would like to think. That’s not the kind of person I want to be!

I certainly don’t think all atheists are like that.

When I no longer have a bad taste in my mouth from this last book, I look forward to reading more atheist writers to round out my experience.

At the same time, I also no longer feel the inferiority of choosing to believe in the power and value of my own path.

Maisel was right, I do have the ability to choose the worldview I want to give my life meaning. What he failed to realize is that atheism is not inherently better. As Starhawk reminded me, my spirituality can enhance the meaning I find, strengthen my social justice commitment, and create harmony between my rational and “child-like” self.

Even if it’s based in make believe, I think that’s better than a worldview that cuts me off from parts of myself, makes me fear my own spiritual longings, and participates in systems and patterns of oppression.

 

 

 

 

I’m Going on a Pokemon Hunt!

Today is a day filled with shame! I’m so humiliated about the blog topic I want to cover that I feel I should be banned from blogging forever after this week.

But here goes.

Pokemon Go!

I love it. I’m delighted with it being all over the freaking internet and with the way that every time I go outside I can spot so many people playing.

Gah, please save me!

When my partner started playing Ingress, Niantic’s precursor to Pokemon Go, I rolled my eyes on good days and actively railed against the waste of time that it was on bad days.

But over the last week, I’ve found myself squealing over fuzzy virtual creatures and begging my partner to go on walks and drives and adventures to locate more pokemon.

At one point, I even dreamed about it!

I’m trying to keep a sense of humor about this new obsession of mine, but I have to say that there are things that I really admire about Pokemon Go (obsession aside).

The game is coaxing people outside! And not just onto streets or into their yards. It’s actually getting them to explore and be in nature.

From what I understand as a newbie to the Pokemon world, getting gamers out and about has been a goal for a while, but the Ingress technology has made that more possible than ever. This is an amazing development for video games, I think, and people have been reporting about the physical and emotional benefits of being out in nature even within the first week.

The downside is that all of that nature walking requires GPS tracking and data usage. Paranoid me is feeling pretty weird about a game being able to track my every move, and it’s one of the reasons why I resisted Ingress.

I’ve been checking my data usage regularly to make sure I don’t dig myself into a financial hole without realizing it, but more importantly, I’ve had to ask some tough questions about how much access I’m willing to give a game.

For now, at least, I’m going in favor of Pokemon Go. It’s providing me and other people a happy escape from a really stressful and uncertain time. It’s getting adults en masse to play like few other things have been able to do, and that is REALLY GOOD!

Humans need play, both for de-stressing and for stimulating creativity. Pokemon Go is providing a super simple and easily accessible form of fun and mild escapism. While the exercise and nature are, no doubt, contributing to the boost in mental health reported, I believe the play is also a component of that.

After a few days, I noticed that Pokemon Go, like other video games, was triggering the reward center in my brain with small and easy accomplishments (well, easy compared to getting a graduate degree or curing cancer, though I am still pissed that I lost my Gym battle the other day).

That’s also a good aspect within moderation. Having easily gained accomplishments each day is healthy, I think.

That being said, I’m guarded about the hooking effect of the game. Because games can set off the reward center of our brain more easily than other things, one of their pitfalls is forgetting to live actual life while continually seeking reinforcement in a game.

Pokemon Go has conditioning on its side. It operates on a variable rate reward system, promising and delivering a pokemon often enough to keep me excited and expectant but not so predictably that I can figure out the pattern that makes the pokemon appear.

It’s the same way that slot machines work, and this particular kind of conditioning is especially powerful because there’s always the hope that a reward is forthcoming at any moment.

All this adds up to a potentially addictive set-up, not to the social interaction or the adventuring but to the thrill of discovering a pokemon itself.

So the good and the bad, taken together. What do they mean?

For me, I think this game can be an amazing thing for me but I need to be a mindful consumer. I’m striving to enjoy the connection, the adventure, the fun, and the sense of accomplishment, but also remember that it can’t replace life.

I’m actively resisting the pull for it to become all-consuming, taking days off and planning when I will be playing for seriously. When I wake up in the middle of the night wanting to go out searching for Pokemon, I remind myself how the game functions and use those urges as a way to strengthen my own delayed gratification.

I’m also putting my phone down and going for a walk or an adventure without Pokemon Go serving as the excuse. It’s fun!

So while my partner won’t let me forget how much shit I gave him for Ingress a few months ago, I’m really not all that ashamed of my new hobby. I’m cautiously optimistic about the way that it will benefit my and others lives.

P.S. It’s okay if you don’t understand this current fad and find it uninteresting. However, for those who are bitching and moaning about millennials, please just shut the fuck up. I don’t think it’s worth my time to go into all the ways prejudice against millennials is hypocritical or how previous generations had equally frivolous time-wasters (albeit non-digitalized). We all have things we enjoy that others find silly. Let’s not turn that into food for ageism.

 

Let’s Talk About Race and Violence

I’m at a loss for words this weekend, but I do not want to remain silent in the face of violence towards others. Therefore, I am choosing to redirect to those whose voices are working better than mine currently. Below I will link to articles and posts I have found meaningful over the last few days.

I ask my readers to consider what they themselves can do to address racial issues, especially if you’re white.

Challenge your own implicit bias, open up conversations with friends, listen to the voices of the oppressed.

Shortly after the Orlando shooting, when I was lamenting how little I could do to change homophobia, I was reminded that modeling is one of the most important aspects of change. Change starts with you and with me. None of us have the power to change the world on our own, but we all have the power to influence our corner of it. Choose to use that power to create an environment around you that is better.

15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality
Many of these are things I’ve thought about before, but this article does a great job of articulating how and why they need to be implemented. The last point, especially, seems important to me.

The Irony at the Heart of the Dallas Police Deaths After a Black Lives Matter March
This article is important because it shows how some police departments are taking brutality seriously and attempting to create an atmosphere of accountability and transparency. The tragedy is that one of those departments was targeted. I share this article for two purposes: to show how senseless the assassination of those police officers was and to honor the work that Dallas has done to address brutality.

For White Folks Like Me Who Say They’re Mad
This is an important article about addressing racism in everyday life. We have opportunities to bring up racial issues. Sometimes they seem like “not a big deal.” Other times it seems like it would cause more trouble than it’s worth.

It’s worth it. Talk to people.

Implicit Association Test
It is vital that we all be willing to not just challenge our friends, acquaintances, and family about their racially oppressive language and behaviors but that we also be willing to look within to see where we might be conditioned to be racially biased ourselves. This test was designed to assess the subconscious bias that individuals might hold towards people of color. I challenge you to take it and consider how you can use what you learn about yourself to create a better world.

 

Call Businesses to Action in Promoting Consent

I love Twitter’s ability to hold people accountable for social justice issues.

Attn.com recently showed how beautifully Twitter can shut down rape-culture enforcing articles like the one Men’s Fitness Magazine recently published (and then removed) on “how to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’”

While the article should have never

a) been written

b) been published

Men’s Fitness Magazine at least responded fairly quickly to taking it down.

Good, yes?

Success?

Mmm, it’s a good start!

But it’s not enough.

We’ve gotten to the point where businesses are mostly willing to respond to outrage over rapey material, but the problem is that they seem to think they can just take it down, make some sort of statement about how some editor or supervisor failed to approve it properly before it went out, and then move on from there to their next mistake.

I think it’s time we started demanding more from the business world.

Whenever an advertisement, commercial, or article goes out there that supports rape culture and then gets taken down, I think we need to start demanding that a statement or article outlining the importance of consent is then sponsored by that business as a follow-up.

Men’s Fitness Magazine shouldn’t just remove the article by making an excuse and failing to apologize.

They should step up to correct whatever misperception they may have given readers about interactions with women. They should hire someone to talk about how you can respect a woman’s right to say ‘no’ and to explain what consent is and how to make sure you have it before you do something with someone.

Maybe while they’re at it, their employees can also take a class on consent.

 

When People Don’t Want You to Live, Existence Becomes a Revolutionary Act

People want to kill me.

Sorry, that was too deliciously melodramatic not to open with. Now that it’s out of my system, let me back up.

I’m currently conscious that people want to kill me. It’s probably the first time that it’s been a conscious, active awareness.

I’ve known that people think I should die for being under the Queer umbrella—that they might passively pray for it, preach about it, maybe even deign to say it to my face.

But the Orlando shooting was the first time I had the icy realization that there are people who would actively take measures to end my life.

Some say it’s my generation—that we Millennials have been spared the active, moving-beyond-dislike-into-murder kind of hatred that other LGBT faced several generations ago.

To some extent that is true. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that law enforcement will help hold space for a Pride parade instead of hauling people out of bars and beating the shit out of them for being gay.

It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that many teens and young adults can attend safe spaces on school campuses.

It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that religious institutions have begun the slow paradigm shift towards acceptance.

Yet, we haven’t come so far that Orlando is the first time that Queer people (especially Queer people of color or Queer people raised in fundamentalist homes) of my generation or younger have faced life-threatening prejudice. People are still beaten up, kicked out on the street, or murdered for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Orlando is just the first time that many in my generation have seen that hatred directed at so many people in a single incident.

Then again, it’s the largest mass shooting for our nation in a long time, so millennials aren’t the only ones having a “first” in this sense (Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t the largest in the history of the nation as this article points out).

Being forced to confront how deep someone’s hatred of you runs is a daunting feeling, but once the initial shock of it wore off, it reminded me of an idea that took root reading Shiri Eisner’s book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution.

My very existence is a revolutionary act that undermines a prejudicial society.

Simply by living and refusing to be erased or cowed into submission, my life becomes a big “fuck you” to everyone who would try to control me. People can do a lot of things, but they can’t take away my self-awareness or my pride. They can try to oppress me or destroy me, but they cannot change who I am.

Ultimately, it’s the fact they can’t prevent my existence that makes them truly angry and bound for failure no matter how they might want to end my existence.

There’s something powerful and elegant in that realization.

What’s my gay—ahem—bi agenda?

To live my life like a declaration of independence, not like an apology.

To not let fear dictate who I love—or who I hate.

To live my life authentically and do all I can to support others doing the same.

P.S. As a political side-note, right now people want my “agenda” to be trying to strip people of their fifth amendment rights, but I refuse to let my radical existence be hijacked so that others can be oppressed. We’ve come a long way as a Queer community. We’ve made a lot of progress. But we’re not done. The fight for recognition of civil rights (for everyone, not just ourselves) and the protection of rights already recognized is an ever-present struggle. 

 

5 Important but Simple Ways of Practicing Self-Care Following a Crisis

I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say this week. It seems like there are endless topics I could cover, but I’m not quite sure I’m ready to delve into those in the depth that they need. I realize there are probably dozens of others writing about very similar things, and right now very few people are able to read/hear and respond with open minds to anything they don’t already agree with.

According to Terror Management Theory, that’s part of the effects of being forcibly reminded of how fragile life is: we all cling to our worldviews all the more tenaciously because they give us a sense of order and meaning.

I get that. I see that happening. And I’m choosing to wait patiently for people (myself included) to return to a more open-minded place before asking anyone to engage in much discussion with me.

One thing that is relevant right now but isn’t being talked about nearly as much as I would like is self-care.

Whether it’s a national tragedy like the shooting in Orlando or your own personal crisis (or a combination of both as it is for many).

Whether you’re on the front lines as a first responder, among the wounded or ill, working publicly as an activist or quietly in the background caring for the wounded, weary, and discouraged.

Whether you’re out or closeted; gay or straight.

No matter who you are, self-care is important. It is essential. In fact, it’s so much so that it’s ethically mandated for those who work with crises professionally.

Yet it can be difficult to understand how to take care of yourself when your whole world seems to be falling down around you.

So I created a short list (distilled from what I was trained to do for myself) of some simple but very important things people can do during and following tragedy.

  1. Basics

Your body needs certain things to function well every day: liquids, food, sleep, bathroom breaks, probably showers and brushing teeth. If it’s possible to get those in the normal amount, do so. You function much better when you’re not depriving yourself of basic necessities.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to drink water or grab lunch when chaos demands your attention, so set alarms or create a system with others to help look out for each other.

Sleep can be an elusive bastard following catastrophe.

Some people’s jobs might require less than ideal hours during times like this.

Others find it difficult to shut down the mind when it’s time to sleep. Our bodies release adrenaline and other hormones during emergencies that are designed to keep us alert—which is good when we need to stay up but can make it difficult to rest even when it’s possible. Those hormones don’t just disappear because the clock says it’s time to go to bed.

Still, get what you can. A lack of sleep impairs the ability to think clearly and make sound judgments. For ways to help your body prepare for sleep during stressful times, the following points will be helpful.

  1. Discharge the energy

Staying awake isn’t the sole purpose of the hormones mentioned above. Alertness is a side effect of the main purpose. Our bodies are designed for fight or flight when faced with threat, but in our modern world, neither of those may be a viable option. That doesn’t stop our bodies for preparing for it, and we have to find something to do with that energy to prevent it from stagnating.

Exercise is a good way to burn through those chemicals. I love running because it is such a literal way of working through the flight urge, but any kind of cardio that you feel drawn to and physically capable of is effective. Play sports if you like competition. Go for a bike ride if you have trouble running.

It’s summer, so swimming can be an excellent form of physical activity with low impact and high yield.

Dancing can have many of the benefits of movement and exercise while also tending to the emotional side of things with the music and expression, not to mention social connection, which can be a very important component to resilience.

The goal of discharging the energy is to do something that tires you out. It’s not the “lose weight” kind of exercise, so don’t worry as much about calorie burn as you do about whether it helps your body feel better.

  1. Ground

Don’t just discharge the energy. Ground it as well. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help center and calm you.

Breathing can be especially helpful for trying to go to sleep. To still the roaring, circling thoughts, try counting during your breathing to occupy the mind’s focus. Presumably a count of four on the in-breath, holding for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight is like a magic formula for sleep. I can only verify that it’s never failed for me.

In further grounding techniques, look for ways to engage the senses. Grab your emotional first aid box, if you have one. Or create one and get in some creative expression at the same time!

One of my favorite sensory engagements is drinking aromatic herbal tea. The warmth of the liquid feels comforting. The tea is nourishing to my body (and also addresses basic needs). And the aroma of the plants is so pleasant that I end up breathing more deeply as I take in the luxurious scent. My favorite heart-care blend is catnip, lemon balm, and rose petals.

  1. Take Breaks

No one can sustain any amount of strain indefinitely and maintain good functioning, so make sure you take breaks as necessary.

For those literally on the front lines (nurses, emergency workers, police, counselors in the immediate area), breaks might be shorter by demand, but even five minutes to half an hour can help (and let’s face it, first responders who may be reading this probably have been trained in how to balance the demands of the crisis with self-care, so you probably just need a reminder that it’s important. Yes, you can hate me for being that person).

For those who are active on long-term goals rather than short-term emergency response, breaks are necessary both for your own mental health as well as for the sustainability of your cause. There’s a lot of shame and guilt that gets placed on care-takers and activists for taking time for themselves, but as Audre Lorde pointed out, self-care is “self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” No social justice campaign is worth its salt if the activists involved cannot value their own sustained functioning.

So as hard as it can be, turn off the news, close out the social media feeds, and set aside the debates periodically. Balance out your work with a focus on other things in your life. Allow yourself to play, relax, read, watch a fun movie, and have pleasure.

Humor is also an important form of taking an emotional break. Look for ways to laugh. Laughter is one of the most important forms of coping. The more heavy the work, the more you need to laugh. I was once asked at an interview whether I had a dark sense of humor. It was a make-it-or-break-it question for the job because it was so important for the mental health of those doing it to be able to find humor while they were working with tragedy.

Nature is nurturing, helps to calm the mind and lift the mood, and provides a necessary respite from technology. Get out in it. Feel the earth. Commune with plants. Bathe in moving water. If you don’t have access to nature, visualize it or look up a guided meditation online…and then close your eyes or turn away from the screen if you can as you listen to the meditation.

Breaks are not a betrayal of your cause. It’s creating a sustainable model of work. Allowing yourself to have a break will allow your mind to be fresh when you return; breaks are healthy and essential for creative solutions and effective action.

  1. Process your feelings

The range of what people are feeling during crisis runs the whole spectrum: shame, guilt, confusion, fear, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, desperation, numbness.

It’s okay to feel all of that. Your feelings, no matter what they are, are legitimate.

And!

They may not be telling wholly accurate stories right now.

Sometimes it’s possible to take feelings as they come, but during a crisis, you often need to take some extra time to understand them.

It’s a tough task to be with your feelings, validate them, and hear them out while also questioning the story they are telling you. It’s tempting to want to either believe everything they say or push them away entirely.

Usually, feelings make sense, but sometimes you have to get underneath a few protective layers. They might be saying, “This person is your enemy because they don’t agree with you!” when what they really mean is “I’m really scared and confused, and people having a different opinion from me feels threatening because it reminds me of how uncertain everything is right now.”

Give yourself time to really feel the feeling in all its intensity. Maybe write about it in a journal that you can read through later…or talk over your feelings with trusted support, be they friends, family, or counselors.

Big decisions may not be avoidable with intense emotions following a crisis, but if you can’t put decisions off, make them carefully and have feedback. The higher your emotions are running, the higher the likelihood of making a decision that is out of character for you and the more likely you are to regret it later. Intense emotions don’t have to result in bad decisions if you are aware of that possibility and approach them with enough care to avoid obvious pitfalls.

Also allow yourself to experience other emotions like joy, love, and gratitude. They might have their own story—that you shouldn’t feel them because of the crisis or that it’s wrong to experience positive emotions. But that story is about as false as the one that says it’s wrong to engage in self-care. Positive emotions build resiliency and give us the capacity to work through the shadow emotions.

Bonus (You thought there were only five?!)

Remember when I said that people are clinging to their worldviews right now?

One important but often overlooked aspect of post-crisis care is identity affirmation.

You (and everyone else) are unconsciously searching to affirm identity and regain a sense of safety and control following a tragedy anyway (hence the frenzy to defend the “rightness” of a worldview and the extreme sense of threat that might come when someone disagrees with it).

So bring that motivation to the forefront and consciously choose activities that affirm who you are in constructive ways. Create art or music, get together with people in your community, do something you find meaningful to contribute to the world, engage in spirituality, work towards a goal, or…write a blog post.😉

I’m Here. I’m Queer. And I Just Want To Grieve.

I wish there were a moratorium on political discussion following tragedies like Orlando so that for one fucking, goddamn moment we would all just have to be with our grief and sadness together.

Yes, the things that contribute to this will need to be addressed: the hypermasculinity and homophobia, the cults that, regardless of religious or political faces, convince people to do horrendous things, the access to weapons and how we screen people seeking them or screen what people can obtain, and most importantly, the continued struggle for basic civil rights of oppressed people.

We cannot sit idly by, unresponsive to the rising mass violence or to the targeting of minorities, but we shouldn’t use our response to distance ourselves from our pain, to bury our wounds under a body-guard of anger, because they will only fester.

One thing I’ve learned about grief is that it makes it SOOOOOO hard to think rationally and make good decisions while it is still fresh. There’s so much anger at…literally everything in grief, and it doesn’t make sense and is so hard to control. Little annoyances, daily tasks, they just become daunting.

The LGBT community needs the safety and space to rage and cry and curse without having to be on guard for people exploiting us either financially or politically and without having to worry about whether our expression of that rage and grief is rational enough for a serious conversation.

Yet we are called on, by each other and the rest of the world with all their varying pet agendas, to set aside the purity of our emotions and enter into an immediate chaotic search for “solutions”–anything that will give a false sense of safety.

People want to use our own fear to divide us, inhibiting our ability to hear each other and see each other.

I wish we understood that first we need to mourn and come together as a community and as human beings. And the rest of the world needs to hold space for that. Mourn with us, sure, but more importantly guard our right to mourn. This should be a sacred time for us, separate from what is to come.

Then, after we’ve had time to let the rawness of our grief settle, that’s when we need to come together as activists, politicians, voters, and citizens to figure out what our next steps are.

I’m not saying don’t politicize what happened because that would be impossible. But I am saying to stop trying to exploit and co-opt the emotional process. We can all argue over the political meaning of this massacre later. Right now, let me fucking grieve for what has happened to my community.