Irreverence is Good for the Soul

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how I was learning to put playfulness back into playing my violin. It got me thinking about how important playfulness is in my life. Whether it’s wearing fairy wings to work, dressing up in a prom dress just to dance around my apartment, hanging crayon drawings on my walls, or building fairy houses, play finds its way into almost every major area of my life to some extent or another.

But nowhere is it more important than in my spiritual practice.

When I work a spell, celebrate a holiday, perform a ritual, read tarot cards, scry, or peruse religious texts, I deliberately approach the process with a sense of play. I try to never take any of it too seriously because I have found that somberness kills.

Christianity is filled with a fear of light-heartedness. It’s so taboo that “church laughter” has come to mean “uncontrollable laughter at an inappropriate time.”

[Edit: Some have pointed out that my above statement is vague. I do not mean to imply that all of Christianity is afraid of all light-heartedness. Rather it holds a phobia of irreverence and a fear of laughing at itself. In my experience, Christians of all denominations hold certain things to be outside the realm of laughter, whether it be the Virgin birth, Cross, Resurrection, or any other doctrine. That’s not to say that there are no open-minded Christians capable of laughing at themselves and their beliefs, merely that the lack of brevity is much more common in the interactions I have had.]

The sect that I grew up in was even more burdened by a phobia of playful spirituality. Communion was an affair wrought with terror because taking it with a flippant attitude could potentially result in my death, or so I was taught. Making fun of the sacred was a sin—a sin potentially unforgiveable if it was bad enough to insult the Holy Spirit. Even laughing at the foibles of a pastor was discouraged with terrifying stories about children who were eaten by bears after disrespecting a prophet.

Therefore, my first acts of freedom and exploration were tentatively making fun of my religion. It was terrifying and liberating to a degree that would seem absurd to anyone who hadn’t grown up with such taboos.

irreverence good for soul

Today, the things you’ll hear out of my mouth make even atheists gasp in shock. It feels great to ridicule what I was taught was too sacred to question. But here’s my secret, I don’t hate Christianity as much as my ridicule would suggest.

What I hate is the mindset that you have to be scared of irreverence.

I definitely didn’t want to carry that fear over to my new spiritual practices, so I turned it into play time—a time to let my imagination make believe whatever it wants. Staring into a scrying mirror, I’ve met beautiful elves. I’ve eaten cakes with fairies and played hide-and-seek with brownies. One of my favorite meditations is actually wrestling with one of my totems.

Even the “serious” stuff gets lightened up with dramatic displays that make me feel just a little bit silly—just enough to take the edge off.

That’s not to say there is never any darkness. I’ve written about embracing the shadows before. A lot of my spiritual work is healing my own trauma. It can get grim and scary. A simple meditation can leave me crumpled on the floor in tears because my subconscious decided to bring up a memory and say, “listen to me.”

But the presence of solemnity is all the more reason to keep play integral. Play gives me the freedom to explore without the need to get the answers right away. It relieves stress, allowing me to approach the shadows with anticipation rather than anxiety. It shuts down the overly critical, cynical, “adult” voice in my head so that I can contact the parts of me that aren’t so vocal.

In other words, play is what makes spirituality work for me because it frees it from the limitations of expectation.

Developmental classes will teach that play is vitally important to growing up because it’s the means through which children learn about their world and themselves—it’s what makes them so adaptable.

I don’t necessarily think that is only true for children. I think adults need play too. I think the more difficult life gets, the more desperately we need a playful approach. If spirituality is meant to help us deal with the aspects of life that feel out of control, then it is only natural that play should be part of that.

"Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." -Chesterton

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” -Chesterton

People assume that playfulness is immaturity, shallowness, or naivete. They couldn’t be farther from the truth. Playfulness, imagination, and brevity are essential to any truly serious project.

Without them, solemnity drowns the soul.

On a Scale of 0 to 10, My Pain Is . . .

“Does that hurt?” the doctor asked me, pressing against my swollen foot.

“Yes?” I asked, then added, “No. I don’t know.”

“You’re grimacing.” She moves her hand to a different spot.

“Yeah, I think it hurts.”

Putting my foot down, she makes a note on the computer. “Has the pain worsened since it happened?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure. It comes and goes.”

This was me in the doctor’s office on Thursday as I got my foot checked out after having it hit by a baseball on Tuesday night. Thank goodness she didn’t ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 0-10 because I would have given two answers on two opposite ends.

The truth is, I have no idea how to gauge my pain. When I broke a toe in high school, I walked on it until it healed, wearing four inch heals every Sunday. I never went to the doctor, even though I could clearly see that it was misshapen.

“That’s impossible!” people have told me.

Maybe for someone who grew up in a normal environment—where belts are not considered legitimate whipping tools, where sexual abuse doesn’t lurk around church corners, and where abusive siblings don’t minimize the pain they caused after throwing you across your room by your neck.

Bur for someone who faced the possibility of pain on a daily basis, I’m not sure I could have survived if I hadn’t learned how to ignore it. I became very good at dissociating out of my body, talking myself out of my feelings, and redefining sensations as something else—as something acceptable to my various abusers.

So what happens when I suddenly don’t need the protection of a high pain tolerance?

I have to teach myself to listen to my body again.

Notice I didn’t say teach myself to feel pain again. My body, on some levels, has no problem feeling pain. It registers in my brain just fine. Sometimes it’s from current stimuli; sometimes it’s from past traumas. I feel it, but immediately my cognitive mind works to control its interference. Deep breaths, creative visualization, etc.

Like most things in life, it’s not bad in and of itself. The ability to look past pain is a good tool for pain management.

However, that’s not so good when the pain is there to tell me that something bad happened—like my foot this week, or the shin splints that notified me that I needed to adjust my running a few weeks ago, or the pulled muscle that told me I pushed myself too far in yoga last year.

In high school, I would have ignored all of those unless I simply couldn’t function—and I would have done permanent damage to my body.

I may not feel any more inclined to acknowledge the pain now. I could have muscled my way through this current injury if I were determined. I chose to go to the doctor—not because the pain was more intense than it was the last time I broke a toe, but because this time I’m committed to caring for and loving my body.

Plus I’m surrounded by people, for once, who don’t understand why the hell I wouldn’t go to the doctor if I had a question of injury, so I had lots of encouragement.

Turns out the X-ray didn’t show a fracture.

Immediately my stoic upbringing ran its familiar diatribe.  “You’re such a baby.” “You’re going to get fat.” “You’re so lazy.” “It’s not broken, so why can’t you walk?” “Is the pain really that bad?”

Apparently only broken bones serve as legitimate injuries to this “old me” that I’ve resurrected. It’s hard to make room for weakness and injury when you grew up on the motto “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

But here’s one thing I realize now that I didn’t realize back when I could bully myself out of listening to my body:

Ignoring the pain doesn’t actually make it go away.

Ignoring the injury doesn’t heal it.

Pain is not weakness leaving the body. It’s weakness entering the body. It’s the signal that my body sends to my brain that something needs attention—something’s wrong. While there may have been times as a child when my mind needed to believe that the pain was unimportant, I’m not there anymore. I’m in a different place—a safe place—where I am responsible for listening and caring for myself, which means using crutches for a few weeks instead of trying to prove my willpower to those ghosts in my head.

 

Learning to Play My Violin . . . Again

My relationship with my violin has been a tumultuous one. Once upon a time, I actually couldn’t get enough of music. I wanted to play every instrument I saw. I fell in love with the sound of violin and chose that one to study officially with teachers, but I taught myself to play piano and flute as well. I’d spend hours in the music room of my parent’s house just lost in the notes.

But Wednesday night, when my partner came home to find me polishing my violin, his eyes widened with surprise as he exclaimed, “You really do love your violin!”

It’s true. It’s like a dirty little secret of mine. However, you would never guess that I love my violin anymore if you saw my normal interaction with it.

What happened?

Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to play.

It probably started when practicing became an obligation that didn’t allow me to choose to play because I wanted to. It got worse when family members started demanding performances, regardless of how I felt.

But it was perfectionism that eventually obliterated my memory. It was like a tumor, taking over my mind. I was taught that I had a responsibility to always do my best for God. As a high-achieving preteen, my brain translated that to mean “the best,” aka perfect.

As anyone who has touched a violin will know, it is messy—not the instrument for perfectionists. I came to fear it. It symbolized my inability to be the best for God—therefore my unworthiness of love. Practice became a tormented game of trying to never mess up. When I failed, I punished myself to try to show God that I was serious about trying to be my best. There were days when I would leave my room with my legs covered in bruises (all above the knee where I was guaranteed they would be hidden by the modesty rules). My violin was my shame.

But I still had a love for music, which I nursed on the piano that I kept mercifully free of my perfectionistic expectations. My senior year, I got a teacher who managed to coax me out of my shell during my lessons. He approached his teaching playfully, interspersing hilarious stories and outrageous exercises in with the more serious technique.

“Sing out, Louise!” he’d tease, launching into a story about Gypsy.

I would try just a bit harder because, with him, I remembered that it was fun . . . until I practiced again with myself—my biggest critic and biggest punisher.

Perhaps if I had stayed with him long enough, he would have been able to break through my shame, but the following year I went to Bob Jones University. I wanted to leave violin as my hobby, not my career. However, my parents pressured me into a music minor, adding the guilt of wasting their years and money for lessons to my fear of failing.

My first teacher there spent the semester ensuring that music became as boring as possible, systematically breaking down any expression or individuality. It was like it was her mission to seek out any positive influence from my other teachers and destroy it.

Stripped of my joy of music, I went on to another teacher. She was exacting to a terrifying degree. Whereas before, my teachers would give me a technique to learn and allow me to practice it for a week before expecting any progress, she expected me to master everything in her half hour of teaching. I not only dreaded practice; I feared lessons. I left crying so often that the teacher in the class I had after lessons eventually stopped asking if I was okay when he saw my red face. I could no longer goad myself into playing better by hurting myself. I froze up in terror every time I picked up my instrument. My technique regressed, and with it, my desire to play.

“Some people just don’t have it in them,” she finally told me. From then on out, she took no interest in my progress whatsoever, and my fears that I was an utter failure at violin were confirmed.

I dropped the minor, but the damage was not so easily forsaken. Even my beloved teacher back home couldn’t recognize my playing. Eventually, I put my violin in its case and walked away.

I spent the first year of my marriage thinking I was going to give up violin for good. When my partner gave me a new electric/acoustic violin for Christmas, my excitement was almost immediately overshadowed by worry that I wouldn’t be worth the expense.

I started practicing again, but there were months where I couldn’t even stand to touch the violin.

It wasn’t just that I was afraid of playing in front of others. I was afraid of playing . . . alone. Somewhere down the road, “playing” violin became a performance, even in the privacy of my own home.

So how does one learn how to play again?

Well, I got off to a good start by not playing when I didn’t want to. I saw my four years of sporadic interest as a sign that I was giving up . . . until my interest began to grow again and the desire to play came more often. In the last few months, I’ve managed to have several afternoons where I lost myself in music for a few hours.

I’m also teaching myself to make mistakes and giving myself permission to explore–turning my violin into my toy. Perhaps it seems backwards to deliberately give myself something to mess up on, but it’s the very permission to mess up that frees me to find my instrumental voice.

But the most important element in learning how to play my violin again is claiming my right to it. Playing isn’t about pleasing or impressing others. It’s not about making money. It’s about me. I do not need to prove that I am worthy of love or musical investment. It’s enough that I enjoy playing.

 

 

What’s In A Name? Just A Soul

Hi my name is

What’s in a name?

Everything as far as I’m concerned. Names tell who you are. They’re your primary identifier. They say something about your personality, the culture you were born into, and your family history.

They possess power.

Names are important. Deep down, I think we know that, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it. I think it’s why we give each other nicknames and pet names, because we recognize that public names don’t have the same power as a name that is more personalized to an individual.

I hate my given name, but it carries a lot of information for an observant person. When I introduce myself with my birth name, someone could easily figure out that I grew up in a Christian home. A person who knows the etymology of my name would know that I was named after an animal that is not exactly known for thinking for itself. Someone who knows even a little bit of my background could easily deduce how the animal I was named after was both revered and disdained by my religious group.

When I first decided to choose a different name for my online life, I did so out of a desire to protect my given name. I was taking baby steps out of the IFB and was paranoid about being watched—for good reason. Family and members of my former church would stalk my online activity, often attacking me or chastising me for the questions I was asking. Something as simple as choosing a new music artist to listen to or talking about seeing a movie at a theater was enough to get me embroiled in arguments or buried under nasty emails. As the closet to my sexual orientation and changing religious beliefs began to peak open, I felt trapped. I needed a safe place to figure out myself and my world, but my Facebook page wasn’t that place.

I briefly considered going offline altogether, but I had started to build a true network of support for the first time in my life and couldn’t imagine leaving all that behind. Changing my name seemed like the only way I could protect myself as I explored where I needed to go.

So I unfriended everyone from my former church and blocked them on Facebook. Then I changed my name and web address. From then on, I started to develop a persona under Diane.

While my given name had been pretty well descriptive of who I was within the cult, Diane was much more descriptive of who I was striving to be. Diana is one of my favorite Goddesses—the virgin Goddess, a strong, capable woman who owes nothing to no man . . . the type of girl who doesn’t take shit from those who stick their noses where they don’t belong.

I felt different interacting under that name. It wasn’t just the security of having a protected page. It was the way the name made me feel, the personality traits that it brought to mind.

It was liberating.

Eventually, Diane came to feel like a true name—my birth name felt more like the shield that I wore around my family to protect my identity. Diane was the persona I wanted the world to see, while my birth name was the persona I adopted when I wanted to give the world as little of me as I could.

When I started this blog, I considered going back to my birth name. By that point, I knew that my chosen name had been divulged to my family (because the IFB are really persistent stalkers, especially when they’ve been denied the ability to snoop easily). I had no hopes of continuing to keep my chosen name a secret, but I also knew that I was no longer so afraid of them seeing my beliefs. They had lost the power to shame me into conformity.

But I came to realize that Diane felt too real to me now. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to use my birth name for fear that someone would link my words back to me; I didn’t want to use my birth name because I felt that my birth name no longer applied. I’ve even considered having my name officially or semi-officially changed (by semi-officially, I mean announcing it to friends and family and smacking them if they don’t comply).

But here’s a secret, even though I’ve adopted Diane as my own name, it’s another alias to one extent or another. It’s closer to who I am at my core–as close as I will ever publicly get, but it isn’t the name that I sign off with in my journals. No, I first learned the name I would adopt as my innermost name from a friend way back in high school. It was the name that resonated to my absolute core. It is my soul’s name, and only a handful of people have ever heard me refer to it.

And no, I’m not going to reveal that one here to you because, like the Doctor, I believe fully in the power of a name and the need for that power to remain with the one who possesses it.

Doctor Who Name

Nor am I going to reveal my birth name because, as every musician, actor, or writer has discovered at some point, the power in a given name is nothing compared to the power in a name you choose for yourself.

What’s in a name?

Only the identity you are given . . . or the identity you create.