When Ritual is Monotony

For whatever reason, I want to be a creature of habit.  I’ve always seemed to aspire to that ideal, trying to work some kind of task into my daily routine as a spiritual quest, or working out specific systems or routines for doing certain activities.  Perhaps it’s a psychological leftover from my childhood, from a family which seemed to glorify the steady march of regular routine.  Maybe it’s a cultural thing, as we seem to hold a great reverence for people who manage to succeed at such endeavors.  Daily meditation, regular workouts, never missing certain gatherings, a strict and unvaried diet…  There’s something appealing about these things.  Something many of us see as virtuous.

But in my own spiritual life, I often get into such systems and then find myself frustrated at my inability to execute without failure.  And eventually, much of the time, I find myself asking, “what the hell is the purpose of this, anyway?”

I find that my level of satisfaction with my life, especially in spiritual pursuits, is inversely proportional to the amount of effort I’m putting into being strictly disciplined.  As much as my subconscious thinks I would benefit from regular patterns, structured routines, checklists of purposeful actions executed with precision, it has never worked out that way.  Because to be successful at those things, I would have to be one hundred percent committed to declining opportunities which get in the way.  To be successful, you have to commit so much to that routine, that activity, that goal, that nothing else matters quite as much.

But those things I seek to ritualize are not the vital core of my spiritual practice.

I know people so devoted to a fitness goal or lifestyle that daily workouts easily routine.  The goal is so important to them that it’s easy to put the gym as their highest priority.  And we all have read of holy men and holy women who have given their lives to daily prayer or meditation or acts of consecration so demanding we can’t imagine it.  But their spiritual practice is the core and singular main focus of their lives, and as such it’s easier to place a great deal of importance on those acts of spiritual faith.

It’s not that my spiritual practice is not important to me or an important part of my life, but nothing about my spiritual practice requires such ritualized action.  Ritual for the sake of ritual is not, for me, particularly rewarding.

That’s something it’s taken me a long time to realize.

My natural state of being is not one of routine and ritual and repetition.  If I have to work so hard to inject those things in my life, it means I’m doing so because something outside myself has told me I should.

My spiritual practice is much more rewarding for me when I allow it flexibility.  When I allow questions and inspirations to lead me in different directions as they arise, and I don’t feel guilt over breaking some imposed ritual to make time for something new.  It’s when I can chase ideas and try new things that I feel most satisfied.

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But Wait, There’s More!

Through the years I’ve had the opportunity to go to many different services and ceremonies of different religions or faiths with various friends and acquaintances.  In many cases, these opportunities have been educational and informative, interesting, and pleasant.

And then there are the ones where, despite my desire to observe and experience from a distance before choosing to interact on a deeper level, the group culture or tradition itself forces visitors into the midst of the experience.  It’s like religion’s hard sell, and everyone in the church is trying to convince you to purchase a timeshare in the afterlife.  No one leaves until the newcomer at least signs up to bring a dessert to the potluck.

I don’t know about everyone else, but it is precisely the times where I feel most put upon, most dragged out of my comfort zone, that I am least likely to want to be part of whatever I’m being forcibly pulled into.  And I’ve wondered what kind of person experiences that kind of thing and responds positively to it.  I’ve come to the conclusion that my reluctance to be drawn in is a clear sign that I’m not the kind of person they want, anyway.  I question motives.  I observe and dissect.  I don’t take things at face value, and I’m certainly not a fan of blind faith.

I think any path which cannot draw you in by simply letting you observe and assess isn’t worth your time or spiritual energy.  If you have to be suckered into the hard sell, what of value could they possibly be offering?

 

 

Brothers and Sisters

For many people, spirituality is a way to become part of a community.  You find acceptance and validation with people who believe what you believe.  Sharing a path with someone can be the foundation for a very deep bond.

There are a great many people who walk their spiritual path alone by choice.  I’ve largely been such a person for most of my life.  Even when I was part of larger, mainstream religions I chose not to participate in a lot of unnecessary gatherings or activities.  I needed personally relevant experiences, and for me those tend not to happen in groups.

Certainly now I can’t say that I know anyone whose beliefs mirror my own very closely.

Still, as I’ve contemplated the question of who out there believes what I believe, I’ve realized something possibly profound.  My spiritual beliefs, as I’ve talked about some on this blog, link strongly to my social activism.  And so, if I look at it from that perspective, I know many, many people who believe what I believe.  I stand at protests with them and organize with them.  Though our beliefs about the existence of a deity or what it means to be spiritual may differ, our beliefs about the value of humanity are the same.  And though I may elect to search alone for answers about what lies beyond and beneath our mundane existence, the type of personally relevant and transformative experiences I have in gatherings with this larger community are equally important to my spiritual self.

Perhaps we all do ourselves a disservice by seeking spiritual community only in spiritual settings.  Perhaps the communities we will benefit from the most are found when we put our spiritual beliefs into practice for a greater good.

Silence

I’ve notices a lot of mentions and memes about the value of silence lately, and to be honest it’s started to bother me.  Not because I think silence is a bad thing.  Silence can be a very valuable thing.  But there are different kinds of silence, and what I’ve seen much of lately are references to the idea that being silent, staying out of the fray, remaining aloof and silent on the perimeter as everyone else makes a ruckus, is the mark of a mature and classy person.

And what bothers me is the way that these ideas like “classy” and “ladylike” and “polite” are all concepts used to suppress the voices of others, to divide and then silence.

You see, there are different kinds of silence.

Communication involves communication being sent and received.  And when either the sending or receiving party decides to stop that transmission, you get some kind of silence.

There are good kinds of silence, where the receiving party chooses to avoid communications for a while in order to create a distraction- and discord-free space to facilitate some other beneficial activity.  For instance, most of us like to sleep in silence or meditate in silence or read in silence.  If we can’t achieve silence, we at least seek quiet.  We recognize that the amount of messages and noise around us isn’t always beneficial, and so we occasionally shut down the transmissions by refusing to receive.

And there can be other good kinds of silence, where the sending party chooses not to communicate to benefit the receiving party in some way.  Maybe we recognize their need for silence, or we know that what we have to say might be hurtful or disruptive for no good reason.  Maybe it’s not the right time or place.

But then there are the bad kinds of silence.  When the sender withholds communication from us to benefit themselves, we are forced into destructive silence.  Communication is power.  And if communication is withheld from us, it allows those doing withholding to wield that power over us.

Even worse, when we are prevented from communicating our own important messages, our power is taken away.  Our choice to communicate or not is no longer ours to make.

When we allow ourselves to be coerced or convinced to give up our voice, we give up our most valuable tool and our most powerful weapon.  We’re being asked to relinquish that power in exchange for something else.  But few things in life, I think, are worth that kind of sacrifice.

 

True Value

Some people say they want to be needed.

I don’t want to be needed.

The problem with being needed is that, as soon as something or someone else comes along to fill that particular need better, you become no longer as useful.  Especially when it comes to relationships, I think the idea that we should be needed is rather dangerous.  It reduces our worth as humans to how well we function for others.  We become tools.  We must perform a service to remain needed.  Our worth is determined by how well we fit someone else’s preconceived desires.

What I want is to be valued.  And yes, sometimes we value people because they fill a need in our lives.  But value is far more subjective than that, and it’s roots are more emotional.  If you think about the objects in your home, many are valued but not needed.  We don’t toss them out when they no longer serve a purpose.  We create an emotional purpose for them to fill to convince ourselves we need them because, more than need, we value them.

I think it’s important that, in all areas of our lives, we get to determine the direction of our development.  If we accept that our worth lies in being needed by others, that power shifts to everyone else.  The world around us gets to tell us how well we fit their needs, to demand that we continually change as their demands change.  But if we seek to be valued, not needed, then we hold the power to shape the ways we change and grow.  We get to exist as our own selves and work at establishing emotional connections based on mutual value.

How many people in your life do you need?  How many do you truly value?

A Feminist Tarot: The World

There’s something bittersweet in finally achieving a long-sought goal.  Yes, success is sweet, and there is triumph in completion.  But the journey is often the best part, and ending a journey can leave us wondering what to do next.  And sometimes success brings changes we didn’t anticipate.

It reminds me of an article I came across shortly after the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage.  It talked about how some of the older members of the LGBT community were left feeling like they’d lost the thing which created their shared sense of identity.  They’d built their own community, their own subculture, around a sense of shared oppression, of forced separation or segregation from straight culture, of a need to create secure places in which to exist as they really were without risk of judgment and persecution. As the larger cultural forces changed to accept and embrace them, as they were encouraged to be out and visible, as their relationships and realities were validated by law, the thing which had formed and defined the gay subculture disappeared, and the subculture had waned with it.  Younger LGBT generations no longer felt drawn to the old subcultural structures.

The World card marks a point where a cycle has come to a long-anticipated end.  The student becomes the teacher.  And whether this card is perceived as good or bad depends on one’s attitude towards shifting from one cycle to the next.  The student who has enjoyed being a student so much they don’t want that part of their life to end will dread graduation.

It’s important that we think about what success will mean for us in our fight.  It might mean a very different fight for which we may not be prepared.  But it always means that things will change.  We never get the chance to rest on our laurels.

Luck of the Spiritual Draw

Another one of the ideas that wormed its way into my brain as a kid and set me down the path I’ve traveled is the realization that, had I been born nearly anyplace else in the world, I would likely have been taught a completely different religious belief system.  We put an awful lot of importance on the truth in our religions, and yet the single biggest determining factor in where our spiritual journey begins is the genetic lottery.

If one religion is assumed to be true and the rest false, and only a certain number of kids in the world “luck into” that religion at birth, what kind of deity are we dealing with? And since pretty much all the kids in the world are raised to believe that the religion they were born into is the correct one….

I mean, even as a kid this seemed like a pretty crappy system.

Ironically, as I’ve left various paths and found others, that path has largely been determined by chance as well.  Catholicism wasn’t the only faith I’d learned anything about or experienced in my college years.  What if I’d decided that Judaism felt really inspiring to me?  I had Jewish friends.  It was a possibility.  Catholicism was simply an emotional choice.  If my wife hadn’t expressed an interest in Wicca, I wouldn’t have started attending a pagan discussion group.  All of this has just been twists of circumstance.

For me, that’s not a big epiphany, nor does it invalidate my journey.  My view of religion and spirituality as a conglomeration of complicated but similar perspectives is quite different than it used to be, and it no longer includes concepts like “truth” in relation to “doctrine”.

But it’s fairly irrefutable that the vast majority of humans on earth believe what they believe because that’s simply how the dice rolled.  It’s all a big game of chance.

How does that reconcile with what you believe?