Monday Meditation: To whom is loyalty owed?

From Aesop's Fables

Painting by Sylvia Siddell
A GREAT conflict was about to come off between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were collected together the Bat hesitated which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said: “Come with us”; but he said: “I am a Beast.”

Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said: “Come with us”; but he said: “I am a Bird.” 

Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the rejoicings, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to beat a retreat, or else they would have torn him to pieces. “Ah,” said the Bat, “I see now
- He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."

At one point in time, I might have agreed with Aesop here. Those who remain ‘neutral’ in conflict have historically annoyed me, as it seems these neutral parties tend to like to wait it out to see who the winner will be. I’ve grown somewhat from that position, now. I see the benefit of the “Not my circus, not my monkeys” mantra.

Loyalty is something that is not only earned, but maintained. It must be freely given, and it is a two-way street. Both the birds and the beasts expected loyalty from one to whom they’d shown indifference in the past. 

It can be difficult to be a bat, a bird or a beast in a situation like this. Online relationships seem much more disposable than those in real life. It's a lot easier to "unfriend" on a social media site.

In online relationships, we tend to jump into social contracts without taking the time to read that fine print and slowly build up trust as we do when we're in an offline group. We also tend to be much more forgiving toward bad behavior online than off. The bat may have seen that the birds behaved very badly toward the beasts, but chose to ignore that the birds were the actual "bad guys" in the situation because the bat wasn't directly affected.

Unfortunately for the bat, those birds aren't really his friends. Deep down, the bat knows that he doesn't fit in with the birds, but he needs a tribe. The beasts don't really care for him because they have pointed out the unforgivable behavior of the birds to the bat, and the bat doesn't act upon it. The beasts see the bat as unscrupulous and the birds see the bat as indecisive. In the end, the bat doesn't really have any true friends in either tribe.

So, what’s the poor bat to do? Honestly, I’d tell him to make his own tribe. He doesn't fit in with either of these groups. I'd advise him to find those who aren’t interested in pointing fingers, getting involved in online dramas, and who aren’t so enamored with themselves that they don’t give him any notice until they want something from him. I’d tell that bat to be happy with himself until he does find his people, and never stop looking for them. He’s better off alone than with those who demand fealty from those with whom they almost never interact otherwise. In the end, his loyalty belongs with himself, and with those who celebrate rather than tolerate him.

It's something to consider.


Monday Meditation: No Apologies, No Regrets

There once was a television series entitled, "Lost." It ran from 2004-2010. One character in particular, Mr. Eko, had a profound effect on a paradigm shift for me. According to his story arc, he had lived a hard life growing up in Nigeria, trying to feed and protect his little brother. He was forcibly recruited by Nigerian guerillas in order to protect his brother, Yemi. He became a drug smuggler and warlord. Yemi became a Catholic priest. Eko attempted to smuggle drugs out of Nigeria using the cover of being a priest, and Yemi ended up getting shot and killed for it. Eko takes over Yemi's position as a priest as a way of making it up to his brother.

 Eko, at the end of his life, is confronted by his dead brother's spirit and asked to confess his sins.

Eko says something profound:
 "I ask for no forgiveness, father, for I have not sinned, I have only done what I needed to do to survive. A small boy once asked me if I was a bad man, if I could answer him now I would tell him, that when I was a young boy I killed a man to save my brother's life. I am not sorry for this, I am proud of this. I did not ask for the life that I was given, but it was given none the less, and with it, I did my best. "

I want you to re-read that. I want you to contemplate that for your own life. Many of us have regrets; poor decisions that affected the lives of others as well as ourselves; wishing we had taken a different road; wishing we hadn't wasted time; wishing we had lived a fuller life, etc... Many people will say, "I have no regrets. Everything that has happened has made me who I am today." And, I applaud you- if you're being truly honest and not hiding behind a mask. If you are hiding, then I want to give you a way to take it off, be genuine, and face those regrets right now.

I want you to stop and think about Eko's words. You did not choose the life you were given, and I believe that you have done your best to survive. There are many things you have accomplished for which you are proud. You have done what you needed to do. You have done your best.

You have nothing to confess, nothing for which you need forgiveness. Drop the baggage. Let it go. No more apologies, no more regrets. It is time for you to heal, to move on and to continue to do your best.

Live free from those things in your past that weigh you down, and make you feel "less than".. you have nothing to confess. Be proud of who you are, and LIVE.


Monday Meditation: The Ugly Side of Otherness

One of the things I loved when I first entered the world of Paganism was the unabashed acceptance of "otherness". By that, I mean that there seemed to be a true love for all, as "we are all one, and all spiritual paths are valid".  This mindset was prevalent whenever I encountered those whose beliefs fall under that large Pagan umbrella. I really thought that I'd found people of spiritual maturity and enlightenment, and I was thrilled. Just as all relationships do, the honeymoon wore off. Like the rest of the spiritual paths I've explored, I discovered that the humans have ruined it, with gossip, back-biting, arguing over ridiculous ideologies, and a sense of superiority. Mostly, they redefined "otherness" to something ugly and unpalatable.

One of my biggest complaints about the "Big 3" religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) is their exclusivity clause. It's the either/or, you're with us or against us, you go with us or die (serve some kind of eternal punishment), etc... all of them stating in one way or another that if you aren't "them", then you're inferior/damaged/unworthy.

The effects of a belief system are seen in the behaviors of their adherents. I'll also throw in the lack of belief as well. I've seen atheists who worship at the altar of their own ego and intellectualism to the disparagement of anyone who believes in anything that can't be scientifically proven by repeatable, measurable experimentation.

In the Pagan community, we see those who disparage Wicca, "fluff bunnies", solitary witches, Heathenry, Asatru, Celtic Reconstructionism, Christo-Wicca, Polytheism, Pantheism, Dianic Wicca, etc.. and of course, each of these has adherents who disparage the rest.

What I find most interesting about this strange behavior is that those who cling to these beliefs and rituals are simply following in the footsteps of a human or humans somewhere in the past who determined that this was the way to connect with spirituality/mystery and/or explain the world around him/her/them. Rituals were put into place, as we were tribal back then. Someone determined that "this will be the way our tribe will honor the spirits of the land/gods/god/goddess/etc..", and even the first scientists (philosophers) attributed the origins of things to gods.

Why can't someone design his/her own belief system and follow it? Unless they are causing harm to others (and I include animals, the environment, and the destruction of indigenous cultures in the idea of causing harm), what makes their belief/practice/non-practice any better or worse than that of someone else, who lived in a different time and in a different culture than what we experience today?

The ugly side of otherness is this idea of superiority, separation, being better than someone else, and it permeates all of humanity. Whether it's a caste system, a class system, or a religious/non-religious identification, human beings have been infected with this disease, and we're killing ourselves, our fellow inhabitants on this planet, and our habitation as a result.

In the book, Anam Cara: A Celtic Book of Wisdom, John O'Donahue writes:
“The Celtic mind was neither discursive nor systematic. Yet, in their lyrical speculation, the Celts brought the sublime unity of life and experience to expression. The Celtic mind was not burdened by dualism. It did not separate what belongs together. The Celtic imagination articulates the inner friendship that embraces Nature, divinity, underworld, and human world as one. The dualism that separates the visible from the invisible, time from eternity, the human from the divine, was totally alien to them. Their sense of ontological friendship yielded a world of experience imbued with a rich texture of otherness, ambivalence, symbolism, and imagination. For our sore and tormented separation, the possibility of this imaginative and unifying friendship is the Celtic gift.”

Rather than seek to find ways to feel superior, couldn't we discover ways in which we are all connected? What amazing feats could be accomplished if we understood the concepts of unity and relationship? Otherness has a beautiful side- the unique expression of each individual's creativity and love; all of which contributes to the peace and healing of the whole.

It's something to think about.

Monday Meditation: Control, and the Art of Surrender

Monday is usually the beginning of the work week for most of us. It's become popular to dread and demonize this day throughout the world. Monday is going to come, whether we like it or not. Things are going to happen that are out of our control. How we view them will make the difference.

The dictionary defines control as exercising authoritative or dominating influence over; to direct.

Control is mostly an illusion, and there are many of us who have a hard time accepting that. We like to call ourselves "control freaks". We get stressed out over things that are totally beyond our scope of responsibility or sphere of dominance. I purposefully use the word 'dominance' as it is an integral part of our species' personality- to dominate or have dominion over things.

We spend a lot of time worrying over things that are not within our control. We cannot control the actions and behaviors of others. We may be able to influence, but we do not control them. What they do is really their choice, and you can only choose to control your own response to it.

I've always taught my children that those who cannot control themselves attempt to control others. I've seen that bear out in my own life, as well as in the lives of others.

Our "span of control" is much smaller than we want to admit. We don't even have total conscious control over our own bodies. We do have control over our choices (to a degree. Given the choice between two undesirable things, it may not be much control),  and can work on controlling our responses and emotions.

We attempt to control things because we have worry over the outcome. We worry that we know what's best and we become attached to a specific outcome, thinking that, like The Highlander, "There can be only one."

There is a lovely Buddhist philosophy called 'The Art of Surrender.' It speaks to that place inside you that keeps fighting yourself, the Universe, the rest of the world. You surrender your worry there.

This isn't about not acting, or just sitting around waiting for something to happen. It's about relaxing.. letting yourself be okay without having to control it all, or stress over it. It comes from a place of peace within and trusting that it's going to work out.

So, just for today, let's make a pact to practice The Art of Surrender. When that 'need to control' pops up inside, we'll imagine ourselves just letting go, trust falling into The Mystery...take a deep breath... now, smile and be at peace.

That in itself is a form of control ;)