Rote Thankfulness

What are you thankful for?

I hate that question.

Why?

Because the answers always seem so rote. Family. Friends. Home. Health.

You aren’t thankful for those things?

I am, but that’s not the point. We have answers like that memorized. One day of the year, we give the most cursory thought to what we have before moving on to other concerns. We rarely stop to truly reflect on what we have to appreciate. Most of the year, we take things for granted. Then we set aside one day for token thankfulness.

Is that true for everyone? Or is that just your cynicism showing?

So it’s just me, projecting my own failing onto everyone else?

Is it?

I hate you.

Because I’m right?

… Maybe.

Set aside everyone else. What are you thankful for? And don’t give your rote answer. Don’t do the thing you hate. Really reflect. What are you thankful for?

That is a hard question.

Quit deflecting. What are you doing, right now?

Writing.

So?

I am thankful I can write?

Bragging, now?

No. I mean, I am thankful for the ability to hold a pen, the resources to own paper, the luxury of time. I am thankful I can write, whether or not I’m any good at it.

Okay. That’s a start. Anything else?

Ugh. I keep going back to negative things.

Look, it’s not a question of ignoring the bad. But you’ve got all year for that. Just a few moments for balance. You don’t need to pretend it’s all sunshine and roses. Just acknowledge some good.

I am thankful that there are other people who love and care for animals.

Really?

Yeah. It gives me hope. It connects me to other people, even if I don’t know them. I’m glad people feel something I do. And that animals are getting taken care of.

Okay, then.

For that matter, I am thankful for the internet, for showing me that there are others who share my values, my concern about the world. As much crap as there is, it’s good to know I’m not entirely alone.

You think it’s important to remember this more than one day a year?

Yes.

Do you think others might share that value?

… Yes.

Then – and I don’t mean to sound preachy – maybe dial back the cynicism a little?

… Yeah.

Winter Thoughts

It’s almost winter again. The stillness. The quiet. The cold. It is a time for introspection, a chance to review the year. Winter is an end, not merely a waypoint on the path to spring.

Some do not like the cold and the dark that dominate the season, yet it is part of the year, just as death is part of life. Winter serves as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of the world around us. It is a different kind of wonder that permeates the long night, and it should not be quickly dismissed.

Winter reminds us to turn inward, to pay attention to who and what is with us right now. The rest of the year we can spend outside, engaging the external world. For right now, we have time for ourselves and our ghosts.

Life has death. Day has night. Waking has sleep. And the year has winter. It is a holy time, a sacred time. It is the rest at the end of work. It is necessary for recuperating. We rush through it to our own detriment.

The snow blankets us with warmth. The stars and moon give us light. The wind carries secrets. If only we are willing to feel, to see, to hear. Winter is there, waiting for each of us. We may try to run from it, but we cannot run forever. And when we stop, she will be there, her arms wide, ready to welcome us to the quiet beauty she has prepared.

“for I do not know

if the ending will end,

or even if

I want it to”

Not Lost

All the trees looked the same.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Individually, each tree looked different from the next. Thin, younger trees. Large, older ones. Split trunks. Knots. In the context of the forest, however, they looked the same.

To put it another way, I was lost.

Okay, look, I’m trying to be a reliable narrator here, but it’s very easy to sacrifice accuracy for an economy of language. ‘Lost’ implies I was trying to get somewhere. I wasn’t. Or perhaps I should say, I was already there. Amongst the trees.

The forest really was beautiful. Quiet. Isolated. That was the point, to get away from everything, everyone. With all the distractions in the world, sometimes it is necessary to escape, to be alone with yourself. Breathing air that has been recently exhaled by trees. Feeling the bark. Spending time reminding yourself who you were, who you are.

So I wasn’t lost. I just didn’t know where I was. And that was alright.

Anima

She sat in front of me with her legs crossed, mirroring my pose. As I stared into her eyes, I knew it was me looking back.

“So . . .” I began, trying to break the stalemate of silence that had taken hold.

“So.” Her reply did not provide a way forward.

“What do I do? Do I ask you questions? I don’t know how this works.”

Her smile was enigmatic. I found myself wondering if I was really this infuriating.

“Go ahead, ask questions if you like.”

Just like that, any question I might have had fled from my mind.

“Hmm . . .”

“You invited me. Invented me. I assume you had some reason. What is it?”

I had no answer to that. The truth was that I didn’t remember inviting her. I had been meditating in my own eclectic way when she just appeared. None of this was expected.

“Oh. I see.”

“What? What do you see?”

“You did not consciously summon me.”

“Can you read my thoughts?”

“I am your thoughts. Some of them, anyway. I am a part of you.”

“So you’re a voice in my head?”

“I suppose that’s one way to view it. I am the personification of one of the voices in your head. All of whom, by the way, are you.”

As I was trying to process that, an obvious question occurred to me.

“Wait. If you’re me, why are you a woman?”

Her rather mild expression became a scowl.

“Don’t be naive. You know better than that. No one is all one thing or another. We all have many pieces, many aspects. You identify compassion and wisdom with a more feminine energy. It should be obvious, then, why those aspects of yourself would manifest this way.”

“I . . . I think I knew that.”

“Of course you did. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known it.”

“But if you only know what I do, how could you possibly help me find answers?”

“We often don’t remember, or don’t want to remember, things we know. Knowledge can be painful, frightening. Giving it to one part of ourselves for safe-keeping, can insulate us from it. In order to recover the knowledge, we need to confront the part of ourselves which harbors it. Besides, you seem to do better learning from a teacher.”

“This is . . . a lot.”

Her smile returned.

“And yet, none of this is really a surprise to you.”

“No. I don’t suppose it is.”

We looked at one another for a bit, the silence less awkward this time.

“If I didn’t consciously summon you, why are you here?”

“As I said, you must have a reason. Perhaps it would help to think of me as a sounding board, someone to bounce ideas off of. Talk to me like you might to a friend you might seek advice from.”

“And you’ll be here when I meditate?”

“I’m always here. If meditation helps you focus, use it. But there’s no need for rituals. Wherever you go, I go. I am you.”

“Okay,” I said, without much conviction.

“It will be.”

Just The Depression Talking

The world is a mess. People hate more readily, more broadly. Life is a chore. It’s hard to find any reason at all.

That’s just your depression talking.

I’m lazy and procrastinate. I’m unmotivated and squander my potential. I’m unremarkable and of no use to anyone.

That’s just your depression talking.

I’m inconsiderate, a bad friend. I’ve hurt people. I’m not good and shouldn’t be around others.

That’s just your depression talking.

So… what? All my thoughts are just my depression? Is that all anyone sees when they look at me? My depression? I have become defined by an illness. Nothing remains of me. My every thought, word, action is attributed to my depression.

That’s just your depression talking.

Unless it’s a happy thought, a positive word. If I act happy, people say that is the real me, even though I know it’s fake. The act lets other people feel comfortable, let’s them believe everything is alright. It’s necessary because if you show them how you really feel,

That’s just your depression talking.

So I lead a double-life. The life I fake for those around me, and the depression eating away inside. But neither is me. One is a fake, and the other is an illness that keeps me from trusting anything in my head. I don’t exist anymore. It’s all a lie. But I shouldn’t worry about it because

That’s just the depression talking.

Rituals

The sky was grey, and there was a chill in the air. Winter was not going away easily, which made a perfect setting for a cemetery visit. The stone in front of me listed a name and two dates, all the evidence that remained of a single life.

I know I could talk to her anywhere, but it always seemed important to come back here. I didn’t really believe that she remained in this place, but the tradition, the symbolism, was not easily ignored. Rituals become rituals for a reason. They have meaning. We imbue them with meaning. As much as I resist many rituals, this is one I still felt compelled to follow.

So I stood there, expecting snow or rain at any moment, and stared at the letters and numbers that had been carved in granite nearly thirty years ago. As I spoke, I found myself saying things I had said many times before. Apologies. Regrets. Even the occasional lame joke. Whatever came to mind to strengthen a connection that had lasted years.

I wondered, not for the first time, nor for the last, if she bothered listening, if she still cared. In the end, I decided it didn’t matter. If there was even a slight chance she heard, I wanted her to know she was not forgotten.

When the rain finally came, I said, my farewell, promising to return once more.

Mannaz and the Othering of God

Mannaz. The Divine Self. The aspect of the divine that resides within each of us. Split down the middle vertically, it contains Wunjo – Joy – on the left, and it’s mirror on the right. The Self is made of complexity.

When we other God – see God as external, as separate from ourselves – we deny our own divinity. We denigrate humanity and relegate the best parts of ourselves to something else.

Saint Augustine exemplifies this position very clearly. Human beings are so mired in sin and evil that we cannot choose the good without God’s grace. Unless God grants us a helping hand, we cannot even want to do good.

Thus if the Shadow is – according to Jung – those parts of ourselves that we deny in order to be acceptable to society, then the external God is where we place our highest ideals, the best parts of ourselves. Perhaps we do this because even though we deny our Shadow, we still feel the guilt and shame of it and refuse to believe we are good. Perhaps it is more superficial than that, that we are taught from a very early age that God is good, that all goodness comes from God, and that we are unworthy of God’s love (though God loves us anyway). Between the Shadow and God, it’s a wonder that there is anything left of us at all.

Gandhi explained that returning violence for violence was not human nature, but animal nature. Refusing to meet violence with violence did not make us divine; instead, it makes us more fully human. The import of this cannot be overstated. If we place nonviolence within the divine, and then treat the divine as other, we have an excuse to be violent. By othering the divine, we give ourselves license to live as less than. We are “only human,” after all, as though being only human is not, itself, a stunning thing.

When we acknowledge the divine within, we eliminate our excuses for not living as our best selves. We take full ownership and responsibility for our actions. What’s more, we must acknowledge the divine in others. When we see human beings as less than, when we other God, we license, not only our own shortfalls, but also mistreatment of others. If you are just human, my treatment of you is only important as far as it accords, or doesn’t, with God’s will. If you are divine – as am I – then I need no outside reason to justify showing you respect and kindness. You are important in your own being. If God is other, then you are insignificant.

Mannaz, then, is a reminder of who we are, not just ourselves, but everyone. We are, each of us, divine. We should act like it and treat others accordingly.