Monthly Archives: February 2014

How to Live Sustainably and Save Money

7917293_xxl–By Shauna Aura Knight

I often talk about philosophical activism and changing culture, but I wanted to get back to my roots and revisit some of the easier ways that each of us can work to reduce our environmental impact. I encourage each of you reading this to take stock of what changes you have the power to make in your life to begin to heal this beautiful world we live in.

It’s going to take all of us to fix the problem. Here are a few things that you can do with some small sacrifice of time and convenience. They may even save you money. 

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On Dialog, Interfaith and Otherwise

DialogThe online Pagan and Polytheist blogs have been discussing interfaith involvement and how and if we should speak for and about our various communities.  Amid the outcries of privilege, denials of the same, and various stories from Pagan and Polytheist alike of good and bad experiences while engaging in interfaith efforts, I think something was lost:

A way forward.

Ruadhán J. McElroy presented four standards for relations between Pagan and Polytheist communities.  These four standards are presented about two-thirds of the way down the post.  While I may not agree with everything therein–for example, I find the standards as written to be too demanding of one party without recognizing that sometimes concessions must be made by both–I do think that these standards can be made valuable for us in situations outside the wider Pagan community.  They’re especially so when we are called upon to represent the views of another.

In order to make these standards more generalizable, though, I think we need to consider how they could be reconsidered to include those outside our communities.

1. Extend Hospitality

I’ve heard it said that hospitality is perhaps the closest thing to a universal ideal that our various interrelated communities may share.  Hospitality isn’t simply being polite to others, though that’s certainly a good start, it also means that we provide them with what they need in that moment whether it be a willing ear, a strong-arm, or a loud voice.  Hospitality is the action of treating others as they wish to be treated.  This is greater than the Golden Rule; treating others as you wish to be treated.  The latter makes assumptions; the former requires that we engage with the other in order to provide for them.

McElroy’s first rule focused specifically on the actions that a Pagan should take when inviting a Polytheist to present a ritual or ceremony at a pan-Pagan event.  The crux of the standard, however, was a request that Pagans offer hospitality to Polytheists in their midst.  For my tastes, that’s too one-sided.  Hospitality, like friendship, is a two-way street.  One should both extend hospitality to the other, but also act in with the expectation that this hospitality will be extended to you in return.  In this way, the relationship becomes reciprocal; we learn about and from the other as they learn about and from us.

2. Treasure Difference

Things are not always what you expect.  Or, perhaps more importantly, the labels we use to describe each other and define our world are imperfect and far less generalizable that we think.  Underneath those labels lie a treasure trove of diversity and difference, quite often to a surprising degree.

My partner and her family are Catholic.  In America, at least, Catholics are largely considered to be fairly conservative, politically and socially speaking, and many of the Catholics operating on the national stage (e.g. the Conference of Catholic Bishops) fight the advancement of LGBTQ rights, access to contraceptives, and the availability of abortion services all in the name of traditional families and the specifics of church doctrine.  But, my partner is married to a solitary eclectic Polytheist and Witch and her family knows it.  My sister-in-law is married to another woman, and they’ve adopted a mixed racial young daughter.  I’ve sat in Mass with them and they all attended and supported my wedding outside the walls of the Church.

The point of view described by the Catholic political leadership in America does not, obviously, define the only way to be Catholic just as I don’t define the only way to be a polytheist.  Rather than expect others to conform to our expectations, we should, instead, seek to alter those expectations or–even better–work to avoid them entirely.

3. Avoid Assumptions

McElroy’s third standard was written as an absolute; that one party “shall make no attempt” to speak for another.  On the one hand, I agree.  We should avoid the assumption that we can adequately explain the point of view of another.  We cannot.  I can no more correctly describe the fulfillment that my partner finds in Mass than she can probably explain to others why I devote myself to my gods.

But, on the other hand, I also think that operating from a standard of absolutes leaves us unprepared for the inevitability that we’ll find ourselves in a situation that doesn’t quite line up with that expectation.  For example, I find myself being asked to compare and contrast my own point of view with that of another.  Especially in interfaith settings, when I’m asked to try to share with another the nuance within the Pagan community, to simply refrain from even attempting to do so would likely shut down the dialog.

Instead, when we are called upon to speak for another, we must not allow others to assume that we speak with authority.  In other words, it must be made crystal clear to others when you’re not speaking from your own experience.  Even better, we should do our best to connect those we’re working with to those who can best answer their questions in the moment, but if that’s not possible, be sure that you offer the opportunity to do so at a later date.

4. Trust Others

One of the things most appalling to me during the online conversations around Pagan interfaith involvement has been the situations in which one person denies the experience of the other.  Even if all parties were present at the same event, it’s naïve to expect that everyone experiences that event in the same way.  In reality, every experience is a blind-men-and-the-elephant situation; everyone takes away something different.

It is, therefore, imperative that we trust others or, at least, offer them the benefit of the doubt.  If the situation calls for it, trust and subsequently verify, but trust is key.  Even if someone’s experience contradicts our own or, maybe, especially so.  It’s probably nothing more than ego and arrogance to assume that our own perspective is correct while all others are flawed.

Trust is especially necessary in situations of harm.  It is all to easy to minimize or dismiss the harm dealt to another.  Worse is the tendency to blame the victim, claiming that no harm was intended, that the victim is overly sensitive, or that he or she was otherwise “asking for it.”  All of these responses represent a lack of trust for the other.

That said, trust can be misplaced and abused.  There’s no reason to let someone use our trust against us or to continue to extend that trust if the other has been proven a liar.  But, until such a time, we can very like avoid additional harm by offering to stand in solidarity with someone who has been harmed rather than dismissing that harm and, in so doing, dismissing them.

In the end, these are solid guidelines for more interactions than simple those involving different religious (or non-religious) points of view.  I’m going to have the opportunity to engage in an interfaith conversation with a Mormon on Tuesday when I join him on his podcast.  Considering that it’s likely that I may be asked about experiences and points of view of others within the community, I’ll be keeping these guidelines in mind.

I hope that they’re useful to you as well.

Recovery is an active endeavor

Today’s post is by our newest member of Pagan Activist: Deidre Hebert. Please welcome her by sharing this post far and wide.

logo(1)There are lots of diseases that affect us as human beings; some of them are easier to understand than others. There are diseases that are caused by viruses and bacteria – diseases that we catch from microbes that infect us. These diseases can be treated with antivirals and antibiotics, and once so treated, we find ourselves healthy once again. For some conditions, simply taking a medication leads us back to health.

But there are other conditions, chronic conditions, for which recovery involves something more than the simple taking of a pill. Some conditions such as cancer, require extended treatment – and even with such treatment, recovery may not be forthcoming. Still other conditions such as diabetes may dictate changes in the way an individual lives their lives; changes in diet, lifestyle, continuous monitoring and daily medications are required to maintain health.

Some diseases are caused by an invading virus or bacteria, others are systemic – involving the organs of our bodies. And still others, such as addiction, eating disorders and mental illness, may involve a spiritual component as well. These conditions are not resolved by medication, surgery or simple counseling. Such conditions respond best to treatments that involve a spiritual component, and that is what the Twelve Steps are all about.

In The Jaguar That Roams the Mind, Robert Tindall speaks of Takiwasi, a center for drug addiction treatment, and research on Traditional Medicines. One of the foundational principles at Takiwasi is that addiction is, at its core, a thwarted spiritual quest. Treatment at Takiwasi involves addressing the multiple dimensions of addiction.

In the mid 1930s, one man by the name of Bill Wilson was struggling with his own addiction to alcohol. He met up with Dr. Bob Smith, and using some techniques they discovered from earlier groups that had had some successes, and learning from what those groups had done wrong, they came upon a recipe of twelve steps that seemed to work. Indeed, such was the success of this program of recovery, that it has been adapted and found successful for many conditions that afflict us. It’s been found to be effective to help those suffering from alcoholism, narcotic addiction, compulsive behaviors, gambling, chronic debt and even mental illness.

The Twelve Steps work for many people seeking recovery, because, like Takiwasi, they engage the multiple aspects of the lives of those living with addiction. Twelve Step programs recognize that addiction is a physical, spiritual and emotional disease. And unless the three aspects of the condition are addressed, true healing cannot be found.

It seems that every program that is effective in helping an individual find recovery begins at the same place – whether it’s Takiwasi or any of the multitude of Twelve Step programs, the starting point is to ask for help. It is an act of humility that says “I can’t handle this alone”. To get to that point, one must first recognize they have a problem. In the Twelve Steps, that is step 1. At Takiwasi, this is the Preliminary State, where they state “The first requisite for treatment to take place is at the patient’s request”.

Nobody can recover until they first recognize that they have a problem. But once that admission is made, that is when action can begin.

So what sort of action is necessary for recovery?

I think the first place we need to look at is what it is that we were using our substances and behaviors for. Almost all of us have some sort of reasons that kept us drinking or eating, or not eating, or using drugs or sex or whatever other behavior we may have used.

We used these things to avoid feeling, to cover up those things that trouble us deeply. And in covering up our feelings, in continuously relying on something external, either chemical or behavioral, we give up something even more important – our wills.

When we are controlled by our addictions, we don’t have the ability to choose not to use. Some of us give up the basic choices of whether or not to eat, or sleep or work. Some of us engage in things that most people in the world cannot understand – we become self-destructive; some of us engage in self-injury, some of us become suicidal. All of this is a loss of our own wills.

To regain that will implies that we need to consciously act. And that is one of the hidden keys of the Twelve Steps. Each one of these steps is a specific action. They systematically allow us to take back those parts of our selves that we had given up to our addictions.

This begins right at step 1, where we make the admission that our lives are unmanageable. In this step, we recognize that our actions are not under our own control. In the second step, we come to the realization that there is a way to change. And in step 3, we make a decision to change.

For those of us who aren’t Pagan – in traditional 12 step programs, Step 3 reads “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him”. For Pagans, things are a bit different – we don’t typically believe that our deities are involved in our lives in the same way that Christians do.

Pagans tend to view our relationship with deity as a cooperative endeavor. Our Gods and Goddesses don’t take our problems away from us; they don’t carry our burdens for us. They are models, they will challenge us, they will guide us. Our Gods and Goddesses will show us the way, but they won’t ever do for us those things we won’t do for ourselves. And that is why step 3, is so different for the Pagan. It is for this reason that in The Pagan in Recovery, I chose a different wording: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the Divine and our own highest self.” It is in our highest self where our will should naturally originate.

And after step 3 is where we really begin to take action. In step 4, we begin, often for the first time in our lives, to look deeply, honestly, at our selves – to do an honest self-appraisal.

In step 5, we consciously perform an act of humility – admitting our shortcomings to our selves, to our deities, and to another human being. This is often a stumbling block for those in recovery. The idea of admitting our faults to our Gods or Goddesses seems rather easy – especially if we consider them omniscient – we aren’t revealing new information. And we can fall into the trap that we truly have admitted who we are to ourselves. But the action of making such an admission to another human being is especially humbling; but incredibly important. It is only in performing that one act that we can be absolutely certain that we have been completely honest with ourselves.

In step 6, we become ready to experience transformation. In The Pagan in Recovery, the step reads “Were entirely ready to have the divine transform all these defects of character.” Honestly, I’m considering modifying the text of this step because, again, I consider this a cooperative effort, and I honestly don’t believe that the Gods do something “to us”, without our action and cooperation.

In steps 7, 8 and 9, we look at how our actions have impacted others, and we begin to hold our selves accountable for those actions. Here there is a temptation to blame our past behaviors on our illness or addiction. But a healthy recovery recognizes that every action that we have taken has involved, at some point, a choice that we have made. Even if I did something in the midst of my addiction, it was still ME who did that thing. I can’t say “Oh, I understand that I hurt you, but that was Jack Daniels’ fault, or it was the fault of Zanax(tm) or Bipolar disorder.”

Few of us who have experienced an addiction have made it through without impacting some other life. And like ripples in a pond, each of those ripples have reached out, and touched others. Our illness has, most likely, had repercussions that reached far and wide. Taking responsibility for what we have done, and making amends to those whom we have harmed is an essential part, not only of our recovery, but of becoming people of character, able to walk with pride, and an honest understanding of who we are.

In step 10, we recognize the value in the appraisals we have made of our selves, and in the amends we have made to those we had harmed, and we commit to practice continual self-appraisal and to admit promptly when we do wrong, and to take responsibility and to make it right.

In step 11, we recognize the power of spirituality in our lives, and we seek to improve our spiritual connections with the divine and our own highest wills.

Lastly, in step 12, we recognize how these steps have helped us, and we carry this message to others.

In its entirety, this is a program of action. Our wills have an inertia, and just like any other body, we need to overcome inertia to set something in motion, or to change its direction. These steps are designed to set us in motion if we have stalled, or to redirect that motion if it is leading us to some place we don’t wish to be. If we’re stuck in a rut, they help to get us up and out. And they teach us that no matter how far down the wrong road we have trod, that we can turn around and begin to walk rightly before our Gods and Goddesses.

In the end, recovery is all about humility, and humility, as RuneWolf put it is: Being “right sized.” Humility is very much misunderstood in the West, and has been warped into a kind of neurotic and obligatory self-abasement by the misapplication of Abrahamic philosophy. Toxic or false humility – “Oh, it’s really nothing. I have no real talent for art!” – is a slap in the face of the God and Goddess who gave us our gifts! True humility is recognizing both our strengths and our weaknesses, and working to cultivate the former and transform the latter. True humility, I have often been told, is looking someone in the eye when they give you a compliment and simply saying, “Thank you.”

This passage is part of an article that RuneWolf posted this on WitchVox in 2006, and I’ve not seen a better description of humility anywhere – but it is only a portion of an article on The Eight Virtues of the Craft. And truly, it is the eight virtues that he speaks of, that the Twelve Steps hope to lead us to, so I recommend highly reading RuneWolfs article. You can find it here: http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usva&c=words&id=10430

There is a chant from the Reclaiming Tradition, and the words are:
She changes everything she touches and
Everything she touches changes
There is also a saying that one often hears in the halls of recovery that goes “If nothing changes, nothing changes”.

Thsese sayings seem so trite and trivial, but they make a very important point – without action, nothing happens, nothing changes.
The Goddess is active, and we can work with her, or we can stand apart. Standing with her, we are complicit in an active endeavor; standing apart, we remain untouched, unmoved, and unchanged. And until we take that first step, until we reach out, until we ask for help, until we take action,

Wrong Turns and Inspiration

367254_4774Recently I took a road trip to the Smokey Mountains with a group of friends. On our way back to the cabin after sightseeing the driver said, “Oh is this the street?” and made a wrong turn. Another friend in the back seat started to berate him for about five minutes. Which is actually quite a lot if you’re on the receiving end, or stuck in the car listening to it. He probably felt justified in the rant because the driver should have known better.

I’ve realized I do that to my mom all the time when she has technology problems. Not a five minute tirade, but essentially the same thing. Not to my grandma, but to Mom because she should “know better.” Then I feel guilty, because I guess I feel I should know better too.

The essence of my friend’s car tirade was, “You made a wrong turn and are therefore stupid and disgusting.” He never said those words, and probably would deny that he meant it that way. But isn’t that often how we feel when we’re on a rant? The person who did the Wrong Thing is despicable. We would never have done such an inferior thing ourselves.

As activists, do you do this? I’ve been guilty of it, and I see it all the time in well-meaning friends. How do we handle it when someone doesn’t immediately get our message and jump on board? When activists get together, in person or online, are our discussions about how to inspire people or about how stupid the people who don’t get it are? The people we might be vilifying are the very people we need to help us if we want to bring our visions of the world into reality. Why would this convince anyone to listen to what we have to say?

This Imbolc I’ve been thinking about the goddess Brigid and her inspiration. Like my friend the backseat driver, I could handle being a little more inspiring and a bit less of a know-it-all.

Remember that you’re talking to a person

Here’s a secret. A lot of vegans judge their vegan-ness, or their worth as an activist, by how many people they convert to veganism. And hey, isn’t that why we’re doing activism? To get people to listen? And I know it’s true of other activists too. But let me make an analogy.

I hold to the philosophy of eudaimonism. Among other things, it means that a person’s goal in life is to flourish – to be happy, content, and virtuous. There are lots of similar philosophies around the world, including Buddhism, that say the most important thing in life is happiness.  People that follow such philosophies, which I think pretty much everyone does consciously or unconsciously, will naturally try to build a life that’s as happy as possible.

The problem is, that can also be a trap. If every time you contemplate an action, you do a mental calculation about how much pleasure it will give you, it sucks the life out of life. It’s just too clinical. I can’t experience something deeply if I’m constantly evaluating it and thinking “what’s it doing for me?” Friends are an important part of a happy life, but thinking of your friends as happiness-makers for yourself doesn’t make for deep friendships. It’s probably not good for their happiness either, and if we’re ethical hedonists instead of selfish ones, the happiness of others is important to us too.

That’s why my advice, and the advice of a lot of people before me, is to develop qualities and traits that lead toward happiness, but not be thinking about it every day. Take stock every so often and think about what will make you happy. Decide some things you could do – make more or better friends, meditate, be kinder, go on more adventures. Then when you’re doing those things, forget about trying to be happy and just engage with life.

It’s sort of like trying to write a blog of a certain length, and constantly counting the words. It gets in the way. Hard to really get into it. I’m speaking theoretically of course.

I’m starting to view activism the same way. The desire to share your message can be a deep principle that informs your choices, but it can’t be at the front of your mind all the time. Of course we want people to jump on board our causes. We wouldn’t be activists if we didn’t want that. But when you talk with your friends, are you really talking to your friends or to potential converts?

I’ve noticed I have much happier friends when I share with them my story, my reasons for being vegan, and awesome vegan food, than when I preach the Good News About Tofu to them. Something I learned from animal rights activist Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is that we’re at our best when we share things with our friends rather than trying to educate them. It can be subtle, but there’s a big difference between “I read this and it changed my life” and “You should read this; it’ll change your life.”

Remember to talk like a person, too

It’s all about having genuine human interactions. People can generally sense when you’re trying to guide the conversation somewhere, making a rehearsed speech, or perhaps worst of all, telling them what to do. Just be yourself and don’t try to be the perfect activist.

There have been so many times when people have asked me why I’m vegan and I’ve panicked. I don’t have the perfect speech planned, I’m in a bad mood, I assume they’re going to judge me or All Vegans Everywhere for my answer, or whatever reason. When I’m uncomfortable talking about it, that’s probably pretty obvious. When I give a little speech or a pat answer, that’s probably just as obvious.

If I can sum up my new approach, it’s about offering instead of instructing. It’s about engaging one’s audience as if they’re people, not automatons awaiting programming. Because people aren’t waiting around to hear your message about how they need to live their lives. It’s about realizing they’re not just an audience in the first place. Thinking of them as an audience, while technically true, makes everything all about you, and makes your friends into passive recipients of your wisdom.

Sometimes activism can just be about telling stories, especially your story when it’s appropriate.

It doesn’t always have to be about a list of the benefits of your position, or a rapsheet of the sins and dangers of the opposing political party/corporations/philosophy. People will respond to your story, to your passion, to you as a person, more than they might respond to a list of the pros and cons of your position. But you should have that too, because it’s generally not a good idea to have a lot of excitement and nothing to back it up.

People can really tell if you’re joyful about your way of life or if you’re angry and sitting in judgment. Maybe it shouldn’t matter; the message is the message regardless of who delivers it or the tone of voice they use to do it, but that’s not really realistic. A lot of people respond to pathos first and logos second. Their response to you will decide if they’re open to hearing what you have to say.

So I’m choosing to be inspiring, and to be inspiring I have to be inspired. If I want people to really hear me, I can’t be vegan just because being non-vegan causes a lot of harm to humans, other animals, and the environment. I have to be vegan because it’s awesome to live a life based on compassion. And that can apply to just about any cause where we want to inspire people to see things differently.

I’ll leave you with a challenge. Look at your relationships, your social media use, maybe even your bumper stickers. Do you spend more time ranting than encouraging? Do people tend to pull away when you talk about the causes that are important to you? (Keep in mind that that will happen anyway).Do you find yourself instructing more than sharing? Are there ways you could engage people more through stories and your passion for your sacred work?