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Giving thanks

As a child, saying grace meant reciting (without really understanding) the typical child’s prayer, “God is Great, God is Good; Let us thank Him for our food.” It was usually reserved for special occasions like Christmas or Thanksgiving when company was over. Otherwise, despite my mother being very much a Christian, saying grace did not figure much into our day-to-day lives.

My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, said grace with every meal. When we visited with her, we were included in the ritual, holding hands around the dinner table as she recited her ever-changing and heart-felt thanks. I was impressed with my grandmother’s ability to give thanks without resorting to a rhyming child’s prayer, but I never quite understood the point of thanking a god (your God) for your food, as though it/he was the only reason you had food in the first place. When I was little, saying grace was just something you did by rote, like reciting the Lord’s Prayer. After I began my spiritual search as a teenager, it was just a reminder that I had put Christianity aside.

I never really thought of the concept of giving thank again until just a few years ago when I began considering veganism.

I was (and still am somewhat) conflicted about veganism as a lifestyle choice. On the one hand, I’m just not a big meat eater and I never have been. On the other hand, veganism tends to be somewhat unbalanced — all-or-nothing, black-or-white, rather than shades of grey — and I am more and more about the grey as I get older. I found it hard to reconcile the idea that meat-eating was somehow unnatural with the fact that carnivores abound in Nature itself. And if it’s wrong to eat a living creature, why is it then OK to eat living plants? Isn’t that using the same judgement that makes people think that animals are less than us to make plants less than animals?

As I was trying to work out the inconsistencies in my head, I came across a July 2008 blog post by Amber the Donkey at Spring Farm Cares that answered the very questions I had. I’m going to reproduce the post here in its entirety simply because it’s hard to link directly to it on the Spring Farms site. (It predates the Blogspot blog and I really want you to read it; and whatever you may or may not think about the idea that animals can communicate with us, I urge you to visit the Spring Farm Cares site and its blog and read the posts ascribed to Amber in particular — regardless of their origin, they are incredibly profound yet accessible and may well answer questions you didn’t even know you had.) Any highlighting/emphasis is mine.

Q: I am wondering if being a vegetarian is most appropriate for an animal lover like me. I have done this before, but currently I eat meat. I certainly do not like supporting the cruelty of the meat industry — especially the factory farms. At the same time, I look at the animal world, and see meat eaters everywhere. So, what say you?

Amber Donkey: This is a question for which each and every one of you must answer for yourselves. Your choices that you make for your well-being and your body are yours alone to make. That basic guideline being stated, I can give you my opinion and the opinion of the animals I live with, some of whom would be eaten if they were not here. This is a question that immediately raises lots of emotion and judgment for many people. I would like to say emphatically, that whatever your choice, it should never be judged by anyone. Many feel they do not want to eat meat to honor the animals, and then they condemn and judge those who have made different choices. This does not honor the animals at all. Your question is actually 2 separate issues however. And I will answer it in two parts to make it more clear.

The first issue is to eat meat or not and how do animals feel about it. I can tell you this. Animals understand being eaten. Animals understand the predator/prey relationship. Humans do not understand this. Many look to animals and say that they eat each other so it must be ok to be eaten. But what you fail to see is that those animals who eat other animals to live, do so in relationship to those other animals. In that relationship there is respect, honor, appreciation, and love of Life that is passed between the animal being eaten and the one eating of it’s flesh. Every animal eaten by another animal is taken with regards to their spiritual connection with all of Life. It is never taken unjustly. It is never taken lightly. It is never taken for granted. And no life is ever wasted. That is the essence of the predator/prey relationship. It is based on honor and respect. Animals are not upset that humans eat meat. In fact, in our own barn we have heard visitors say that those who eat meat are not spiritual. We believe this is not correct. These are not mutually exclusive.

However, most humans are not even aware of what they are eating. They do not eat with spiritual awareness. If you did, you would be in relationship to all you eat, plant and animal alike. You would be conscious of the fact that for you to live, something lends it’s life to you to nourish you. You would thank each and every thing that nourishes you. And in that respect, that life would live on through you. When you are out of relationship with what you eat, then you do not honor what is being given to you. That is equally true for plant life as well as animal life. There is no difference. Life is life. Plants do have conscious awareness. It just looks different to you. Herbivores are in relationship to what they eat. I am always thankful to the grasses and grains that have given their lives for me. That thankfulness is a part of who I am, as it is for each and every one of the beings who live with me on this farm. We have a relationship with grass and plants.

What we see in humans is a lot of ingratitude for what you are given. Do you ever thank your food? Do you thank the apple for the nourishment it brings you? Do you thank the leaf of lettuce? The tomato? The chicken or the cow? So many people do not even have awareness of what kind of animal they are eating. So the travesty is the lack of awareness and relationship with what nourishes you. Animals understand that in the end we all are eaten. Our bodies are consumed by another or insects or earth. It is part of the cycle. Humans have removed themselves completely from that cycle. You may be on the top of the food chain, but you have no understanding of the relationship of every living thing around you. And while you may not be eaten by other animals, you are certainly eaten by your own misgivings.

The second part of your question is actually about factory farming. Because while animals understand being eaten and that relationship, it doesn’t mean we understand living lives of hell and dying in panic and pain. That also is not part of the natural way of things. And it is a direct product of humans not being in relationship with their food. If you were in relationship with all you ate, you would never mistreat an animal in the food chain. You would never kill your vegetables with poisons. You would treat ALL living things with love, respect, and honor. Because you would understand that the life you treat well will nourish you. Instead, you have walled off all relationship with your food and thus have treated the living beings who give their lives to you with complete disrespect, dishonor, and total lack of compassion. And this you then feed to yourselves and your children. If humans for one minute felt the anguish and pain of the animals you hold captive and kill for your food, the practice you call factory farming would come to a screeching halt. Yet you blindly consume that anguish daily. What you do to them goes into you.

Is it possible then to eat meat and be spiritual? Absolutely yes. To do so you simply need to make your choice to be aware and thankful of each and every thing you eat and that nourishes you. When you have done that, you will have honored the life of that being who will then live on through your flesh. This is true for the grass I eat. It is true for the carrots and apples people bring me. It is true for the chickens and ducks who live with me. All of us understand this as such a basic and simple truth.

With those words, I understood the point of saying grace. It’s not about thanking some nebulous, singular higher power; it’s about thanking your fellow living entities for their contributions to your survival.  It’s something many cultures (particularly cultures that live closer to the land) have long understood, but unfortunately something that many people have lost touch with.

Note: This post has been languishing in my Drafts folder for years, but comes to mind now after Kate wrote about meeting two rats. In her post, she describes what one of the rats, Ohna, passed onto her; and it echoes Amber’s words so much that it reminds me of how poorly I’ve followed the advice I read four years ago:

Please tell the other humans to take a moment to connect with the souls of the animals who have died for them. (Shows me humans eating chicken off of a plate.) You don’t have to feel sad for them or guilty – these emotions will only make you sick in your heart, and they will not help the animals. Just take a moment to thank the animals who have touched your life and your body (shows me leather belts and shoes.) Animals are all around humans all the time. Their bodies are everywhere and so their spirit consciousness is everywhere too. Thank your animals (the ones you eat, the ones you wear) and it will do your soul good.

Overload

“I don’t know.”

It’s been my rote answer to almost every meaningful question over the last year or more.

What do you want? I don’t know. How do you feel? I don’t know. Where are you headed? I. Don’t. Know.

From a metaphysical point of view, I’ve been shoveling other people’s videos, audios, writings into my head since my teenage years. With the explosion of the Internet and the massive amount of information that is available at our fingertips about any and every conceivable topic, I’m reaching critical overload. I may have already tripped the breaker; the question is, do I want to reset it?

I’ve been trying to meditate more over the last several weeks. It was going good for awhile, but lately I’m finding myself too frustrated to pay sufficient attention. The more frustrated I get, the less I can meditate; the less I meditate, the more frustrated I get. It’s a self-sustaining cycle. As the frustration builds, I find myself falling back into the habit of researching.

I’m a junkie addicted to the compiling of information, the assimilation of data. An information binge eater. I can’t just sample it, I must gorge myself on everything I can find on a topic and then, unsurprisingly, find myself completely burned out at the end. Binge eating fills a void. Everyone’s void is different but the key to getting a handle on it is the same: find out what the void is and find a better way to fill it, repair it. Information binge eating is exactly the same, driven by the same need to fill a psychological or metaphysical void. It goes hand-in-hand with many aspects of hoarding (in that bingeing on information frequently includes stockpiling books, videos, digital content, and what not) and brings along much of the same baggage. For me, the metaphysical bingeing derives at least partly from this need to fill the huge questioning void in my soul, as though someone else holds the key to my own spiritual quest, when a quest by its very nature is personal and individual and something only you can undertake.

It’s really time that I started looking within for my answers, instead of expecting to find the answers to my own personal questions and crises in someone else’s words. To do that, I really need to be more conscientious about meditating and using other inward-facing tools like journaling. My dreams have been particularly vivid lately so I want to start recording those where I can remember them. Just take an inner journey of my own instead of reading about other people’s mystical travels. I may have to avoid the Internet for awhile to do that.

[As an aside, today, while napping in between stretches of watching the new Bob Marley documentary, I had a dream in which I told a man who looked like a young Bill Gates that there were people out there with both a deep understanding of the metaphysical nature of the universe and a great affinity with technology and that he should go find them, actively go out there and search for them, because they were the future. It seemed important enough to me that I kept repeating the words every time I woke up briefly in order that I wouldn’t forget when I finally got up. (Didn’t quite work out, since I forgot some of the specific words, but the gist and images of it remained. I also forgot something Bob Marley himself said in the dreams, something I’d also thought was important but clearly not as important. LOL)]

Spiders and storyweaving

Over the last couple of weeks, I have encountered spiders regularly in my bedroom. One spider at a time. It’s been a long time since I’ve lived in a house and so I haven’t really encountered spiders very often in my adult life. (During the emptying of my old apartment in November and December, I found and dispatched a number of spiders from the dark and dusty recesses of the various clutter-filled cubby holes, but that was in conjunction with a whole lot of other multi-legged undesirables; otherwise I hadn’t encountered more than a handful of spiders in my own home in my entire adult life.)

I’m not afraid of spiders — in fact, an old boyfriend had a pet tarantula that I held and let crawl up my arm. (As an aside, if you’ve never held a tarantula, you really should at least once in your life. It’s a most remarkable sensation — their “feet” feel like the hook side of velcro, which is not at all what I expected. And it tickles.) But I don’t like the idea of spiders getting into things they aren’t meant to be in, like my hair. So I have difficulty letting them remain in areas where that is a possibility. I’ve tried to explain to them that there’s an entirely empty bedroom next to mine that they are welcome to take over, but they seem to like mine best. It’s not a good mix.

During all this, and despite the fact that I’ve long considered getting a spider or spider web tattoo, I’ve never considered that perhaps the repeated presence of the spiders might have a more symbolic meaning. My weekly class with Asia Voight last night featured one of my favourite authors, Dr. Steven Farmer. He spoke about power animals and spirit animals and about learning to recognize when the repeated presence of a particular animal brings a message for you. While I was listening, I decided to bring up the Spider card in his “Messages From You Animal Spirit Guides Oracle Cards” iPhone app:

Trust the creative spark you’re feeling, and express it through writing stories that inspire and enlighten.  The pulse of creativity is especially strong right now, triggering a not unfamiliar and compelling desire to express yourself through creative writing. Whether or not the tales you weave are true, whether they’re based on actual experience or the imaginings of your fertile mind, each day sit yourself down and pour out the words that come to you. Don’t ponder each sentence or paragraph; just write whatever wants to be written through you. To inspire and enlighten others, you don’t need a profoundly complex tale. Start by describing a personal experience, one where you gained some insight that may also be useful for others. However, don’t focus on how people will respond to your story; instead, just enjoy the process of writing without judging your work or yourself. […]

Associations: Creativity, wisdom, weaving, balance, storytelling, writing, connectedness, inspiration, femininity, nurturing, communication, imagination, individuality

It touches on two things that have been on my mind lately: blogging and continuing to work on the novels I started for past 3-Day Novel contests:

  • Blogging: I didn’t write much in this blog after Maci died because, well, I just really couldn’t put what I was going through into words. Since the move, I’ve been wanting to write more here, but I’ve been conflicted. This blog has always been my general, all purpose blog. I’ve tried to keep most of my spiritual and writing ramblings to other blogs I’ve created for those purposes, but that hasn’t been working for me so far as it has led only to dozens of half-written and halfhearted draft posts strewn across all of the blogs, with few actually published. I don’t want to split myself apart like that any more so I’m going to reintegrate myself into this one blog. And I’m going to start trying to post regularly — perhaps even daily like I did before. I do have thoughts to share that might well help someone else, and if not, the writing is the thing. If it only helps me to sort things out, then it will have done its job well.
  • Writing: When I moved, I threw away most of the books I’d collected over the years. The relatively few books I kept tend to fall into three categories — spiritual, technical writing or grammar, and creative writing. The technical writing/grammar books I kept because I expect to one day go back into technical writing and many of the books I have are hard to come by today; the spiritual books are relevant to my current intentions for my life; and the creative writing books speak to my long-held and newly-renewed desire to write and publish (even if on my own) a novel. Today, I received my participation sticker for last year’s 3-Day Novel contest and a pretty hefty discount offer for this year’s contest fee (30% off). So I signed up again. Between now and then, I would like to revisit some of the other stories I’d begun for past contests and finally get them written. One in particular — one that speaks to the interconnectedness of all things — seems to want to be written now and so I think I will start on that one. One of my biggest difficulties with past contests is that I lacked the discipline to sit down over a 3-day long weekend and try to write an entire novel. By making a commitment now to write at least something every day, perhaps I will be able to succeed in September. More importantly, the stories already bursting to be finished will be that much closer to completion and release into the world.

A very good place to start

“So…you mentioned ‘epic’ in your last post. Care to elaborate?”

Oh, yeah.

I should probably explain that.

And why I know this time is different.

(I know…how many times have I said that. I have journals and diaries going back decades that attest to my high failure rate at making any lasting changes in any aspect of my life. So why is it different now?)

After my last Maci-related posts here, I drifted in apathy and sadness and nothingness. Slept a lot. Ate more. Wallowed endlessly. Got further out of control in pretty much every aspect of my life.

Cut to November 9.

That was the day that I decided I needed a new start — an extreme new start.

[I grew up in a household full of wonderful clutter. The difference between that home and mine is that my mother was neat and tidy by nature (where I’m messy and lazy) and so our houses were always charming and homey in their clutter. And my mother was a serial collector — giving away the contents of one collection when another was started — rather than a hoarder.

When my mother died, my attitude towards “stuff” began to change. You can’t take it with you, and if I were to die, there was nothing I owned that anyone would struggle to (or want to) keep — at best, things to be sold off to get rid of them; at worst, they would just be tossed out. If it wasn’t making me happy to have it around me, then why keep it? My attachment to my “stuff” was weakening, but the situation I was in was overwhelming.]

Trying to fix things while staying put where I was wasn’t working for me. It was long past time for a change.

“Portable” became my new mantra.

I put in my notice on my apartment and found a room to rent in someone else’s house. Rented a small storage unit and a mail box.

I threw away most of my belongings, and I do mean “most”, including almost all of the books that I’d been desperately holding onto for decades, every piece of furniture I owned, my television, and most of my computer equipment. (I know — it seems a waste to have thrown out so many functional and usable items, but ultimately that excuse has been keeping me from decluttering properly for years and if I held onto things now long enough to sell or give them away, I’d never be free. It had to be a quick and clean break and that meant throwing things away while I could.)

I couldn’t manage to do it all myself — not because I was holding onto things, but because I wasn’t in the best shape or health and trying to do this huge a job on my own while working 12-hour shifts was hard. So I hired the 1-800-Got-Junk guys. Unfortunately, one completely-packed-to-the-rafters truckload and many personal trips to the dumpsters later and my apartment still looked like a squat. That’s when I realized that I’d never finish it if I stayed, so I cut and ran before the new year. One of these days I’ll get a bill from the landlord for the final clean up. And that’s a small price for the sense of relief that doing a runner brought.

So now I live in a rented room in a house with dogs and a small yard. My phone and my Internet are mobile and contract-free. My electronics are all portable. The only furniture I own is a new twin mattress set. Everything else that is here with me is in a half dozen plastic storage containers. My small storage unit is severely underutilized and contains pretty much only those items that I wanted to keep but didn’t need with me: my mother’s paintings, my technical writing and other reference books, photos, my guitar, some tarot/oracle card decks, and some papers I didn’t have time to sort through. If I were to lose it all tomorrow, I’d be disappointed but not heartbroken, and that’s very liberating.

I live closer to where I work so I’ve virtually eliminated my taxi addiction and I’m walking more. I’m working on cleaning up my finances and my health. I’m coming out of my hermitage and beginning to actually interact with the Real World in ways I’ve avoided for over a decade. I’ve returned to the spiritual quest I paused years ago. And I’m working out what phase II is going to look like.

I am still very much a work-in-progress. I don’t know where this is going, but I’m no longer afraid and no longer hiding. And that’s a very good place to start an epic journey.

The whole world’s goin’ crazy

Crazy, crazy, crazy, cra-a-a-a-azy

OK, maybe it’s just me. I feel like I’m going absolutely bonkers lately. I’m up, I’m down, I’m all over the place. Happy, sad, confident, fearful, resolute, panicky, optimistic, pessimistic. Pick an extreme and I’ve probably been there over the past few weeks. Hell, I occasionally cycle through them all in a single day. I’d love to blame it on hormones or my mother dying but those are just individual components of a massively huge ball of issues. I know it’s shaking changes out of me that need to be made, but jeez-us it’s a rough way to do it.

My Jonathan Cainer horoscope for this weekend pretty much addresses my current state:

You have known easier times. But have you ever been in such a potentially rewarding situation before? Perhaps you think there’s nothing so satisfying about your circumstances. Maybe you doubt that they will ever lead to a development worth celebrating. But when we are in the midst of a slow, frustrating process, optimism famously fades. Venus now passes through your opposite sign. You’re not alone and, even if the company you are keeping infuriates you at least as much as it inspires you, there’s help at hand. Be graceful, patient and good-humoured and you’ll yet make the most constructive progress.

Identity crisis

It’s minor, as crises go, but seems to promise longevity. And it’s growing worse as the days go by.

I’m a loner at heart. I don’t know that I started out that way — I was never alone my entire life until I was in my mid-teens and the only child left at home. I didn’t much like being alone back then. That was when my clinical depression started, and I’ve struggled with it ever since. As an adult, though, I’ve learned that I actually like being alone, that I crave significant amounts of alone time. Whether that’s good for me is an entirely separate matter.

I’m also very sensitive. And perhaps a little paranoid. Not about everything — I sometimes take the strangest things with a complete lack of defensiveness — but about enough that the knot in my stomach that says “I’m a loser” is an almost permanent feature of my life.

I don’t require the approval of others. But I also take things said to or about me very personally, even if I’m only really on the periphery of the topic. It’s very hard to restrain that impulse when people you like and admire are the ones who (generally completely unknowingly) are making you question yourself, making you feel like less than you really are. I don’t seek approval, but I also don’t seek disapproval — disapproval from the people who mean something to me makes the knot in my stomach grow larger, heavier, more substantial.

If you’ve read this blog, then you know I have a very eclectic set of interests. I am both skeptic and believer, scientist and mystic, logical thinker and emotional feeler. I can switch hats at any point, but all of the headgear is in my virtual closet, a part of me. I was comfortable with that, feeling that it made me better able to understand and appreciate all sides. Now, though, I feel more that it means that I have no place to feel safe, to feel like I belong. The logical skeptics think I’m a nutcase (or rather they think people who think like I do are nutcases — they may or may not have actually considered that I fall into that group). And I’m too logical to be able to completely submerge myself in the mystical, making me not quite fit into those communities either. Where are all the  no open-minded, see-all-sides, middle-of-the-roaders?

This morning, for example, I attended an organized, online chat on one of those niche topics in which I ultimately felt attacked for being somewhat different from the others. I respect the organizer of the chat as a prominent figure in the genre, but now I don’t know that I’ll go back next week. To be clear, their intention wasn’t to be mean — they were just trying to understand my take on the discussion topic (and clearly my sense of humour didn’t come through well, but that’s a topic for another post) — but it comes down to the same thing: I ended up feeling defensive (and psychoanalyzed) in a situation where I should have felt safe.

That comes on the heels of posts and comments on a number of blogs that I read regularly that, in a completely different way, made fun of other interests that I have. (Is there something in the water?) One or two occurrences would have been easy to work around. But it seems to be happening everywhere, in all aspects of my life, and I’m feeling more and more like I just don’t really belong anywhere any more.

To be clear, I’m not looking for a solution. And I’m not looking for sympathy or a validation of my worth as a human being. Somewhere inside me, I know my worth. I just don’t know my place, that place where I actually belong. I seem to be an outsider everywhere, and I hadn’t expected that, hadn’t mentally prepared myself for that.

Seas of BlackBerries and pashminas

Flew to Toronto last Thursday for the Hay House “I Can Do It” Conference, which was chock full of New Age, self-help goodness. It was less about the actual conference and more about meeting up with my friend Nik — we haven’t seen each other in 13 years so this was our excuse.

The flight with Porter was abso-freakin’-lutely awesome. My gate was the one nearest to the security area. I killed time waiting for the flight by watching some  Apprentice and NCIS on my netbook. The waiting area at the gate was full of dark-suited businessmen tapping away on their BlackBerries in unison. It was really quite eerie, in a “Children of the Corn” kind of way. I got my two seats without the hoop-jumping that Air Canada and Westjet make you go through, the crew was super nice, we got free snacks. I love the size of the plane — better view out the windows.

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Spritualism and mediumship

A special three-part documentary series aired during the last couple of days on Channel 4 in the UK featuring Tony Robinson (of Blackadder and Time Team fame) and science journalist Becky McCall investigating a number of paranormal phenomena. The shows include:

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Enlightenment Cards and a Course in Miracles

These cards were created by Gary Renard and published by Hay House. I was intrigued by thesm when I first saw them. I was almost ready to buy them tonight just based on reviews on Amazon.com until I saw some of the images in Janet Boyer’s review. The examples she gave in her Amazon review were sort of general spiritual, but the cards on the review on her site make it clear that there is a Christian bent to the cards. That was an immediate turn-off.

I then started looking at the deck and Gary’s book more closely. The references to “A Course In Miracles” should have been a dead give-away, and very much underscore my new aversion to it.

I may read the book one day — I suspect my reaction would be similar to many of the people who gave the book a 1 star rating at Amazon as I no longer appreciate or believe in the idea that there is one true path or that the one true path involves Jesus Christ. You might have convinced me of that when I was in my teens, when my spiritual crisis was just beginning at the age of 16, but not for decades. I get a real Scientology vibe from just the positive reviews. I’m a little disappointed at the somewhat gushy nature of Janet Boyer’s review as well.

Dammit. I just realized that, when I signed up for some Oprah newsletters a few months ago, I opted into the “A Course in Miracles” newsletter from Marianne Williamson. (I’ve never read any of them so opting in was clearly not a good choice, but I digress.) When I signed up, I really wasn’t paying attention to the name of the books she was talking about — the description on her Oprah.com page skirts around things, making it all seem like generic New Age spirituality and power of intention type stuff. I’m disappointed. I don’t want Christian-centric spiritual teachings or inspirations. It’s not helpful to me. In fact, it makes me angry and negative, which is the complete opposite to what I want. I’m actually horrified. And it completely alters my opinion of both Marianne Williamson and Oprah Winfrey.