2014: Stories of Common Folk, Joyous Expectations

And so, as always, the cycle continues to turn. We arrive at long-awaited solstices and we celebrate, we experience magic, we are granted revelations, and then at long last the special holiday season departs. In some cases (especially if you did it right), you may be feeling yourselves relieved to return to more ordinary existence.

Just as with a bad relationship, there are two main fallacies to avoid when emerging from a bad year.

I’m done talking about my distaste for 2013. (I’m just as relieved as you are.) Just as with a bad relationship, there are two main fallacies to avoid when emerging from a bad year. The first is the obvious one: avoid dwelling and lingering on it, avoid being controlled and defined by the scars left by the unpleasant circumstances. Some might call this “moving on” – and if you like that phrasing, by all means go with it.

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The second is fallacy is actually the opposite one. You can’t let your quest to move on turn into a violent rebellion against the past. This is the other side of the coin – whether you are unable to move past your trials and tragedies or you are committed to waging vengeful total war against them, you’re being controlled by them. Your movement is accordingly constricted, your freedom and consequently peace of mind sorely limited. And speaking quite practically, both paths are likely to lead to the continuation of that which you believe yourself to have escaped.

That’s why I’m not approaching 2014 with big declarations and pronouncements. It’d be an act of hubris on my part to rest comfortably in the entirely unproven notion that the difficult times are behind and now is the moment to rise up in conquest and triumph. I have large personal and professional projects and goals in mind, but I will decline to state them publicly. I have the strong commitment and desire to strengthen, enhance, and grow this blog and community, but I’m not going to begin the year here with new stated initiatives that may or may not come to pass.

I’m not even going to consider these (quite necessary) expressions of progress to be my primary focus. Instead, the only construct within which I seek to engage, as the light of this new solar cycle of 2014 begins to grow, is that of the simple, the common, and the balanced.

The only construct within which I seek to engage, as the light of this new solar cycle of 2014 begins to grow, is that of the simple, the common, and the balanced.

Nowhere on this planet – indeed, nowhere in this universe – does growth exist unaccompanied by difficulty. With an audible laugh, I’ll confess my struggle to refrain from reacting to this fact by despising both difficulty and growth for its association with it, but in the end I know that growth is the only alternative to death. To foster growth, to take advantage of the dark difficulties we’ve faced and will continue to face, we must look toward the simple, the common, and the balanced.

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I try, with varied success, to juggle my personal and financial challenges with, among other things, my responsibilities as wizard, my unavoidable creations as writer and artist, my arguments as activist, and my utterly incomplete spiritual journey as mystic. When all of these pressures – none of them fully “bad” in and of themselves, by the way – combine with my relentless consumption of information regarding the state of politics and the world, I get overwhelmed and I shut down. This is perhaps understandable given the weight of all I just described, particularly when I am confronted with the catastrophic data associated with environmental destruction, what may well amount to the suicide of our species. Understandable, yes. Desirable, no. If I am paralyzed mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, none of these areas will be served. If I am crushed under any weight, my family is not served. What little I am able to put forth in the way of “results” – be they income-related, creativity-focused, or practical brass tacks – will be insufficient.

So – it is not with abandonment or defeat that I must reconfigure my orientation, but with sheer calculation. If I wish to keep going, and I do, I must have balance. If I wish to have balance, I must be disciplined in my recognition of common simplicity, and I must allow myself what I might (incorrectly) view as the indulgence of faith and inner peace.

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Sometimes the best thing we can be is no more than what we are – ordinary people. Common folk. One of the most important and difficult things to remember in the course of most of our day-to-day lives is that we are mortal human beings walking across a crazy planet flying through space. We’re here as a product of ages upon ages that preceded us, and if we manage to survive the biospheric crisis we’ve brought upon ourselves, we ourselves will produce the ages and ages to follow. We’re connected to the past and the future (insofar as either of those concepts truly exists) but we are not of the past or the future – we are only of right now. Just simple people living right now.

We need to remember that we’re just simple people living right now.

We’re a storytelling species. That’s what religion is, after all. I don’t mean that in the overly-reductive dismissive way that’s tempting for the well-educated – the notion that religion is born solely of ignorant cultures who lack science seeking to explain physical reality. I mean that, in their intent if not their execution, religion, mythology, and spiritual practice are based in the telling of stories that illuminate aspects of existence that cannot be covered merely by material-based information. The same function is performed by music, large gatherings, and, broadly, all art.

Even if we find ourselves personally unmoved in any significant way by art or creative expression and unsatisfied by religion and spirituality, we all still craft narratives within which we believe ourselves to exist. These are narratives about the country in which we are born, the specific cultural manner in which we live, and the little routine details that form our daily lives. Without these stories, we’d lack any frame of reference with which to understand or keep track of what the hell we are doing. At the same time, if we are not conscious about these stories, they can run amok until we end up helplessly serving the stories instead of the narratives serving as tools for our benefit. One of the benefits of both meditative practices and hallucinogenic “trips” is that, properly conducted, they serve to shine light on the stories we’re telling, reveal them for what they are, deconstruct their elements and their causes, and then reassemble them as we see fit.

However we do it, let’s be aware of our sacred simplicity as people and let’s not merely be aware of our stories and narratives, let’s actively tell them. Let’s share them. Let’s build new ones. Let’s craft little floating vehicles of clarity, meaning, and, yes, explanation.

It’ll be fun and creative and liberating, and if you want to look at it from the darkest possible perspective, if we destroy the comfort of our current way of life and are left to scrape up some kind of select and limited survival in a post-apocalyptic landscape, it may turn out that all we have are our stories. All we have for ourselves – and all we have to hand down or across to others, too. And then again, if perhaps we wish to be a little happier about it, the right kind of story might serve to realign our direction and our path to a survivable, dare I say sustainable, will I dare suggest healthy direction.

Just maybe.

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I am going to need some more quiet, even though I tend always to avoid it. I am going to need some more rest, even though I have no love for it. I am going to need some humble mindfulness even as I am naturally inclined toward brash and energetic action. There are going to be times when I want to push forward and instead I need to be restrained and reserved. And as I am suspended there in this kind of quiet, mystic, modest simplicity, I need to conjure stories that make sense to me – and hopefully to you as well.

Focusing primarily on this will not divert attention from all the other goals and pressures mentioned above, but will enable me to continue growing in all of these areas of life with a consistency and a continuity that just won’t happen if I let myself binge and purge, soar then crash, overload and then collapse. It’s an imperfect trial and error thing, since I have no enlightenment, epiphany, or even mastery. It’s just an orientation before I walk along.

Hopefully, some of you will walk along for some of this as well.

And don’t let me lead you into thinking any of this has got to be somber. In fact, it’s our only hope for both joy today and for joyous expectations of tomorrow.

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*     *     *

You’ll notice this isn’t quite the forecast I put on last year, and that’s intentional. I’m not sure how helpful that was. But in the spirit of the new year, I’ll still spit out a few random bits of advice, or whatever you want to call them. As they say, “Believe it if you need it; if you don’t, just pass it on.”

  • Try to keep your will firm within you but face the world with flexibility
  • In conflict, try to win hearts and minds instead of by brute force
  • Learn as much as you can on your own, but make an effort to engage in stimulating discourse with good friends and comrades as well. We can do much on our own, but we can fully achieve nothing without others
  • Limits and thrift are effective where possible, but don’t be too hard on yourself
  • If you can figure out what your duty is – no easy task to be sure – embrace it
  • Times are changing in large epochal ways – don’t forget it

Happy (belated) new year! Salaam.

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