one girl’s perspective on life, neopaganism, veganism, politics, books, films, and… stuff.

Posts tagged ‘philosophy’

Essentially Zen

This is another of my religious ‘articles’ that I wrote when I was 17 or so – it’s still very thought-provoking. Also, my main computer has died, so all my pictures and writings are in data limbo at the moment. So expect some old and random stuff!

These are some of my core (non-theological) beliefs. I think that most of these are actually derived from Zen teachings, others are appropriated from various philosophical and theological works that I have read over the years (and there have been many). I’m not saying these should be your core beliefs; everyone has their own perspective, and you should always think for yourself and work out what your own are. But maybe these will give you something to think about.

  1. There is no past and no future, there is only this moment, here and now.
  2. Do not hold onto the past – learn from it what you can, then release it to the universe.
  3. Nothing in life is fair or unfair, it simply is. Do with it what you can.
  4. The cost of free will is a conscience and sense of responsibility.
  5. People change; do not continue old and obsolete behaviours because you feel obliged to act consistently with your past. Every moment you are – and can become – a new person.
  6. Always think for yourself; question everything, including yourself.
  7. Accept emotions as they come, reflect on them, learn from them. Then release them and move on.
  8. Melodramatic lives or emotional imbalances garner attention, it’s true. But ask yourself; is (self-imposed) unhappiness is really worth that attention?
  9. Be helpful and polite where possible, but remain true to yourself first and foremost.
  10. Friendship is based in contradiction; once you realise that you don’t need friends, you’ll find true ones, based on actual respect, rather than clinging to the empty need for a friendship that isn’t there. It may not be instant, but it’s better than poisoning your life with empty relationships.
  11. Appreciate the beauty of everything that is around you.
  12. The more you realise the worth of the simple aspects of life, the less you’ll care for the convoluted or trivial ones.
  13. Find your values, then question and evaluate them. Stay true to them.
  14. Nothing is permanent, good or bad.
  15. If a problem is worth worrying about, do something to change it. If it isn’t worth worrying about, then don’t.
  16. Taking the ‘moral highground’, or walking away, may feel like losing the battle, but in the long run, you’ll be a better person for being able to sacrifice the trivial (the need to ‘be right’ or ‘win’) for the important (realising that being recognised as in the ‘right’ doesn’t matter). Never feel the need to point out that you are walking away; just do it.

Thus ends the ramble.

On the Quest for Meaning

Warning: this is a bit tangential, and roams from the need for meaning in life, to the notion of religion as an agent of social/individual control, and then spirals tangentially into a bit of pseudo-existentialism.

Everyone seems to want to know what is the ‘meaning of life’; more to the point, the vast majority of people want to believe that there is some sort of reason, meaning or purpose behind their existance. In an increasingly secular society, this myth of meaning has been subtly changed; instead of serving God, etc., the purpose is to ‘serve society’, in whatever capacity one is able. That is to say, the greater meaning of life, in modern Western society, is generally perceived as being useful, be that through career, interpersonal relationships, whatever.

“‘The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,’ she said, ‘would be to not be used for anything by anybody.’ The thought relaxed her.” (Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut)

In context, the premise of the novel is that all the exploits and endeavours of the human race have been nothing more than a subtly controlled manipulation by the far-off Trafalmadorians. Obviously, there is a lot of allegory related to religion/God. However, the point is that Rumfoord, who exists in all time at once, understands this, and therefore seeks to create a new religion; one in which God, though he exists, doesn’t give a shit about humanity, and has nothing to do with them.

It’s an interesting blend of the need for faith in a higher power, with the stark reality that people’s lives are influenced by the chance of nature, an impartial, uncaring force. And, of course, the control by the Trafalmadorians – of which no human is aware, other than Rumfoord – could be seen as an allusion to basic primal urges. People act as they are genetically programmed to: they may find unique means by which to achieve these biological goals, but in the end, isn’t nature the greater controlling force? Perhaps it simply seems as though we have free will because there is such extraordinary variation in nature, and thus in people and their actions.

Thus, Rumfoord creates a new meaning; that there is no meaning, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, this most essential truth needs to be cloaked in the trappings of religion, because even the reality that belief is false needs to be conveyed through belief… in that non-belief. And even then, the notion of control still exists: Rumfoord never explicitly states that God doesn’t control things, just that he doesn’t care or play an ACTIVE role. Things could potentially still be set in motion by this greater power, eons ago. So what does this represent? An intelligent, intermediary step on the way to a non-religion of cold, harsh logic? Or just another means by which to give people that security of ‘someone/thing else controls my fate, which means there must be some bigger picture here – i.e. meaning’ that they need?

A review of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus (which is a fantastic read, by the way) said that although Camus promoted the idea of achieving happiness through the realisation that life is ultimately meaningless, there is no way Camus himself could have been happy, living as he did with that knowledge.

I ask: why not? Isn’t there something liberating in the knowledge that there aren’t any prescribed achievements? That your life is your own, because in the end, it doesn’t represent anything? I don’t see why that’s necessarily fatalistic. You can still effect change – for good or ill – in your immediate circumstances/environment, you simply accept that there isn’t necessarily any great spiritual or larger force driving it all. It’s not ‘chaos’, at least not in the human sense, it is simply nature in its purest form. It exists because it exists, in and of itself, for its own sake.


Samsara and animism

This is another of those “old rambles from several years ago that are potentially interesting” posts.

Notes: This thought was inspired by a thread on MysticWicks NeoPagan forums. For reference, ‘samsara’ is the Sanskrit term for the idea of reincarnation found in Hinduism and Buddhism.

I was just contemplating the idea of the separation between the ‘spirit’, or soul if you will, and the physical body. It’s a core concept in all of the major world religions, and it’s prevalent in a lot of NeoPagan ones too (albeit there is less of a negative judgment passed upon the physical body).

In terms of the afterlife, that means that when your body dies, your spirit then progresses to… whatever. Personally I believe in samsara/reincarnation, so in my case, the ideology is that the body dies, and the spirit, as a separate entity, moves on to inhabit a new form.

However, what if I were to adopt a more animistic approach to it? I was thinking about this, and I believe that although animism, strictly speaking, refers only to a general transcendent dimension, without regard to Deified specifics or an afterlife, it is possible to reconcile a believe in reincarnation with that of animism.

If animism is held to be the belief that every natural object possesses a kind of “spirit”, whether that’s an individual spirit or a collective one (but in this instance, for ease of arguments’ sake, I’m saying it’s an individual spirit), then the physical body itself possesses a spirit purely because it is a natural object. That is, the spiritual component of the body is simply an integrated aspect of it.

Therefore, when the body rots in the ground (haha nice lack of euphemism there!) this spirit also “degrades”, as it is integrally a part of the physical body. However, as this is theological rather than biological, we’re not talking about molecular breakdown – instead, the spiritual component would become “absorbed” into the collective spiritual of the natural world. There, perhaps, it becomes mixed with this collective spirit, and is then manifested in the next physical carried that is created (since even humans are, generally, still a part of the cycle of biological material).

This theory also proposes that, therefore, there is no constant distinct spirit for each of us, but instead that it gets reintegrated with the collective spirit of the natural world, and therefore effectively ‘refracted’, so that in its next manifestation in a physical carrier, it is a different composition, comprised of various parts of the collective spirit. But then is that a presupposition that the individual spirits of organisms vary (and is that in turn a presupposition of a society obsessed with individuality and the need to believe in an eternal unique ‘us’?)?

Ow. My brain.

Some Thoughts on ‘Discrimination’ and ‘Tolerance’

This particular tangent was inspired by a fantastically well thought out post on Southern Pagan.

I think a lot of NeoPagans get so caught up in the community (which is, realistically, not all that big – that’s not a bad thing, either) that they seem to forget that we are a religious minority. Well, let me qualify that – they forget that we are a religious minority when it comes to their expectations of how NeoPaganism should be accommodated within broader society. They sure don’t forget we’re a minority when it comes to crying wolf persecution.

I mean, seriously, so many NeoPagans expect that society should cater to us. Not just tolerate us, or be open-minded (that would be nice, but not just in regards to NeoPaganism), but openly provide specific opportunities designed to meet specific needs. Here’s a thought – why? It’s not a direct ‘persecution’ of NeoPaganisms, nor is it a denial of rights. Generally, it’s simply a case of practicality and lack of a realistic demand.

For example, the University of Sydney has Muslim prayer rooms specially set aside, because there are a large number of Muslims at the uni. None of the high schools that I went to made accommodations for this, because there was little to no demand – maybe one or two Muslim students. Considering that’s one of the major world religions, what’s the likelihood that society is going to go out of its way to make special arrangements for a religious tradition that is exponentially smaller?

Well, one could argue that it’s all about quality, not quantity. That the rights of one person is justification enough for changes being made. And theoretically, I’d wonder what planet you’re from agree with you, to an extent. No-one should be denied the basic human rights. Hence, I believe in tolerance, sure (and I do belief in tolerance – not even necessarily acceptance, just tolerance, because I really don’t care if you’re just humouring me). I also believe that there is a marked difference between not being accommodated and actively being discriminated against.

If you consider ‘not being given special time/space for religious services’ to be persecution/discrimination, your life is apparently way too easy. If they don’t go out of their way to accommodate every other religious tradition, major or minor, other than NeoPaganism, then you’re not being persecuted, you’re just not their primary concern. Most public domains do not have the time or motivation to cater to any minority group. That’s possibly bad, definitely sad, but it’s the way of the world. You’re not special, you’re not being discriminated against.

And when it’s all said and done – to what extent is it impacting on you, anyway? Sure, I go to university on days that are of religious significance to me; that’s what evenings are for. Or the day before or after. Sure, I don’t have a dedicated space/time/group devoted to my religious practices on-campus. So I’ll go climb a tree, or sit on the lawn, and don’t give a shit if there are other NeoPagans around to hold my hand and ‘lend support’ during class hours. Given the fluidity of the ‘orthopraxy’ of virtually every NeoPagan that I’ve ever met, I’m skeptical about people’s claims that this is a really that big of a deal.

Is it really about religious rights? Or is it about wanting to feel justified in your feelings of persecution?

Devotional Drawing of Sita Tara

I ought to preface this with: this is not an original design!! I do not have the patience or imagination to come up with something like this. I just observed the traditional Buddhist representations of Sita Tara (White Tara), found some I particularly liked, and based the drawing on those (occasionally glossing-over the hard to draw parts, heh).

sitatara black and white

sitatara devotional colour

The observant among you will notice that there are some hideous flowers at the bottom of the ink-only version, which have miraculously been transformed into Sanskrit in the pencilled version. This is where I failed, drew ugly-arsed flowers, and gave in and admitted I’d have to take white-out to my lovely work. *sigh* Damn you, nature!

Some more notes (because I’m anal-retentive that way): obviously, I’m a NeoPagan, not a Buddhist, and I very much dislike people who just appropriate other cultures without any regards to research or culture. That being said, I spent most of my teenage years doing extensive research into Buddhism and Hinduism: I am certainly not a Buddhist, but there are many aspects of Mahayana/Zen practice (but not necessarily beliefs) that appeal to me.

I personally agree with the Mahayana belief that the boddhisatvas are not Gods, therefore I see no reason why I can’t admire their characteristics and what they represent, without insulting either them or the theological framework in which I work. However, as much as possible, I try and do so within the context of the culture; hence my fondness for Zen-style meditation, and creating mandalas which I then destroy. I think I’ll keep this picture though, I’m rather proud of it (and that, folks, is why I’m not a Buddhist).

Questions? Comments? Haven’t had a good religious discussion in quite some time, feel free to fill the void!

Change Your Perception, Not Your Reality

Quick note: sorry for the lack of recent updates, I’m currently drowning in a sea of books, paper and essays (i.e. uni is rather hectic at the moment). I’ll try harder, I promise!

Preface: one could easily argue that your perception IS your reality. I mean to distinguish between the two as one within the realm of your control, and one not. As in, you can view having enough money to survive as being wealthy, or you can wish for a million dollars hard cash instead of the $10 you have. The first is your perception of the financial situation, the latter is the reality (the $10, not the million :P).

At the moment there are a lot of books, films, talk shows (ugh), etc. going around that deal with the premise of creative visualization as a means by which the ordinary individual can literally “picture” their life to be happy, and it will be. (And can I just say… uh, well done secular society for finally managing to catch on to creative visualization, it’s only the basis of most witchcraft and magickal practices. At least we don’t [generally] capitalize on it.)

Yes, well that’s not quite how it works. Once again, someone has seen a really great idea (i.e. creative visualization as a tool for attaining the “dream life” that you desire) and not bothered to really think things through or do any research, and thus have produced half-arsed ideas (i.e. the money-accruing “The Secret”) that simultaneously manage to give people entirely the wrong impression, as well as potentially ruining any greater social exploration of a rich topic.

Things like “The Secret” basically promise that if you want something enough, and if you picture it enough, then it will just manifest within your life. Take happiness for example – visualize your life being happy smooth-sailing, and it will be.

Well, again, that’s not strictly true. The nasty reality of existence is that bad things do happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. Just because you want your life to go smoothly doesn’t mean it will. See, in truth, the basis of creative visualization, like any genuine attempt at “self-improvement”, is that you aren’t really attempting to change your surroundings. It’s that you’re trying to change yourself.

After all, what would be the point in suddenly having a great life, if you’re still to arrogant, too materialistic, etc., to be able to appreciate it? No, the real aim of the task is to transform yourself, and more specifically, to transform your perspective; it’s not changing the nature of reality, it’s simply changing your perception of it. Unless you’re extremely fortunate, your life is never going to be completely easy. It’s just that it’ll be easier for you to deal with, if you attempt to change your perspective so that you don’t allow yourself to get so worked up.

That’s largely my own practice these days – it’s not the same as being blindly optimistic, it’s more a kind of laid-back existentialism: nothing in life is fair or unfair, it simply is. It exists, it is being, it is your reality, you’re here and now. So don’t whinge about it; either change it or accept it.

The funny thing is, people buy these books, and they don’t realise that the entire basis of the concept is changing yourself, not your environment/life/surroundings. People like that, well they generally want the easy option; they want their life to be smooth and easy, but they don’t want to have to abandon the attention-seeking “emo-ness”, or be the one who has to take the so-called “moral highground” and walk away from an argument or a melodrama. Most of those people enjoy being victims, yet they want their lives to be easy.

And therein lies the crux of the point of this blog: you want your life to be easier for you, you have to be the one to change it. And by “it”, I don’t mean you change jobs, houses, people, etc. I mean you have to change yourself, as necessary. Yep. That’s right. You may even have to grow as a person, leave the drama, the immaturity, the self-indulgence behind. Because all good things require sacrifice, and you can’t continue to cling onto old habits of immaturity whilst expecting your life to become something great.

Thoughts on “Otherkin”

Note: I’m going away for the long weekend, so here’s something nice and contentious to tide you over until I return. Feel free to comment, I’ll reply when I get back.

I have to admit, this is a topic I’ve never really had cause to consider. To me, shapeshifting is a shamanic practice associated with alternate states of consciousness, and more to do with aspecting than actual physical transformation. And most of the “otherkin” that I’ve ever encountered have been attention-seeking at best, histrionic and delusional at worst.

However, I’ve been giving it some thought lately, and I’ve come to a conclusion; I find the whole thing kind of irrelevant.

To me, to be able to decide that you’re different to everyone else because you’re spiritually/in part a non-human animal, you have to establish a dichotomy between the soul/spirit of non-human and human animals. That is, you believe that humans have “human” souls, and all other animals (wolf, horse, whatever) have “non-human” or “animal” souls. I find this idea preposterous, and based largely on social conditioning, which insists on separating the two.

I’m willing to acknowledge this is largely based on my “all animals – human and non-human – are created equal” vegan view. But from a spiritual perspective, it seems rather absurd to constrain the soul to one set species. So, what, if you are a “human” soul, you can never be incarnated as anything else? That seems pretty limiting. It also seems to me that it contributes to the idea that humans are the only ones with “real” souls, that is, sentient and evolving ones. Which is, as anyone who shares a close bond with any animal knows, rather absurd.

Personally, I think that a soul is a soul is a soul. I don’t think your core essence, your very spiritual being, has a defined species. I think it’s so far beyond that limited comprehension that the very idea is laughable. Placing human constraints on such an intangible, ephemeral concept is like trying to put the time/space continuum in a shoebox.

Which brings me to wonder why people try and make this definition. Honestly, I’m still fairly convinced that people who wander around saying they’re a wolf-soul in a human body are either very inarticulate (do you mean to say that you have many inherent characteristics that are associated with the wolf’s mystical stereotype?), or just looking for attention and a way to be special little flowers. Also, the whole “I’m a vampire/dragon/unicorn” thing is rather… interesting. Is it an attempt at being extra-“special”? If they took a realistic “they were real creatures that are now extinct” line, I’d perhaps be more willing to entertain the idea, but when their conception is based entirely on Eragon/Twilight, I’m just going to laugh. A lot of people also try and use it as some kind of exclusive little club, to prove their “superiority”, which is both annoying and pathetic.

As to the idea of “otherkin” as being people descended from the Fae, I’m more willing to entertain this idea; I think it’s potentially possible. It’d be interesting if they ever actually proved any of the powers they claim to hold (interestingly, I know a lot more people with freaky abilities who don’t claim to be anything more than human), or had any evidence whatsoever of this lineage. Old family stories (not “My dead grandmother told me this, but no-one else ever heard the rumour, only ME.”), interesting family genealogies, hell, anything more than “My ancestors were totally Celts, therefore I’m part Fae” would be nice. I’m yet to see it happen.

No doubt this view is contentious, but if you have any evidence to the contrary, please let me know, I’d love to hear it.

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