Learning the Value of Practice and Tradition

I was looking through old blog entries of mine today – not here, one of those other blogs that I never erased but set to private long ago, when I realized it existed mostly as a means to complain about people, that that wasn’t terribly mature. I hadn’t really touched it in three, four years, all but forgotten it existed, but I found some old emails from it and so decided, out of shear morbid curiosity, to go check it out.

Dear fucking gods, was that painful! I come off like such a whiny bitch – which I sincerely hope is unusual for me. The most maddening part though is how close I was to getting it, I seemed to have most of the understanding I currently do, but the focus of it was all wrong. I was still so wrapped up in blaming others for my own discomfort, making excuses for why I don’t need to change, it’s everyone else who is wrong, they need to accommodate me. And it’s all so transparent, I wonder how I didn’t see it even as I was typing it, how there was not some little voice yelling in the back of my head:

Ten paragraphs. Ten fucking paragraphs all crying because someone made you feel inadequate. Yes, how very dare they, how very dare anyone expect anything of you. Ten paragraphs all on everything you don’t need to do: formal ritual, regular practice, any sort of responsibility at all. Are you trying to convince your audience, or yourself? Are you sure they maybe don’t have a point, that maybe you could stand to develop a little discipline? And I don’t mean doing a hundred impossible things while standing on your head – if you took a real deep breath and thought back good and hard, you’d realize no one ever said that to you. This is all coming from inside your head, this is all you reacting to what other people are doing for themselves. You would not be reacting so poorly to what other people are doing if what you were doing was working so damn well for you. You know you’re wrong here, that discomfort is your brain telling you you’re wrong.

And while we’re at it, about ninety-five percent of what you’re writing here is oh woe is me, I’m so dreadfully broken, my life is bleak and painful. I imagine the only reason you didn’t get a flood of messages trying to talk you off the ledge you must surely be on is because you’d gone and surrounded yourself with people who all sounded just as bad. There is acknowledgement and there is obsession. Your framing your life in this context is a good way to ensure that it ends up owning you. Maybe if you stopped obsessing over it for even five minutes, just maybe you’d figure out how to get out of your own way.

So close, but just not close enough.

There was something else I picked up on from my old writing, something that I remember being the commonly agreed upon thought in the post spirit worker circle, something I’d forgotten about until confronted with it again, something that bothered me a lot as soon as I noticed it. That I would begin talking about religious devotion, devotion to the gods, but it would very quickly turn into a conversation all about me: what I want, what I need, what I expect, my desires and why I’m allowed to have them right alongside everything I can’t do (often because it gets in the way of some other desire) and why that’s just a-okay because me me me. Almost like I was the only one in the alleged relationship, the only one who mattered…

But I’m not prepared to get into that point now, I did just notice it, for the first time, and I need a chance to really think it through. But I wanted to mention it, the way it jumped right out at me, the way it bothered me, as a sign of how poorly I was treating that connection, that I’d lost sight of so much of what once mattered to me and I was so oblivious to it.

It was formal practice I was going to talk about, in part. That thing I once swore up and down I didn’t really need because…uh, because I had a hard time making time for it, because I’m undisciplined and because I have a sleep disorder that makes scheduling difficult so…impossible to make new habits, right? Well, no, because I’ve done it in years since. It’s hard, I need a degree of flexibility to go along with my variable schedule and it can require some experimentation to get just the right mix; I need to not beat myself up too much if I miss the target but I can’t go too easy on myself either, I need to want it and know how to make myself want to succeed.

It’s not something that came about only because of the great spiritual crisis, it was a long standing problem that was partially mitigated because I was neck deep in a community for a while there, online and in person. It was enough to keep it in mind in the beginning there, it prompted just enough action on my part, but of course when that crutch went away I had a serious problem on my hands that I was unprepared for. That foundation needed to come from me. That was especially true when I got pulled into a deeper level, I needed to step up my game and that should’ve been obvious, yet I missed the memo.

I was trying to – I don’t know what I was trying to do, drift aimlessly around? The practice I’d developed, what little of it there was, was empty and meaningless, dissolved into nothing very quickly. Whatever you feel like doing was the watch word at the time, whatever works for you; though I talked like a self involved person then, that’s not a motivating factor for me, general good feelings, I need something else. Not only did I give myself no real motive, I expected me to build everything from the ground up. None of it was grounded in anything, no tradition, no nothing; I didn’t know anything about ritual, how it worked, in order to craft my own.

Again, in retrospect, not very wise on my part. I don’t think I fully understood the value of the thing I was so carelessly throwing away. Though to be fair to me, I don’t think anyone had really explained ritual in real, meticulous detail: what makes one good, what makes one work, every individual part and the way it all comes together. It’s more than just a thing that you do on certain days of the year, in between the laundry and telling your fellow coreligionists about all the laundry you’re stuck doing over potluck.

I’d left a tradition behind, reconstructionism, as I should have because it wasn’t working for me. I think the success of those religious movements depends on your ability to connect to the ancient culture as a whole, its mindset, and that just never happened for me. Not to say I didn’t try, try to let things work out the way I thought they would, and should.

The Greek gods, it’s said, come to people as the family unit that they are, if you are drawn to one that one will push you to meet the rest of them and you’ll have several of them in your life, if not the whole pantheon. That was a common enough experience, at least back then. It never worked that way for me. Again, I did try, there were other gods there I’d been interested in a connection with; aside from Dionysos who has always been around off and on, the ones that didn’t outright tell me to get lost were fairly indifferent. Honestly, after a while there, so was I.

What developed around me instead, much to my initial confusion, was a small collection of concepts and deities, etc. connected not by time or place, but by some association with Hermes. Sometimes an actual historical one that I didn’t know about until I had cause to look into it (always interesting when that happens), other times it’s something (or someone) with a lot of parallels to him. He is the center, not a particular time, place or culture; it all revolves around him.

Hermes is a liminal figure, there’s a side to him that fits well in the cultural center, but there are other sides that take him out to the fringe, and beyond. That latter, that’s always been the one I see, the one I know best. The lack of concern for boundaries he has shown with me over and over again, it makes a certain kind of sense.

My beginning attempts to accept that reality lead me to leave Hellenic Reconstructionism. It also lead me to think I would not be able to find another spiritual home (even a temporary one), but that, I now believe, was a mistake. While I may one day have to venture out entirely on my own, I wasn’t ready for that then, or now. I collected quite a bit of historical knowledge; practical spiritual technique, ritual practice and the like was far more lacking. As undisciplined as I am, I need some structure; not militant, not so restrictive I couldn’t keep up, but enough to tell me where to go, keep me on point. I should’ve been looking for somewhere else to go, to continue my education.

I may have that now, or at least I’m on the right path to it, though I’m not yet ready to say much more than that. There have been a few odd changes over the past year that it’s taken me a while to wrap my head around; odd enough that I’ve made mistakes already in interpreting them, understandable mistakes in hindsight. I don’t want to keep doing that, I don’t want to say anything else until I’m a hundred percent. It’s been an interesting road regardless, even if I don’t jump on this particular bandwagon, I’ve still gotten a lot out of just the research.

It’s been good having a research project again.

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One thought on “Learning the Value of Practice and Tradition

  1. Pingback: What Little Sense There Is | In the Liminal Realm

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