On Limitations

The sparrows…have accepted even harsher limitations to achieve even more spectacular results. Like most birds, they have embraced many limits and traded in a galaxy of other possibilities in exchange for the supreme achievement of flight. Every cell in their bodies is shaped by the demands of life in the air…they are masters of a single trade, and its requirements are strict enough that every other option has dropped away.

-John Micheal Greer’s Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, Chapter Four: The Law of Limits (44-45)

You know, this post has been sitting for a while now, all written up but I was unsatisfied with it for some reason. Attempts at editing didn’t help, something about it just felt wrong, there was something I wanted to say about limits and taboos but it wasn’t coming together.

One part of my daily routine (and I feel I can talk about that more now that it has firmly established itself) is divination, a single tarot card. I had never seen the point of doing that on a daily basis, after all most people’s lives don’t change that drastically from day to day, mine perhaps less than most, so wouldn’t it just be the same thing over and over again? But hey, that’s what the experts I read say should be part of your basic foundation, along with some daily ritual and meditation (or, for me, grounding, centering and shielding plus devotional practice, offerings and time spent with the gods) so okay, I’ll give it a go. And I’ve found that yes, indeed things don’t change that much from day to day, but there is something oddly gratifying in seeing those consistent patterns developing (oh, look, it’s working!).

Then there are the times when you pull the same damn card every day for an entire week like it’s the only one in the deck (no, it’s not a bad shuffle, I know how to shuffle cards, and either way I never pick from the top of the deck). Some message here, but what the hell is it? You slowly work it out, the general idea first then the specific it’s applying to; you make a move in the right direction, stumble, and the card the next day tells you it’s not good enough; fuck off completely the following day and you get that first card again, stuck to an even uglier one that all but screams I’m getting sick of your shit.

I may need to be told more than once, but I’m not that thick. And so here I am, knowing what I need to say and this post still has the same title and the same quote, but the rest of it is very different. This is both to really cement it to myself and make something of a public vow that I will be making those needed cuts to my life to avoid mental miasma, so I can be better in tune with the gods.

There has been a lot of that going on lately, paring down, focusing. Much of it has not had to come down from on high, they’re decisions I’ve made for myself because I realized after a time it was the right thing for me to do. I’ve been living a fairly monkish existence for a little while now, been in this city almost a year and I don’t know anyone here apart from nearby relatives, I’ve made no effort to change that nor wanted to. I’ve not been a total hermit as I once was, I’ve engaged plenty with the city itself, with the nearby ocean, but not with other people, and that mostly goes for online as well. I won’t say definitely never, you never say that where Hermes might hear it, but unless and until something falls out of the sky and into my lap, this is how it is and where I need to be.

I haven’t been very good at that, being where I need to be; I spent a long time trying to live against my nature, thinking it was just what I had to do. When Hermes had me uprooted from my family’s home and out into the world, I don’t think I handled that transition well. All of a sudden (and it was sudden, it took a month) I was in a completely different place and I don’t just mean a city I’d never been to, and there seemed to be a lot more opportunities available to me that had never been on my radar before. Well, other people live like this, I told myself, very easily too, it’s just the way it goes. I tried to adapt as I had done every time my life changed on me (changes that were usually temporary and highly volatile), and it worked for a while but it wasn’t going to work indefinitely, not for me and not for the people I was mingling with; I do not fit in, very obviously, and even when that fact is consciously acknowledged it can still create long term strain within the group, let alone when everyone’s ignoring it (me because I’m still finding my footing too late in life, them because…well, because maybe you’re not as all welcoming and open minded as you like to think you are, but fuck honesty, you’re just going to keep on telling yourself otherwise while your frustration shows up in other ways). I’d never gotten anywhere that close to a normal life before (and it wasn’t even that close, with all the spirit workers and druids and the large number of interestingly, and sometimes frighteningly crazy people that passed in and out of my home), I found I couldn’t do it, and those opportunities started naturally going away.

I also finally got an idea of what my life looked like from the outside. You don’t always know that, if you’re far off the beaten track, far out of the world and only ever meeting people in the same fucked up boat as you, you might have an idea but you don’t really know until you come across a fleet of very different ships. Now I knew, and with that knowledge in mind I could watch everything contracting back into its proper shape, those opportunities I’d thought I’d seen at first proving to be mirages after all; life turned out to be a long corridor with every door sealed shut save one, the door Hermes was standing in front of. And that brought out anger and resentment, which was allowed to take over during the crisis time when my mind snapped and I had little else. Because gods damn it that wasn’t fair (and no, it’s not, but life isn’t fair and it never pretended to be). Anger and resentment driving me to waste my time banging against those sealed doors, like I could somehow force them to open through sheer will power. I won’t say it was all failure though it mostly was, but whatever wins I managed to tear free were always so small, so insignificant compared to the immense amount of effort I put into achieving them, and the further immense effort required to hold on to them, it was never worth it.

But of course it was never about wanting those doors opened, not about the things I didn’t have or the opportunities I was not given. No, it was about not having been given the chance to decide, about feeling herded down that single corridor; even that feeling, and the urge to fight against it that it brought, was more about proving something, to the world or myself I’m not sure. The saner part of me knew this couldn’t keep going, something had to be done, the hardest thing for a stubborn asshole like me to do when I’ve got my fists up and my heels dug in: total and complete acceptance.

Assume that this is it, I’d said to myself, over and over, until it sunk into my brain, this is the shape of your life, the patterns have all been set, no radical change is coming, you will never be given any more cards to play than what you have right now. Find a way to live with that. Keep to your box. Play the hand you were dealt.

If that hand contains only one playable card, the God card is nothing to sneeze at, and I wouldn’t trade it away, not for the Career, Family, Quiet House in the Suburbs and Private Yacht card master set. I never lost sight of that, it was never a question that, when the time came to make those hard choices, I’d still be on this path. Even when doubts were growing that I could ever go as far as other people were with it. I’d see the people I knew online, what they were talking about (the ones I believed, and still do), and I’d think to myself, and if you laugh at this believe me I’m laughing at myself now – if I had the sort of signal clarity that was more reliable, more consistent, more immediate, more like what they’re talking about, it would be so much easier to sacrifice everything for it.

Yes, I know, you have to put the work into that, moron. But it’s not that, that’s the secondary lesson in this fable. I never realized, back then, how much of my limited supply of energy was going into just getting through my day to day life and all the interactions that required: a multitude of room mates, both an online and in person large community I was trying to be an active part of, so many people every damn day with barely a break in between. And I’m sure it doesn’t sound like all that much to the more socially oriented types (which is the vast majority of humanity, I am an anomaly and I do know that), but it was well past too much for me. That I had the signal clarity I did, back then on the fraction of mental power I had left to spare, is amazing; the improvements that have come in just a short time of regular every day multiple times a day practice with most of my attention and energy has been even more incredible. I could, in all likelihood, progress far in this path, if I take all that will power that I once wasted living out of place, or trying to tear down impassible barriers, and put it to real use instead.

There are many reasons why the gods might request other aspects of your life be sacrificed or restricted, but one very simple, easy to understand one is just a matter of time and energy. We all have limited supplies of it, the further you spread it out the less is going into each individual thing; for a lot of things that might be fine, but some things require more energy if you want to do them even marginally well. If you want to be, say, a top surgeon or an Olympic athlete, we understand such people are not going to have much of a social life because everything is going into learning and perfecting their craft; that’s a reason not a lot of people pursue those careers (not the only, by far, but one of them), they’re not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and no one blames them for it. You have to really want it, really want to succeed, to be willing to risk or give up so much else; in my own observation over the years, that sort of dedicated passion is in very short supply.

Easy to understand, I say, but the fact has always been (and probably still is) that a lot of Pagans have a hard time accepting that. They want to believe religion is the single grand exception, where all paths are all equally easily accessible to all people. But I’m not here to shake my head at the Pagan community, just acknowledging the attitude and saying I don’t agree. Like the above quote says, which I left up because I really liked it, hard limits are a part of the way things work, part of natural law and you all like nature, right? (that it was birds was interesting, I do have a minor spiritual fascination with them, the name Hermes gave me is a bird name, so them being the example of hard limits for great power, adds another dimension to it)

Silence, another important factor, you need silent time in order to give the gods an opportunity to get through. I have a slight advantage there, I’m far less internet dependent than it seems so many people are: I never got into social media, my cell phone is not online, and I can wait in line, wait for a bus, take a short ride while absorbed in my own thoughts without needing (or wanting) some distraction. Television though. Oh man, I used to have it on all the time when I was at home, even if I was barely watching it, even if it was something I’d seen a million times already and didn’t give a shit about. For a time there, I didn’t think I could function without some background noise.

Again, I didn’t need anything to come down from on high, I made that choice myself. Odd maybe, but it happened when we cut cable and started streaming instead. Before, I had a limited number of channels (let’s say thirty that were actually worth watching) and within those limits I could always choose something that would be tolerable; suddenly the options weren’t limited, we have everything, so now, what do you want to watch? And you know what, most of the time I could not be assed to hunt through unlimited options to find something to just brainlessly stare at; days would go by while the TV sat unused and I found I didn’t miss it as much as I once thought I would. Which isn’t to say I don’t watch television at all anymore, it means I watch it more deliberately; I watch shows because I want to see them, not because they happen to be on.

I had said, previously, that I once expected Hermes would take far more control over how I live my life as things got more intense, but then it didn’t happen and it was a cause of some distress. It may be just as well, I don’t think I was ready to accept it, that I may have needed the experience to really understand why things have to be the way they are, the point and purpose of taboos and limitations. And it may be that it’s always better I come to the right conclusions on my own, without needing to be told, that I learn my limits and make the conscious choice, over and over, to stay the path, and shed anything that’s getting in my way.

But it is true, the closer you get to the gods, the more they intrude on your life; limitations and taboos are part and parcel of these paths and it was very premature to declare that it wasn’t coming. Even in a short amount of time of regular every day several times a day practice, it’s started to come. Points get raised as they’re needed, things branch out, the uncomplicated basics I started out with grow and little rules start to appear.

(There are also some grey areas, where I’m not sure if I should be calling it a taboo. Like my diet, that I was pointed toward by the gods in a rare moment of clarity back during the bad years. It’s seemingly common for food taboos to come up, and I’ve always credited the gods with the adoption of that diet, but my diet needed to be changed for other health related reasons, and the times being what they were, I was never sure if it was just this will help you lose weight or if there was more to it than that. As a side note, I’ve been making my way through Phillippe Borgeaud’s The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece for other reasons, and there are ideas in there about food and the ancient mindset that could shed an interesting light on my chosen diet and what it might imply, but that’s a rumination for another time)

And now here we are, with the first hard line in the sand, where he needs to step in and taboo me away from something that I was not self selecting out of. I’m not going to say exactly what, not because it’s a big secret but because of the potential for public bullshit if I do (I am trying to get away from this crap, not attract more of it to me). There are things in the world I’ve paid more attention to than I need to, that I think it served a purpose once, helped me understand a few things, solidify my beliefs, learn that where I do and do not find common ground can and has shifted. It’s long since lost it’s purpose, I know that but I haven’t walked away from it.

He wasn’t kidding about the mental miasma I’ve been accruing. I can feel it, now that it’s been pointed out. The first day after that out of patience tarot reading, I paid more attention to my thought patterns throughout the day, I can see how it’s a distraction, I can see how it affects my mood, it’s won more momentum than I am comfortable with.

It’ll be a big change, that will further limit where I can go online (not just the obvious places, like there is a movie review site I used to visit that I realize now I won’t be able to go to anymore – just as well, really, I’d grown disgusted with that site some time ago and just haven’t yet made the effort to find a viable alternative so I can still keep an eye on foreign films and non Hollywood blockbuster releases). Some time this week I’ll set things up and change things around on my computer so as to avoid temptation, look for better hobbies and better ways to spend my time. Things that feed into my spirituality and not detract from it. I scoffed at that idea once and I was wrong, I was dead wrong; the more I keep him in the center of my mind, the better everything comes together.

You can learn a lot about the path a person is on by seeing what is tabooed to them; I read that very recently. So what does this say about me and my path? Less engagement, moving further away from civilization, further out into fringe. It’s not a new message; I think back to all the times, when I was trying to be involved in communities online and in person, when there was drama or people were having difficulties and wanted some help (not from me in particular, just in general), he’d crawl to the front of my mind: eyes on your own paper; let someone else take care of that; that’s not your problem, don’t get involved. Sometimes it seems like everything in my life, from the moment I was born, was preparing me for this, shaping me into the sort of person who could survive and thrive where few others would go. To what end I’m not sure, if there is some greater purpose living in a sort of exile, if there is something in particular (or some private service I can render) I’ll find along this road and no other, or if it’s just how it is. At this point, either way is fine with me.

Hail Hermes, as my circle grows a little smaller and my mind a little clearer. When the dust settles once again I doubt I’ll miss this much either, and be better off for its loss.

power is born when a flow of energy encounters firm limits, and the more narrow the outlet left open by those limits, the greater the power will be (p. 47).

 

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“A Glimpse Beyond the Veil.”

Let me tell you guys a story, a happier one than I so often end up telling. Something that happened to me on Christmas day last year (so thus almost a year ago now), something I want to record in as many places as I can find it, because I feel it was an important event, a gift from the gods, a kick in the ass down that right path we all sometimes need.

Or perhaps it would be more helpful to begin a little further back, to an earlier event that pointed me in the direction of that right path, without which the later, more important event would likely not have happened. A rather simple thing, the room mate and I had some excess money, there were parts of the state we had not yet seen (namely all of it), and so we took a vacation to the coast.

I have noticed by now, as I go through my old writings looking for answers and trying to make sense, that I bring up the less than stellar parts of my existence way, way too fucking often; you could make a fun drinking game out of all the different ways, say, my abusive childhood comes up in posts, and play it with someone you don’t wish to survive the night. Having noticed that, finally, I don’t want to keep doing it (acknowledgement yes, but we have gone well beyond that, obsession where it is the framework that defines, and thus owns, your whole life), and yet I feel it’s important to step back into it just a little, in order to properly set the stage. I’ve previously called the city a psychic drain, and so it was – not the actual location, though my lungs never quite adjusted to it it was a gorgeous place, it was the people and the local culture they’d built that killed it for me. I’d been living there a number of years, by that point I was mostly in a constant deep depressive state, with occasional short lived outbursts of frustration that could be likened to throwing myself against the prison bars some part of me knew were there, trying to escape. Not all of it can be put on the city (depression has always been a frequent visitor, and I have always, even under the best of circumstances, struggled with leaving the house, being willing to speak to people), but it was its own problem that was making matters worse than it may otherwise have been, and I don’t think I fully understood that, until the vacation where I had something to contrast it with.

Being there, even for a short time, was like being able to breathe again. All of the issues that had been crippling me for years (the numb depression, the hermiting away) were not in play, or not to the severe level I’d grown used to. It was everything great about living in that state and nothing that I’d come to hate (as far as people and local culture went, might as well have been a different country). I absolutely loved it there, and I’m very glad we had the money to visit two more times before departing forever. If anything could lure me back in that direction, it would be the coastal towns; I was quite tempted to try settling in there, but it was very rural and rural is not always easy to do when you do not drive.

(As it is, I’ve been able to move somewhere where I have even easier access to the coast, leading to more frequent visits as I can go just for the day, and I’m in a major city that is very friendly to my car free lifestyle. I’d say it worked out well)

Midway through that vacation, I remember sitting on a swing set on the beach and watching the waves, suddenly turning to my room mate and saying, “I don’t want to live here anymore.” It was a weighted moment; it shouldn’t have been but it was. It was no secret I was unhappy, no secret I’d grown to hate it there, I was pretty vocal about it when talking to family; maybe I’d just gotten so hopeless over time, it never occurred to me I could leave, that it could help.

I’d still be there about another year and a half, but that remaining time was different, everything was different after that. Because now there was a plan, I was going to leave, I didn’t know when but it was going to happen, there was a goal to work toward. Not just the leaving, but starting to pull my life back together, so that when I finally did get to go I would be ready for it, prepared to make the very best of the new opportunity, to leave as much of the baggage behind as I could. Much of that involved fixing my health, losing all the weight I’d never noticed I was putting on, adjusting diet and habits so it would not happen again (and yes, motions were made toward the gods as well, after a long time of silence, I was immediately handed a bizarre, unexpected puzzle I’m getting closer to solving – time wasn’t wasted though, I did much of the introspection about old paths, old friends and old ideas in this time, and I really needed to come to that understanding before anything new could be done). I didn’t have those outbursts anymore, the deep depression became more occasional than constant; no one would say I was happy, but I found a way to be content.

And I found a way to leave the house, at least a little more than I had been before, kind of had to for the losing weight thing. Going out at night wasn’t so strenuous, when there was no one around, and through that we found paths that were less populated even during the day. I still tried to avoid downtown where there always seemed to be far too many people in far too small a space – unless I had some reason to think it would be mostly empty, like say because it was a holiday and most such people would be home with their families. Which brings us to Christmas.

So there we were, almost a year ago now, the phone calls home my only real obligation of the day done long ago and leaving us without much to do. It was getting pretty late by the time we decided to take my daily walk outside rather than on the treadmill, and to do something different, walking through downtown to the river and back rather than the winding route into the hills I’d been doing more often. We made it to our destination without anything of note, just enjoying a peaceful winter night, pausing by the water for a bit, before heading back home.

It was on the way back that it happened, a voice calling out to us from the square as we passed by.

“I offer a glimpse from beyond the veil.”

No, really, that’s what he said. It was a man offering tarot readings, for whatever you think they’re worth. It registered as we went past, set in our path and barely pausing to hear the words. The significance of it sunk in quick enough, and when we were two blocks away I’d stopped, I knew we had to go back, that this was something I needed to do, something I needed to hear.

I know he told me his name, but I have since forgotten it. A recently paroled ex-con in a top hat, wool coat and red scarf, he was reading for a couple homeless kids by the time we arrived, and space was made for me to sit up front and watch everything while I waited my turn. He seemed both knowledgeable and charismatic, able to explain the symbolism in detail even to someone who has never seen it before (as the kids ahead of me had not) and make it entertaining. I was impressed.

It may be one of my favorite memories, all the years I spent in that city I don’t think I ever felt more at home there than I did in that single moment, with those particular people. A liminal space set apart from everything around it, while the city bustled on in the background, distant and unimportant; I used to find such times and places a lot, worked on making my whole life one such, and I had missed it.

All the times I’d ever had any oracular work done it was always by someone who knew me, at least in passing; this was the first time I had my cards read by a complete stranger. He did a very good job, so I thought then and even more now, a year later. I remember what the cards were and how they were interpreted, as I’d written it all down as soon as I came home; I won’t go over every card, every word, a general idea will do. He told me I knew exactly what I want, I have everything I need to get it (and they were lofty ambitions he saw, that’s how he put it – not by mainstream society’s standards, that’s for sure, but in the single sphere I care about and have interest in, I suppose it could be seen that way), and it’s only a monumentally messed up mental process that gets in my way. I’d begun understanding that then but he put it in very simple terms – fix that shit, stop listening to it, and you can accomplish whatever you want. And this upcoming year would be about new beginnings, on more than one front, the right time, the right energy, it was all lining up; if I wanted to start something, or start over, now is the time and it will go well (provided I heed those aforementioned warnings).

It was good to hear at the time, I had been starting to feel disheartened. We’d tried a year to get a solid answer from her office about the possibility of a transfer, and they kept putting it off in a way that, while not offering anything definite, did keep hope alive. Conversation and plans started turning to going anyway, and how much extra would have to be saved in order to live while looking for a new job. Even though we were both still determined to go, the amount of time we’d have to wait and plan and save money started to stretch out before us until no end appeared in sight.

Not to say I connected any of that to the reading, to the promising year of new beginnings that had been laid out for me. It was about two weeks later, not long after the new year, when she was laid off.

That changed everything. I don’t even remember feeling panicked about it, I knew what it was, the door opening. The divination I did the same day, just to confirm, well, it was more or less the tarot equivalent of Hermes screaming in my ear, just go already! We knew where we wanted to live and we had enough money to leave; everything fell into place, an apartment was secured fairly quickly, and on the last week in February, we were gone.

And now here I am, at the end of a very productive year.

If I was still living there, or anywhere near by, I think I’d be wandering around downtown about now, hoping to run into him again. This last year was such a whirlwind, in the best way possible, I’d be curious to know what’s coming around the corner next, and how I can best take advantage of it. Unfortunately, even if I were still there, I doubt I’d find him again, however hard I looked, and I doubt I’ll find anything similar here, now. I think that was a special once in a lifetime sort of thing.

Just thought I’d share that with all of you, so I don’t forget it, what can happen when the gods want to get their point across.