Friday, April 11, 2014

Stoic Willpower

There is a certain irony in how relaxing and enjoyable I find blog writing after all the writing I've already done this week. I just finished last night, and made some small alterations today to a paper on Thomas Hobbes that I will hopefully be presenting a week from today. I can easily say that I'm not very proud of this paper. Some of the things I have to say about Hobbes and his state of nature are interesting, but I'm not covering any new ground, or bringing up criticisms that haven't been brought up against him before. In fact, my paper is not nearly as damning of Hobbes as I initially thought it would be. I suppose that if it were that easy to attack him, more would have done so already. I hope it at least will be food for thought, and garner some interesting commentary by the panel.

Even with all the work I've been doing, this has been a small vacation of sorts. It just worked out that the week I had to work on my conference paper also happened to be my university's Spring break. I haven't had to focus on anything else, so I can say that I have spent more time on this one paper than I usually spend on any paper, even ones that have been around this length! Not having to rush through this has been very nice, but having so much time with a philosophical theory I find repugnant has not been easy for me. I feel as though I need to cleanse myself of a miasma, and can't wait until this paper and the presentation on it are behind me.

But all this free time has made me realize how little I actually like free time now. I never knew that I would like being a busy person, but spending so much time at home has made me realize how much I like my projects. It isn't as though I am now a fan of stress or chaos, rather, I like having things that demand my attention and concentration. When my mind has time to wander, I realize just how much of an obsessive personality I have. Giving myself projects keeps me productive, and gives me a way of channeling my mind in a useful and healthy way.

One of the projects that has currently been on my mind concerns the transformation of my body. Anyone who has seen me lately might notice I have lost some weight. I haven't lost a life changing amount, or even an amount all that noticeable, but it is noticeable to me. And I like that I have been losing weight. The truth is, though, that the weight loss has been entirely accidental, and not much to do with my own efforts. I've simply been too busy, and too careful with my money, to eat the way I have done in the past, and the lessening of calories has translated to a little bit of weight loss. Seeing this change, though, has made me desirous of even more drastic change. I have decided that I now want to take this little bit of accidental weight loss and spring board into a more purposeful weight loss.

To this end, I plan on being more active, and also changing the kinds of things I eat and drink. I also want to treat this as an exercise to strengthen my will, thus the title, Stoic willpower. I will also keep in mind other philosophical virtues, like moderation, so I'm not talking about deprivation or subsistence... But there are changes that I must make not only for appearances- I would like to be better looking- but also for health. I can't keep pretending that there are not serious consequences to living the way I have.

So, some of the changes I plan to make might seem drastic to those that think we should eat whatever we want. I understand what people like that are trying to say; No need to deprive yourself, just watch your portions. That would be fine if I was actually capable of such restraint. I have long suspected that I may suffer from some type of addictive behavior regarding food. I am a binge eater who uses food as a way to handle difficult emotions. My ability to recognize this in myself means that the usual kind of moderation will not work for me. I have to be even more restrictive.

That means for me a few ideas:

No soda or fruit juices. The reasons for this should be obvious. Calories, sodium, sugar...
No desserts other than fruit. Let's face it, my favorite desserts are the bready kinds that are extremely unhealthy.
No eating after 9pm. I have a terrible habit of eating late and then going straight to bed. While the old myth of not being able to digest food while sleeping has been debunked, I can save myself the snacks before bed.
No fast food. I generally don't like fast food anyway, but it doesn't hurt emphasizing that it is a bad idea to eat that crap.

More exercise. For awhile there I had a great habit of working out everyday. It would be great to have that kind of dedication again. I have this nifty Adventure Pass that lets me park for free at a lot of nearby nature trails. Time to stop letting that thing acquire dust. Plus, a chance to connect with my inner Pan. lol

Less or little TV. I've decided that after this season of TV shows is over, which is soon, I'm pretty much going to ignore my TV except for my favorite TV show. It isn't that I think there is anything especially bad about TV, but when I look at the kind of people I respect and wish to emulate, I see very little sitting around watching TV. If I really feel like sitting around, I'll read a book. Time to stop paying so much damn attention to screens in general, really. That's including my phone.

Those are some of my ideas for now. I'm sure that I'll add to the list as time goes by. I hope that my friends will support me in making these necessary changes.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Philosophical growing pains

I knew that this semester would be a tough one. It is certainly turning out to be exactly the case. I am so grateful for that. I have a professor that is so demanding, yet also so compassionate. The result, for me at least, is a strong desire to gain this man's respect and to succeed. Comparatively, I am doing well in his classes. The only ones doing better than me are those that have been students of his before in similar classes, reading similar philosophers. There is a spirit of competition, but my hope is that it will remain a friendly one. I know that some of my fellow classmates feel the need to compete against me. Seeing their satisfaction when they do better than me makes me feel twinges of competitiveness myself. I must always remain mindful that the only person whom I should compete with is myself. In fact, my feeling of disappointment over my last tests was not that I did not do better than everyone else, but that I did not do my best. I was flippant and did not adequately prepare, or even go through the assigned reading as thoroughly as I know I could and should have.

I am still not pushing myself hard enough. I am still not working or dedicating myself fully enough to face the challenges I have put before me. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am acting as if these higher level classes will be as easy as the philosophy classes I have taken in the past. The effortlessness of previous classes has made me complacent.

The understanding of the kind of person I must be to become an excellent philosopher has been clear to me for a long time, yet I have not done what needs to be done. I have never been a very disciplined person. I talk a lot about self-discipline, but I have not done much to change my behavior. Sometimes it is all too easy for me to become overwhelmed and ignore my responsibilities until the last minute. I am a procrastinator. I am a high functioning procrastinator, since I always get everything done, but I now wonder about the quality of such work. In the past, I have told myself that I need procrastination to fuel my creativity, that the urgency improves my writing and my studying. I think now that I was simply searching for justification of my bad habits. And now, at this stage of my academic career, I am suffering the consequences of my bad behavior.

I have been acting as if I can become the man I want to be, as opposed to the man I am now, without sacrifice. I can no longer be that naive. So, I see the stumbles of the last few weeks as growing pains, necessary for me to finally make the push. I am fortunate to have great role models in my life of what that kind of transformation demands. I know what I have to do and now is the time to do it. I have to push through these struggles and I must grow as a philosopher and as a human being.

So, I have a game plan in mind. I have ideas of the kinds of changes I need to make in my life, the things that must be cut out. There will need to be sacrifices. And I need to be willing to make those sacrifices. I need to accept that as talented as I might think I am, not everything will be easy, and the things I want of this life will demand my struggle. They will demand my blood, sweat, and tears as payment. I need to offer them up gladly.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Things make more sense now

So, I tried writing this before, but I'm writing this on my phone and it ate it. I'll try to convey the same information, but I think that some of the soul will be gone. Oh well.

Essentially, school has kept me very busy, but also very happy. Being a philosopher that spends all day with other philosophers has been so amazing. The conversations we get into, the exchange of ideas, have made me love philosophy more. We're a family of sorts, and even the philosophical disagreements are handled in such a polite and respectful manner. My interactions with them have been examples of what debate is supposed to be. And being around such brilliant people has awakened in me a desire to better myself. I want to be a better philosopher and a better human being. I've decided that I want to live a life of greater discipline and moderation. I want a simpler life conducive to philosophical work, a life with less distraction. I want the focus I need to excel at my work at CSUN and the years of graduate school that will follow.

My spiritual life has become more focused as well. For a long time, I knew something was missing. Even though I came up with a lot of theories and approximations, the real answer eluded me. It wasn't until a joking conversation with friends prompted an investigation into the God, Pan, that things began to make sense. It sank in that I was misreading signs and that Pan was trying to reach out to me this whole time. Now that I look at things, the signs were there for years. The moment I made this discovery a restlessness, a kind of anxiety, a feeling of dread or panic went away. And as someone who knows a bit about the origins of words, I totally pick up on why panic was there. It was another way for Pan to reach out to me. Now there is a peace, a quiet in my soul. I now recognize Pan's presence in my life, my patron diety that had to show up in my life in multiple ways over the course of several years because I wasn't ready to see him. I feel more balanced than I have in years, and it feels really good.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Razor's Edge

I feel like I'm getting mixed signals from the universe. I'm strangely okay with this. I guess I'm used to being knocked around by the Gods. And I no longer suffer the burden of needing to be an expert or needing to feel like I've got everything figured out, so I feel freer to experiment and change direction when needed. I enjoy that as I grow as an individual I become a more humble person. I don't feel so bad about being honest about my spiritual struggles.

My last two posts have been about my reexamination of Druidism. I had a deep nostalgia for that part of my life and decided to crack open the books and shared with you a desire to maybe start a new group. And I do think that is what I've missed a great deal. I used to have a really great job of writing and leading rituals. For someone who has always felt, no matter the religion currently practiced, that I have a priestly calling, the fact that I was a Druid priest in practice, if not title, was very satisfying for me. I love ritual. And I love being able to facilitate great rituals for the Gods and the participants. Being a part of a group that strove to be of service to the community felt right and good. I felt purposeful.

Tie that in with parts of Druidism that just made sense, like the focus on nature, and it's easy to see why I loved the path so much. I have such fond memories of campfires, music, singing, and laughter late into the night. I miss the feeling of family that I had with the close-knit group of people that I used to work with. I'm still friends with many of those people today, but I haven't been a part of a group that worked and played together so closely in a very long time. I miss very much certain ways I used to live my life. Not all the ways. I'm very honest about the very self-centered and insensitive person I was when I was younger. But, there are aspects of the kind of spiritual person I was that I have wanted very much to integrate into who I am today.

However, as I've been looking at Druidism again I've had to really think about how much of what I missed was particularly Druidic and how much was simply being a more spiritual person in general. It could very well be that I've been focusing on philosophy so much that my spiritual life has suffered. I haven't made any time for ritual or meditation or really spending any time in nature. My time spent exclusively as a Hellenic polytheist wasn't spent actually practicing the religion. It was studying the philosophy, which I love. It has changed my life. And it was time spent speaking/arguing with political extremists which I didn't love so much.

That's made it really tough to be sure of what I've been feeling or what I should be doing spiritually. I mainly went with my feelings when I started gravitating toward Druidism again, but kept my eyes and ears open for signs. Perhaps this might sound stupidly superstitious to my more secular friends, but I do believe that the Gods speak to us. In simple ways, mostly. Usually intuition, sometimes other signs that make sense to us. One of the reasons that I kept flip-flopping for months about Hellenismos is because every single time I would change my mind about the religion, signs would crop up. Mentions of the Gods in the most random of places, even work. A commercial, a song. References to Ancient Greece. Even  yesterday, just as I was thinking about all of this stuff again, I went to see what the reading for my class was. Keep in mind that it is not one of my philosophy classes, and it is not one of my Greek classics classes. The reading was a selection from Antigone, written by Sophocles. This might not sound like such a big deal to you, but to me it was a shock. Just moments after wanting a sign, I get my own Hellenic name in big bold letters on my computer screen, in the last place I expected to find it. That alone is not anything conclusive. It could simply be a matter of coincidence. Anyone would be right to think so. Sometimes I even think so. When moments like that happen so often, though, you start to think that there is more to what you are experiencing.

So, what to do? Some kind of balance needs to be achieved. I may have gotten a lot of things wrong when I was younger, but I did somehow feel more spiritually alive. It certainly wasn't because of my morality or my eating habits. It certainly did not stem from any abundance of material success. I think that it came from being of service and feeling as though I was acknowledging  my calling and doing something about it. I do want to be more involved, and get passed the theoretical aspects of religion. I wanted to blame Hellenismos for my feeling spiritually numb, but I'm starting to think that I did that to myself by not really being engaged in the religion.. any religion.

I don't feel as though the Greek Gods are done with me. They call me too much. And I also feel great joy in acknowledging my Celtic ancestry. I feel a great pull to now integrate all the parts of myself. I am mix of many different peoples, and their traditions have worked their ways into my life on multiple occasions. As a mystic and philosopher, I enjoy the tapestry, and I want to be a part of all of it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reeducation

I've been spending the last few weeks reacquainting myself with all things Druid. It has been a pleasure to delve back into my books, which I am glad to say I kept. I did for the most part. I did have to but a couple of them again, like Barry Cunliffe's book on the ancient Celts. I have also tried to the best of my ability to get back out into nature. I spent so much time without connecting to nature in that way that I forgot how invigorating it is to attune to the earth, sea, and sky!

I also did a reading. I used the Druid Animal Oracle. It was just a general reading on the path ahead. I pulled two cards, and I think they are very interesting. The first was bear. It signifies primal power, sovereignty, and intuition married with instinct. Given that I have felt for some time that I was ignoring a big part of myself and ignoring my intuition about what I should be doing, I found the first card very validating. I should most definitely trust my instincts. The second card was wolf. Wolf symbolizes intuition, learning, and what the authors call "the shadow." Altogether, the card is about how we can learn in very unconventional ways, crossing many barriers, and finding trust in oneself. And shadow sides and aspects have special connections with me. It ties in very nicely with the first card I drew. I took them as more validation of my reconnection to my roots.

I've been taking baby steps, but I do want to hone my understanding of the Druid way sharper than I had at even the height of my activity as a ritual leader. The ultimate goal, of course, is to start a new group. The timing feels right, more right than I had even expected it to, if I am to be honest. Things feel charged, energized. It's the sweet feeling of anticipation. But I know that this new project that I want to undertake is not the only thing I have going on in my life, and I need to be careful that I still meet all of my obligations and do not bite off more than I can chew. This first step is very much a reeducation. I have sadly forgotten much of what I once knew. This is a time of acquisition for me, a gathering of tools, a time of preparation. More appropriately, as we will soon be entering spring , I like to think of it as the planting of seeds.

I neither feel as though I am being too cautious or that I am being too rash. Things feel balanced. It feels to me that I am taking the appropriate amount of time to plan, to prepare, and to act. I am excited to see what fruits will come from my work.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A New Year

It's seven days into the new year, so maybe I'm a bit late to be discussing it. It seems like everyone is already moving on with things. I would have written something sooner, but I had one of the most restful vacations I've had in years. I spent a great deal of my time off with my family and I enjoyed that immensely. I hadn't realized just how little time we have had as a family this last year. Beyond time with my family and time with my friends, I sat around playing video games and drinking beer. Now, I don't want people to think that I sat around getting drunk. I prefer to drink beer the same way many people prefer to drink their wine. Slowly. One of my gifts this Christmas was a set of beers from all around the world. I limited myself to two bottles a night and enjoyed them very much. My favorite of the bunch was a grapefruit wheat beer. The light citrus sweetness and tartness worked so well with the beer. I'm going to find more of that one.

I also spent some of my time off in contemplation of 2013. It was a really packed year! There were a few milestones. One big one was finally getting an AA. I finally stopped messing around and worked very hard for two years and saw the payoff. I transferred to a university and am working even harder than before. My BA will be another milestone in about two years. I hope to complete it sooner if possible. 2013 saw me learn to not make the same mistakes again and again. I feel as though I'm finally free of a terrible cycle of stupidity that has been a problem for me since as long as I've been interested in girls. I find that I am actually very comfortable being single. For a long time I was stumbling from one dysfunctional relationship to another. I have made smarter choices the last couple of years that have kept me out of all that mess.

The positive that has come of that is that I am now able to see how I want my life to be, and the man I want to be. Before, I was always too obsessed with some girl or another and generally didn't get anything done because I couldn't see passed the relationship. I can now say that I know who I am and what I want. I've seen my co-dependent and obsessive tendencies and am now in control of myself. 2012 and 2013 have also shown to be lessons in trusting my instincts more. The last few months of 2013 was about me rationalizing my part in the Hellenic community. What started out as curiosity on my part snowballed into me declaring a religion for myself. While I was intellectually engaged, because I enjoy Greek philosophy immensely, things just didn't feel right. And they kept on not feeling right. I apologize to the very few readers I have, all three of you. You've had to read post after post of me flip-flopping on the Hellenismos thing. Before that, it was me flip-flopping on the God/Gods thing. Before that, it was the whole Buddhist issue, to be or not to be.

The truth of the matter is that ever since I stopped being a druid I have been a restless vagabond of the spiritual world, never settling in one place for very long, and not very much feeling at home or knowing really who I am spiritually. I lost a home, and the consequence of that loss has followed me around for years. When I search my mind for a place and time when I felt the most secure in who I was spiritually and the most pride in the path I was on, it was when I was a druid. I have felt that pull for years and ignored it at every turn. I thought that I was simply suffering from nostalgia and that it was better not to tread old roads. I was trying so hard to push forward and forget my past, mainly because of the pain and embarrassment I feel for the actions I took when I was much younger emotionally and mentally, that I just let bridges burn rather than repair them.

I'm still figuring out my next steps, and if 2013 has taught me anything, it's that I should really lay off the spiritual proclamations. I think, though, that time has allowed me to mature enough to see the past and see who I was back then without flinching. There were a lot of bad aspects of who I was that I fully intend to keep in the past. But there are aspects of who I was that were good, that were right. Those aspects gave me strength and clarity, grace even. They also gave me purpose. I had a bit of a fire in me. And a certain presence. I think that I am now in the right mental place to nurture those aspects of myself and see them flourish.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Signs

This will be a quick post, since I don't have much time to write today. I did want to touch on what I wrote the other day, and what's been happening before and since then. I am a very cautious person when it comes to organized religion. Maybe it's because I've spent the greater part of my life doing my own thing in a weird way. I'm very suspicious of authority figures, and I'm very suspicious of anyone certain of their moral and religious superiority. Seeing people that use the Hellenic religion not as a religion, but as a justification for a political stance unsettled me greatly. The people I saw doing this really didn't seem to be on any quest for realization of the sacred, or any real desire to commune with the Gods. If anything, they use the religion as a moral counterpoint in an argument against Christianity.

I know I've said this before, but I want to drive home the fact that such misuse of religion to me is a kind of atheism. I find it unsettling and disingenuous to use religion in that way. So, when I saw some people in Greece using the religion as validation of their nationalistic and ethnic stances, it had me running for the hills. I tried to fight this urge of mine to run away at the first sign of trouble. For months, I tried. But this urge in me to walk away in disgust overwhelmed me and I did, even though I have been receiving countless signs to stay the course. All sorts of signs from the Gods have cropped up on me, and it feels wrong for me to abandon something meaningful to me just because a small few are misusing it.

But, I have realized that Hellenismos attracts all sorts of people, just like any religion. There are going to be many people in the path that are going to rub me the wrong way, that are going to disagree with me, and that are going to disappoint me. I said that I didn't want to find the heart of Hellenismos because for some people the heart of the religion is cold and dry. But that isn't true of the entire religion and all of those involved. I was emotional when I didn't intend to be, impulsive. I was angry, too, I think.

I also realize that I approach the religion as a philosopher, which many people do not. So, I come to the religion from a place of deep thought and mysticism. I often make the mistake of thinking that people approach religion for the same reasons I do, and view religion as the same open and universal process I do. The truth is that there will always be those that do not. While I never have to agree with those that I think are misusing or misrepresenting my religion, that doesn't mean that I should abandon my religion for that reason. Especially true if it seems that the Gods really do want me to stick around.

So, I think that I will stay the course. While I am sometimes confused by the course my life is taking, more often than not it feels like fate, or destiny, in a really positive way.