Monday, January 28, 2013

A Different Perspective: Featuring Rob

My husband Rob and I are on parallel, but distinct, spiritual journeys. While I tend to yap on to him about this or that pagan practice, or my opinions on certain theological matters, he tends to think to himself and stay silent unless asked. I got him to grace us with his lovely presence, and share his thoughts about his non-pagan spiritual journey.

Q: Do you currently consider yourself of a specific religion? If so, what religion?

A:   No, nothing specific. It's hard for me to be specific because there are too many grey areas in religion and faith, and most religions tend to always want to fill everything in with definite beliefs. The closest I come to anything in particular may be Unitarian Universalist because they don't tend to be very specific.

Q: What is your religion of origin(if you have one)?

A:   I was raised Catholic. In my teen years I moved to various New Age spiritualities, then, unsatisfied by those, I became an atheist. More recently, I was a born-again Christian but have since left that faith for various reasons.

Q: How do you view God?

A:   This is a hard questions to answer because my view of God is simultaneously both concrete and abstract, which is amazingly difficult to explain in words. Coming from a traditional Judeo-Christian background, I have found it difficult to not give God a personality. The problem is that I'm not convinced that the personality given to God in the Bible would be accurate. To me, that version is too human and that's understandable because humans wrote it and it's very difficult to attempt writing a personality outside of your own knowledge. And even if you could it would be so esoteric that no one would even attempt to follow such a God. So, I think that God has a conscious form, a thinking, knowing form, but I do not have the slightest clue what those thoughts may be, what knowledge may exist, or if my puny human brain could understand even a fraction of it. In a way, I assume that God has knowledge that I do not, and whatever that is, it probably knows that I don't know, and that that's probably OK.

   On the other hand, I think that there is some portion of God (see question 6 about the "Multiverse" to better understand the "portion" part of this) that isn't sentient, that just exists in all places and in all things and isn't judging or even really caring about what we're doing, but that is with us in some way. There is the idea that if you try to connect with this bit of God, that you can feel it; if you can connect and you do feel it, that feeling is tantamount to knowing all of the answers, even if just for a moment.

Q: What things do you place the most emphasis on in your spiritual path?

A:   Knowledge, or at the very least, the process of knowledge, is most important to me. I don't imagine I'll ever fully settle on answers to spiritual questions, but thinking about the spiritual is an exercise I find both frustrating and highly fulfilling. At various times I hit points of spiritual exploration that I would describe as having a profoundly calming effect on me, where things in the spiritual world make a degree of sense which seems to transcend the overall thought process. These moments are the ones that make it worth it.

Q: Is "belief" important to you? Explain.

A:   I'm not sure, honestly. "Belief" tends to describe something very concrete, something that you can quickly describe or quantify, and I can't say that at this point in my spiritual journey that I have too many of those. The only one that I'm sure of is that there is something greater and more profound than myself. I guess I would say that this one belief that I do have is important to me.

   I think that "faith" is more important than belief, however, and I would say that it is important to me. To some people, "faith" and "belief" are fully interchangeable, but to me they describe very different things. I think that "belief" is more thought-focused and that "faith" is more focused on feelings. To me, "faith" is actually kind of a vague proposition; it is one of the things that keeps me searching for answers, and maybe it's the thing that will move me towards definite beliefs. At the moment, I'd say I see "faith" as the feeling I get when I experience the spiritual.

Q: How do you view other faiths?

   The way I think about various religions and faiths is similar to the concept of the "Multiverse," the hypothesis that there are many parallel universes all existing at the same time, and in some way existing in the same physical space. I would say that all religious beliefs are infinitely possible and also infinitely impossible, meaning that all beliefs have the same likelihood of being true as being false, and that there is even some likelihood of all being true or all being false.

   So, given that, I think that all faiths inherently offer something of value and that I can learn something and grow from the knowledge of all faiths. And while I personally don't accept all of the doctrines of many faiths, I do respect them and I do think they are all valid, if not on a personal level.

Thanks so much to Rob for taking out the time to give us such thoughtful answers!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Looking to the Moon

  I took my cakes and ale, and a prayer written on an index card out into the dark of the cold, cloudy night. 

Wondrous Lady of the Moon,
You who greets the dusk with silvered kisses;
Mistress of the night and of all magics,
Who rides the clouds in blackened skies
And spills light upon the cold Earth;
O Lunar Goddess,
Shadow maker and shadow breaker;
Revealer of mysteries past and present;
Puller of seas and ruler of women;
All-wise Lunar Mother,
I greet Your celestial jewel
At the waxing of its powers
With a rite in Your honor.
I pray by the Moon,
I pray by the Moon,
I pray by the Moon.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Quick Guide to Going Vegan (Or Vegetarian)

Actually, I'm not. Please don't throw things at me.
  Last January, I went vegan after watching the documentary Forks Over Knives. I switched over pretty fast because I'm sort of impulsive and very impatient, and gradual shifts just aren't my style. I made the change for health reasons, but switched back about seven months later, wondering if the evidence for going entirely vegan was strong enough. Honestly, I'm still not 100% sure what to make of the evidence that both sides so ferociously present. But I have been able to draw the conclusion that eating significantly less meat than the average American eats is a good, healthy thing. I now eat meat occasionally, but most of the food I fix at home is either vegetarian or vegan. Flexitarian, anyone? There's a label for everything, isn't there? Anyway, I thought I'd share what I thought would be the most helpful tips to someone switching to a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. Whether it's because of your feelings about animals, or because you think it may benefit your health, I hope these tips help out a little in the transition.

Repeat after me: veggies and legumes. 

If you've never been a particularly adventurous eater, particularly within the world of veggies, now's the time to start. Find lots of recipes with different veggies and various kinds of legumes. These things will be very important to you now. I didn't realize this, and so I basically lived off of pasta and salad for like three months. Not. Good. First off, salad isn't very filling and you'll find yourself feeling like you're being starved and that there must be some fundamental flaw in this vegan thing, when, in actuality, it's your insane version of the vegan thing that is the problem. Second, eating pasta all the time to make up for the lack of sustenance salad provides ain't healthy.

Get cookin.'

If you can't afford to live off of ready-made vegan or vegetarian meals from Whole Foods, you're going to have to cook. This can be tricky if you're not used to doing much cooking, but it's definitely doable. You'll just need to do some planning and keep at it. I like to plan out dinner recipes for a week at a time and then go grocery shopping for that week over the weekend. This keeps things pretty simple. When searching through recipes, if you're fairly new to extensive cooking, need to stay on a budget, or both, look for recipes that don't have too many ingredients. That's a big one for me because I don't have the time or money to be making recipes with twenty ingredients every night. Especially watch out for recipes with four or five fresh spices, as those tend to be pretty pricey(unless you grow them yourself!). I like to browse through Finding Vegan and Pinterest for recipes.

Don't be caught empty-handed.

Carry edible things with you, especially snacks. You're gonna be out and you're gonna get hungry, and there isn't going to be one single thing you can have. So make sure you have some tasty goodness on you so you won't be either starved or tempted. This especially goes for potluck style dinners and events. Bring a veggie-based main dish, and you'll be good to go if there's nothing else there. You may also have to start packing a lunch for school or work if you usually buy from the cafeteria and they don't have meatless options.

They just don't understand!

First, don't be a dick to the people around you. You don't need to convert your hostile Uncle Jimmy to the cause. It's not going to work, and he has as much right to an opinion as you do. Second, don't let other people be dicks to you. If your mother-in-law delights in serving nothing but meat and cheese, it's up to you whether you can make an exception to keep the peace. If not, there's nothing wrong with that. Try to be respectful and explain as nicely as possible, but don't let other people make you feel bad for keeping your commitments.

Find your eating-out hot spots.

Depending on where you live, there may be quite a few vegan/veg-friendly restaurants, or there may be hardly any. Once you figure out the places with veggie options, you'll know what to suggest when going out with friends or family. The best places are places that make it obvious which things are which. You can also get online and do some research on the ingredients of menu items from fast food chains.

Supplement B12.

You'll hear a lot about protein when people find out about your switch. "How do you get enough protein?"  Blah blah blah. Plant foods, including legumes and greens, have protein. B12 is the real concern because you can't get it from plant foods. Luckily, it's easy to find. Just browse the supplement aisle at your local drug store or Walmart. Kris Karr's book Crazy Sexy Diet is a great resource if you're interested in learning more about how to maximize your health on a vegan diet.

Keep an eye on the subs.

You know all those nifty-looking vegan substitutes at your health food store? Vegan mayonnaise, soy cheeses, and soy meats can be intriguing options, but they're not necessarily the best choices when it comes to health, as many of them are highly processed. Try making your own instead, or use them sparingly. Some people recommend using them as a transition tool, and cutting down on them eventually. Nutritional yeast is a completely healthy alternative to Parmesan cheese, though. (I know, I know. My husband says we really need to work on naming things. Doesn't sound all that appealing, huh? Sort of like textured vegetable protein...oh well.)

Don't give vegan cookies a bad name.

One last thing. You'll happen upon some "vegan cookies." They'll taste like someone barfed up beans and then added some mashed banana and rolled it all out into sticky little balls. It'll make you think you're never gonna be able to eat a decent dessert again, but it's all LIES. I honestly don't know why these exist when fluffy, amazing vegan cookies exist in the same world. Check out Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. Non-vegans think they're awesome and have no clue they're vegan. Honest. You'll thank me for that tip.

   Those are the main things I think you deserve/need to know as you head off into this exciting new world, and I know you guys can figure out the rest and make it from there.

  Happy Veggin'!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wiccan Books Moving to "Religion" In Bookstores

 I was just wandering the aisles of a chain bookstore last night and wondering why pagans couldn't find their books within the "Religion" section. Well, now Wiccan books will be sold as "Religion" books. Llewellyn posted an article yesterday on this new development within the publishing industry. It can certainly be viewed as progress toward the general acceptance of pagan religions, but the article brings up the question of whether some pagans will feel uncomfortable with the categorization. Also, the change could potentially affect the pagan selection of bookstores who only have so much money to allot to "Religion" books and who want to use it for those on mainstream religions. You can find the original article here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Back to School

My college's spring semester starts next week! Though I did well in my classes last semester, my time management and stress  management skills could use a lot of work. Because I'm pretty sure thoughts like,

 Oh my God, I'm going to fail this test and then this class and then my dreams will all be OVER!

are not examples of positive self-talk. I guess at least I have some self-awareness. *shrug* Anyway, I've been scouring the Internet for tips and advice to help me get off to a better start this semester, so I thought I'd share a few of the ideas I think may be most helpful.

* Schedule everything, leaving some room left for flexibility. I made a list of things
that are a priority in my life, and I'll be sure to schedule time for these things in my
calendar. Study time, grocery shopping, time with my husband, relaxation time, etc.

*Find places at the college that I can concentrate to study. Could be the library,
could be the Starbucks. Whatever works. My biggest obstacle is staying off of Facebook
and all the other sites I suddenly need to check so desperately just as soon as I'm ready
 to start studying.

* Keep up with what we're learning in class. This means making sure I really learn what 
we're covering in class, and studying each subject regularly for moderate amounts of time. This
is a big one for me because I tend to let classes go when it seems like there's not much to do,
and then I end up with a test coming up and a ton of studying to do(and the freaking out that 
goes along with it).

*Create mini-deadlines for big projects, like that paper due at the end of the semester.
Then it won't sneak up on me all of a sudden.

*Try tracking how I spend my time over a week. Then I can look at it and  see if there's 
something you could work on.

If anyone else is headed back to school this month, good luck! And I'd sure appreciate any tips that work for you guys!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Brighter Place Than This

  I've struggled with anxiety for a long time. We're close, you know, like cousins who don't really like eachother but whose parents keep throwing us together 'cause it's cute. She tries to bully me, I stare at her incredulously, and then she shoves me to the ground. Brutal. The anxiety comes in phases. For a few months things go pretty swimmingly, then wham-bam, I'm down on the ground and don't even know what hit me. It always seems so random. Maybe it's influenced by the changing of the seasons, by the availability of the sunlight. Maybe it's triggered by something in particular and then spirals out of control. Whatever the reason, alternating bouts of anxiety and depression return to life, trying to control my days and infect my mind.

  Right now, I'm in the bad times. In this place, anything can fill me with panic and cause the beat of my heart to reverberate powerfully, smothering, through my chest. Here, I am tempted to let a familiar wave of  feelings wash over me and drag me to its depths. When I experience those emotions, they are like a song that drops me into the past, into times that would be better off forgotten, and the memory and terror of that place gives them new strength to carry on.

  What I'm used to doing is floating happily through the good times, not really thinking too hard about how I came to them, and then being swept away by the bad ones. But as time has passed, I've been able to experience and observe the cycles of this struggle, and I know I need a change. What I need, and can feel burning inside me, is a true desire to no longer be ruled by anxiety. With that, I have intent, and intent can set me on a path to overcome this unruly beast that tells me my life is just a bleak land of many horrors.

  One thing I'm realizing is that when I think about overcoming anxiety, I think a lot about what I don't want. But focusing on what I want to be free of gives me no power. Rather, it gives all my power away and makes it easier for that very thing to keep me in its grasp. This really struck me when I began to imagine the woman I want to be. Let me tell you, she is amazing. Full of peace and passion and joy. But she's not defined by a lack of anxiety, but by the presence of her amazing spirit. When I change my focus to what I do want instead of what I don't, I'm completely free to chase after it.

  Sometimes, the idea of dealing with all this feels overwhelming. The beauty of it, though, is that I don't have to plan for everything right now. If I can just be present in this moment, right now, I can choose to experience the peace and joy I long for. Then every moment is just another step on this amazing journey.

I'd been considering writing about my anxiety for a while. I figured I would at some point. But "God," I'd tell myself, "It's so dang personal." And it is. But is it not to shame writing if a writer is not willing to write what is personal? So if you're a fellow anxiety-sufferer, or the sufferer of any other emotional beast, I can assure you that I'll be back to this topic in the future. We'll explore how we can have the life we've always wanted, despite our greatest obstacles. I believe the first step is empowerment, and then anything is possible! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Remedies for What Ails You

   Here we are, in the heart of winter, and you know what that means! The people around us are getting sick more frequently, and sometimes it's inevitable that we catch something too. It's important for us to lead healthy lifestyles (healthy diet, plenty of rest, moderate exercise, etc) to help our immune systems function at their best. But once we're feeling under the weather, we need something to help us through it. Whether or not it's bad enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, there are things we can do at home to help ourselves feel better. Here are some remedies for a few common symptoms you might need help with this winter. 

   Be sure to check for links throughout to lead you to helpful resources and recipes!

                                                                Sore Throat / Cough                                                                

                                        * Boil a cup of water and add                                          
                                         one tbsp lemon juice and one                                       
                                                                       tbsp honey.                                                                     
* Add one tsp of salt to a cup of
warm water and gargle for about
                                          20 seconds.                                       
                                                             Nasal Congestion                                                               
                                        * Add a dash of cayenne pepper                                        
                                                     to a shot of cold water for some                                                       
                                                 quick drainage.                                               
 * Or try this homemade syrup recipe
                                          with cayenne pepper, ginger, honey,                                   
                                                    and apple cider vinegar.                                                   
                                                                Sinus Headache                                                                 

* Inhale steam for 5-10 minutes
by boiling a saucepan of water
and placing a towel over your head,
or invest in one of these handy 
(I love mine!)

Don't bother with expensive store-
bought saline solution when you can
use this recipe to make your own.

Dizziness / Nausea

* Drink ginger tea. Bring a cup of water
to a boil, add 4-5 thin slices of fresh
ginger, and let steep for 10 minutes.
Add honey to taste.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

A New Furry Family Member!

Mr. Bingley claiming his dog toy

 When I decided to get a bunny, my sister-in-law, who has bred rabbits in the past, recommended Holland Lops for their easy, laid-back temperaments. After scouring classifieds, I finally found some 3 month old Holland lop bunnies about 2 hours away from us. I'd been looking for a male, and for a color that I liked. When I got there, I was surprised to find out that I could pick out of three bunnies, and I couldn't be more pleased with my adorable little bunny Mr. Bingley! He's been here for five days now, and he's adjusting very well. Bonding with a bunny takes patience, and that's a virtue I need more of anyway.
(He's laying in front of a mirror. I definitely only have 1 bunny!)

Kitty, who ran from my late pet rat, is interested in him, and Mr. Bingley seems to be less intimidated by Kitty than Kitty is of him. Today is the first day he has laid down outside of the cage, which means he's getting comfy here!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Cherry Hill Seminary Calls for Papers

  Cherry Hill Seminary, for those who don't know, is an online pagan seminary. It is currently working to raise funds to achieve accreditation, and recently had a proud first when they awarded their first Master of Divinity in Pagan Counseling to Sandra Harris in 2012. This is great progress for the pagan community, and even greater news is that Harris' credentials were accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc. as valid. But seriously, if you've never heard of them, head over to their website and check them out.

  They are calling for proposals for papers for the Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes Symposium to be held the weekend of April 12-13, 2013. They have teamed up with the University of South Carolina to hold the conference, which will feature guest speaker Ronald Hutton.  The symposium will explore the meaning of "sacred lands" for pagans and what can be done to protect these lands. Papers should explore topics that you can find listed on this page of their website. Anyone can submit, and the deadline for proposals has been extended to February 1, as announced on The Wild Hunt today. Those whose papers are accepted would present at the symposium in April at the University of South Carolina.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Today's Pet Peeve

My guess is, that at some time or another while surfing the vast interwebs, you may have stumbled upon the quote to the right. ------->
"You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have."
This quote is apparently remarkably inspiring to many, but it just makes me feel indignant.

The question I would pose is, "Really? Is being strong ever the only choice you have?" Because I'm pretty sure that, sometimes, an equally appealing option is to instead fall apart into a sniveling mess curled up in a ball on the floor.

In my experience, whether or not you are strong is a choice. The times that I look back on with pride in myself for being "strong" are the times when I chose to be strong. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression, the reality of this choice has been pivotal. Without it, I would be completely disempowered. But with it, my life can be anything I dream of, including a space that is not ruled by fear or other negative emotions.

So, I take full responsibility for my strength. There have been times when I should have been strong, but languished in despair, angst, and hopelessness instead. And then there have been the glorious times when I rose above it, taking my life into my own two hands. Those are choices I'm proud of.

And my ranting is now done, and I hope everyone is having a lovely first week of 2013! 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In Comes the New!

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself."
                                                                              Neil Gaiman