Natural Pagans

Just in time for May Day — I’m proud to announce the launch of NaturalPagans.com, a new site that aggregates relevant postings from various bloggers who share a naturalistic Pagan worldview.

Artwork by Rua Lupa

I feel like those terms deserve some clarification. Bear with me. Last week, I was honored to give a guest lecture at Loyola on the topic of “Ecology & Religion: A Naturalistic Pagan Perspective.” It was my most concerted effort to date to communicate a worldview and spiritual approach that is not just an intersection of naturalism and Paganism, but a coherent whole, or at least a tightly-coupled integration of the two. So I’ve been mulling over basic terms and definitions.

There are many different definitions of naturalism, but one of my favorites is the shortest and pithiest. It’s the idea that nature is enough, to borrow from the title of a book by Loyal Rue. Nature is enough to account for the meaning of our existence. In the domain of religious expression, nature is sufficient for reverence. Naturalists tend to believe that science is one of the most reliable ways to learn about the world.

The term Pagan derives from a very old Latin term meaning “bumpkin” or “hick” and referred to people in the countryside who clung to the old ways long after urban centers had converted to Christianity. Today it’s used also to denote a family of religious orientations, many of which are described as “Earth-based,” “Earth-centered,” or “Earth-honoring” spiritual paths. While many of these hearken back to ancient traditions, they are mostly new. Some scholars date Neo-Paganism in North America to 1967, which makes it the same age as me.

You might think that these two things (naturalism and Paganism) fit together hand in glove. Perhaps they did, once, but these days there seem to be plenty of Pagans who relate to gods and goddesses as supernatural beings. There’s probably also plenty who just don’t think too much about such matters. For those of us associated with this project, however, naturalism is crucial.

So…. as a friend recently put it, I’m “basically a nature worshiper.” You could call me a devotee of Mother Earth or Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth. But what does it mean to speak of a “goddess” anyhow, for a naturalist? I understand that language as nothing less than a powerful metaphor which expresses my hopes and desires for a more reverent way of living in peace with all my relations.

Read more about such ideas at NaturalPagans.com.

Happy May Day!

Return to Mago

I’m honored to have work featured in Return to Mago. It’s an online magazine dedicated to “the Primordial Knowing originating from the Great Goddess, Mago.”

Mago Logo

Here’s more about the Magoism mission:

Our vision and intention is to advocate for feminist and spiritually-based activism and to promote creative and scholarly work that supports the awareness of the oneness of all entities in the universe. Our hope is to reclaim the WE in S/HE, uniting all beings across differences of gender, culture, race, ethnicity, class, ability, and species. In doing so, we seek to create a world that is non-ethnocentric, non-racist, non-capitalist, non-imperialistic, and counter-patriarchal.

A tall order to be sure, but I’m fully on-board. I’m doubly honored to be one of the few male contributors to the magazine. You can find my contributions tagged under my name. Check it out.

Count Like a New Orleanian

And so the season of madness begins again.

Judge Fire Burn Die

If you want to understand America, study Christmas. If you want to understand New Orleans, study Mardi Gras. Twelfth Night is the intersection of both of these. And tonight is Twelfth Night — if you know how to count like a New Orleanian.

Everybody’s heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but few people in 21st-century America know that these are the twelve days after Christmas, ending with Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas or Three Kings Day or Twelfthtide.

Increasing commercialization puts all the emphasis on the shopping season beforehand; when Christmas rolls around, many people have had their fill of holiday spirit. But our grandparents knew differently. Just a couple generations ago, the festivities began at Christmas, not weeks and months before.

In merrie olde England, Christmastide was a wild and wooly time, combining the Christian feast with elements of the ancient Germanic Yuletide and Roman Saturnalia. Everything was turned upside down, authority was mocked, people swapped genders, and so forth. It went on for twelve days, until Epiphany. In Latin America they go for forty days, until Candlemas on February 2nd.

Some say Carnival, and Halloween too, is a displacement of these old festivities. When the old ways were suppressed, they squished out on either side of the calendar, or so the story goes. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

The crucial question is when to start counting. You might think that Christmas Day would be included amongst the Twelve Days of Christmas. That would make the night of January 5th the Twelfth Night, which is indeed the date preferred by many. And then there’s Old Twelfth Night, which is January 17th if you calculate using the Julian calendar, and apparently some people in southwestern England still do. (I prefer to celebrate my birthday then, and it’s a big one this year, so please come to my birthday party.)

However, I live in New Orleans, and we count differently. We don’t count Christmas. Here Twelfth Night is observed on the evening of January 6th, and it marks the beginning, not the end, of a period of festivity. Meanwhile, my Serbian friend is telling me “Srecne Badnje Vece!” Happy Orthodox Christmas Eve! Could this get any more confusing?

Regardless, today is the first day of Carnival here in New Orleans. The season of king cakes, masked balls, cheap plastic beads and endless parades is upon us. My boss has promised a home-baked king cake next week. I just hope I don’t get the baby, as I always seem to do.

Tonight the Phunny Phorty Phellows come out of hiding. The spelling might seem like a modern innovation, but the Phellows are actually a revival of an institution going back to 1878. There’s been quite a few changes to their routine over the years. They used to follow Rex on Mardi Gras. Now they ride a streetcar on Twelfth Night.

This year they’re joined by a new krewe, the Societé du Champs Elysées, who are planning to pull a similar stunt on the new Rampart streetcar line. Tonight will also mark the 3rd annual 12th Night Bal Masque, an all ages show at the Civic Theatre, this year featuring a New York City noise/metal band named Gnaw. It seems like the sixth day of the year is regaining lost ground as a special day on our local calendar. (Unlike The Eighth which remains, perhaps deservedly, forgotten.)

January 6th is also Joan of Arc’s (apocryphal) birthday, and some folks capitalized on that, starting a new tradition in 2008: the Krewe de Jeanne D’Arc parade. We went for the first time in 2015, and my daughter became very interested in learning more about the life of Joan; we had a blast returning in 2016, and my daughter desperately wants to attend tonight. But it’s cold and getting colder; it’s wet and getting wetter; and I have been fighting some sort of virus since New Year’s Eve, so I’m not sure it’s in the cards for us this year.

This just in: parade postponed because: weather!

The Carnival season culminates with Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — which always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent and is forty days before Easter, and as everyone knows Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Elementary.

What this means is that the beginning of Carnival is fixed, but the end floats around. Some years it’s a long season, some years it’s short. It’s like an accordion, expanding and contracting over the years. This year we’ve got a moderately long season. Mardi Gras falls on February 28th.

How late is that? Well, in just a couple years, in 2019, it falls on March 5. The latest Mardi Gras I’ve ever seen was March 8, 2011, but I’m certainly hoping to be around in 2038 when Mardi Gras will fall on March 9, the last possible day.

Recently there’s been talk of fixing the date of Easter so that it would always be on the second Sunday in April. If that happened, Mardi Gras would generally fall in late February, but this year it would actually be bumped up a week to February 21.

Of course, the only way to fix the date for Easter would be to ignore the moon entirely. That’s just totally uncool. The moon is awesome. Factoring out the moon is the opposite of awesome. The moon is variable, constantly changing. Some associate the full moon with irrational behavior, from which we derive the word lunacy. All the variability and madness of the Carnival season flows from the silvery light of the moon. Don’t fall prey to the insidious threat of anti-Lunarism!

I still don’t have a costume, but my daughter has suggested an Egyptian theme this year. I can count like a New Orleanian, but can I walk like an Egyptian? Time to get working on that.

Happy Carnival, everyone.

The Bottom of the Year

It’s almost that time of year again, so I thought I’d share this original song for the winter solstice. It may not be a genius composition, but it’s fun to sing around the bonfire with family and friend. Try it! And by all means make up your own lyrics. You can certainly do better than us.

Below you’ll find an audio snippet from our 2015 rendition, to give you an idea of the melody, as well as a copy of the lyrics suitable for printing.

The Bottom of the Year (A Winter Song) by Editor B on Scribd

And so the season of madness begins again.

Joan of Arc Parade

Tonight is Twelfth Night, if you know how to count like a New Orleanian.

Everybody’s heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but few people in 21st-century America know that these are the twelve days after Christmas, ending with Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas or Three Kings Day or Twelfthtide.

Increasing commercialization puts all the emphasis on the shopping season beforehand; when Christmas rolls around, many people have had their fill of holiday spirit. But our grandparents knew differently. Just a couple generations ago, the festivities began at Christmas, not weeks and months before.

In merrie olde England, Christmastide was a wild and wooly time, combining elements of the ancient Germanic Yuletide and Roman Saturnalia, when everything was turned upside down, authority was mocked, people swapped genders, and so forth. It went on for twelve days, until Epiphany. I hear in Latin America they go for forty days, until Candlemas on February 2nd, but I digress.

The crucial question is when to start counting. You might think that Christmas Day would be included amongst the Twelve Days of Christmas. That would make the night of January 5th the Twelfth Night, which is indeed the date preferred by many. And then there’s Old Twelfth Night, which is January 17th if you calculate using the Julian calendar, and apparently some people in south-western England still do. I prefer to celebrate my birthday then, but I digress.

However, I live in New Orleans, and we count differently. We don’t count Christmas. Here Twelfth Night is observed on the evening of January 6th, and it marks the beginning, not the end, of a period of festivity.

Yes, today is the first day of Carnival. The season of king cakes, masked balls, cheap plastic beads and endless parades is upon us. My boss has already ordered a king cake for this Friday, the goat cheese and apple one from Cake Cafe. That’s definitely my favorite, so I’m looking forward to it. I just hope I don’t get the baby, as I always seem to do.

Tonight the Phunny Phorty Phellows help to get the party started. The spelling might seem like a modern innovation, but the Phellows are actually a revival of an institution going back to 1878. There’s been quite a few changes to their routine over the years. They used to follow Rex on Mardi Gras. Now they ride a streetcar on Twelfth Night.

January 6th is also Joan of Arc’s (apocryphal) birthday, and some folks capitalized on that, starting a new tradition in 2008: the Krewe de Jeanne D’Arc parade. We went for the first time last year, and my daughter became very interested in learning more about the life of Joan, so we’re looking forward to checking it out again tonight.

The season culminates with Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — which always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent and is forty days before Easter, and as everyone knows Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Elementary.

What this means is that the beginning of Carnival is fixed, but the end floats around. Some years it’s a long season, some years it’s short. It’s like an accordion, expanding and contracting over the years. This year we’ve got a very short season. Mardi Gras fall on February 9th.

How early is that? Why, it won’t be this early again till 2027. It can be as early as February 3rd, but I’ve never seen that and probably never will. The earliest Mardi Gras in my lifetime was likely in 2008, when it fell on February 5th. And to think I missed that one because of a sprained ankle and the impending birth of my daughter, but I digress.

The latest Mardi Gras I’ve ever seen was in 2011, but I’m certainly hoping to be around in 2038 when Mardi Gras will fall on March 9, the last possible day. Again, I digress. I’m very digressive these days.

My point is that this year, it’s a short season, and the response is predictable. We hear people complaining that it’s all going by too quickly. Don’t fall into this trap! The variability of Mardi Gras and the Carnival season is a wonderful thing. Embrace it. Celebrate, don’t denigrate. Consider the implications of a convenient, modern, fixed date. The only way this would work is if Easter became a fixed feast rather than a moveable feast, which would mean disregarding the moon entirely. I’m sure some people would like that very much, but the very idea makes me retch. Don’t fall prey to this insidious anti-Lunarism. When a fellow paradegoer complains about the short Carnival season, haul off and punch that person right in the face. Strike a blow for the moon!

I still don’t have a costume, but it’s time to start thinking about one.

Happy Carnival, everyone.

An Embarrassment of Equinoctial Riches

Equinox Mandala (Autumnal)

Yo, check my mandala. (I’ve always wanted to say that.) It’s the autumnal equinox again, an event I’ve celebrated now six years running, a time for gratitude and reflection, even as we step into the dark, into the creative power of the abyss, even as we acknowledge our losses. I made the mandala to express some of these themes, and as I look back I see I’ve slowly accumulated a wealth of practices and observances for the equinox.

Last weekend we celebrated with Lamplight Circle, this morning I visited my daughter’s class (to read a book, do a science demo, share a treat, and make a gratitude chain), this evening we feast with family and friends, this weekend we hope to commune with nature at Bayou La Terre. And, on an intensely personal note, at this juncture I dedicate (or rededicate) myself to my personal mission/vision of awakening to Gaia, which is manifesting especially through a renewal of activity with the Greens. More on that soon.

If you’re reading this, thanks for being a part of my life, and I hope you may enjoy this equinox in your own way.

A Pagan Community Statement on the Planetary Ecosystem

Happy Mother Earth Day

Today is International Mother Earth Day. Yes, that’s the official name as designated by the United Nations. And isn’t that a more interesting, more compelling, juicier name? I wonder if it will ever catch on in these United States.

I’ve heard it’s the largest secular holiday in the world, but many of us experience the Earth as sacred, which would seem to make it a quasi-religious holiday. Such mysteries are well above my pay-grade.

Not coincidentally, I am also celebrating today the publication of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” I’ve been involved in the drafting of this document over the last six months, though it was very much a group effort, with dozens of people contributing.

It was, as one might imagine, difficult to synthesize many divergent views on such a broad topic into a single coherent and relatively concise statement, but I’m proud of the final product. As of this moment, there are over 400 signatories from around the world, including a number of well-respected organizations.

Please take a moment to read the statement and consider signing on yourself.

Happy Mother Earth Day!

I’ll Have the Equinox with a Side of Eclipse Please

This year the vernal equinox coincides with a supermoon and a solar eclipse. We won’t be able to see the eclipse from our part of the globe, but it’s cool to think about nonetheless. Sister Moon is asserting herself at a time usually associated with Earth and Sun.

I’m sure you’ve already read my little column on spring in the subtropics, but have you seen my new column on fathers and daughters? It also touches on the question of when spring truly begins. I believe it is the most eagerly anticipated of all the seasonal turnings.

What else can I offer? I posted my new vernal equinox mandala here the other day. Oh, I know, how about this brand new mix?

Vernal Equinox from editor_b on 8tracks Radio.

The Wheel as a Whole

Wheel of the Year

For over a year I’ve been writing a series of short essays on a cycle of holidays, starting with the winter solstice. Now here we are again. I’d like to offer another short essay that attempts to tie these all together: Wheel Without End. With any luck, I’ll collect these all in a little ebook some day. Happy solstice!

It’s About That Time

Equinoctial Ngram

It’s about that time. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about: the equinox. No, not that equinox — the other one.

I thought I had little or nothing to say about the subject. As is so often the case, once I got to writing, I discovered how wrong I was. The result is a column so monstrously large, it had to be split in two.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also put together a mix of autumnal equinox music.

Happy Lammas

John Barleycorn Must Die

When is Lammas anyhow? Though usually observed on August 1, I recently learned that August 6 is known as “Old Lammas.” I think that might be because the midway point between solstice and equinox tends to fall on this day, though technically this year it’s on August 7 at 9:05 AM, Central Time. Further complicating matters is the old tradition of beginning a holiday observance at sundown the night before, which means you could get started as early as July 31.

As for me, I got started even earlier than that, working on this essay: “How Lammas Changed My Life.” Please give it a read.

The confusion of dates should really present no problem. It allows a full week to celebrate. Keep trying until you get it right!

Lammas Mix

A fresh mix for that most obscure of holidays. You should listen to this sometime in the next week or so, preferably whilst fashioning corn dollies, baking bread or imbibing your favorite malted barley beverage.

Lammas from editor_b on 8tracks Radio.

Happy Lammas!

Glad Midsommar

Flowers to Flame

Just in time for the summer solstice, my article “Flowers to Flame” has been published on Humanistic Paganism. I think this may the best thing I’ve written. If you’ve got a moment, please give it a read; if you’re rushed, just take a look at the pretty pictures, and you’ll get the basic point.

Happy May Day

Anarchy Flowers

As I researched the Haymarket Affair and the history of May Day in America, it was interesting to learn that Bohemian anarchists played a prominent role in the campaign for an eight-hour day and other labor struggles of the late 19th century. That caught my eye because I recently learned that one of my Bohemian immigrant ancestors had to sign a loyalty oath vouching that he was not an anarchist. (This puts me in mind of a conversation I had with my father some 17 years ago… but I digress.)

Tomorrow is May Day, so I wanted to wish everyone a very happy holiday.

Also, for the occasion, I have an essay on the topic, examining the connection between politics and spirituality through my own highly idiosyncratic lens, which you can read here:

May Day x 2

Ten Years of b.rox

Sweetgum Buds 2

Ten years ago today I started writing here at b.rox. I didn’t give much thought to the content of that first post, in terms of setting the tone for the future. I just wrote about what was on my mind at the moment.

I’m fascinated by cycles, including the cycle of seasons.

In retrospect, however, I must say that seems uncannily prescient, foreshadowing a theme which has become so much more prominent in my thoughts, my writing, my practice, my life. Also, the emergence of spring buds as subject is a fine metaphor for beginning a new project.

I don’t really write much here anymore. A chart of the life-cycle of this blog would show a peak around 2006-2007, with some vigor continuing until the autumnal equinox of 2012, followed by a year of intentional silence. (Though I didn’t note it explicitly, that first post was very much about the vernal equinox.) These days mark a sort of senescence, I suppose, as I mostly post links to writings published elsewhere.

One of my primary impulses to write here was the same impulse that motivates my private journal writing: to mark the days as they pass and keep track of the interesting stuff that happens in my life. That. combined with the urge to share. But that act of sharing publicly has ultimately come to feel more like a limiting factor. These days I’m back to writing in my private journals more intensively than ever.

My friend David Bryan has suggested that the writings on this site might make an interesting book, which would include the flooding of the city in 2005 and the process of recovery, from a very personal angle, with the birth of my daughter as a natural ending point for the story. I appreciate this idea, thought I think a better arc might focus on our house, from our purchase in 2002, through the flooding and reconstruction, ending with the sale in 2009. I even have a title in mind: The Wizard of North Salcedo. I often felt like a wizard as I fixed kids bikes on the sidewalk in front of our house.

It’s funny to note that The Wild Hunt began one day later. What a different trajectory that site has taken.

And as a final note, I’m not sure I ever mentioned it, but the tree pictured in that first post did not survive the flood. We cut it down in November of 2005.

Sweetgum Stump

Even the stump is gone now, but we’re still here, and so is this site, even if it’s looking more like a stump itself these days. Thanks for reading, y’all.

The Yearning Need to Connect with a Larger Whole at the Time of the Winter Solstice

Goodwill $1.99

It was recently revealed that Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most prominent atheist, loves to sing carols at Christmas time. But the songs he loves the most are not the modern secular ones. Dawkins writes: “I recoil from such secular carols as ‘White Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ and the loathsome ‘Jingle Bells,’ but I’m happy to sing real carols.” He prefers the older songs, which tend to have explicitly Christian religious themes.

This makes perfect sense to me. As a child, those old songs were one of my few direct connections to an older time and an older culture. Many of the carols I grew up singing were authored in the 1800s. The lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” go back to at least 1739. The tune to “Adeste Fideles” may well go back to the 13th century.

It’s not only the music. I was enchanted by the old customs. Bringing a tree inside the house seemed unaccountably weird and magical and very much out of character for my sedate middle-class parents in our standard-issue suburban home. I didn’t understand it — but I liked it.

Something about all this archaic stuff resonated deeply with me as a child. It filled an inner yearning which I could not identify, but which I now recognize as a need to connect to a larger whole: to previous generations of humanity, and to Mother Earth.

That yearning need remains with me as an adult. You can read more about how I’ve come to understand the meaning of this holiday season in an essay, “Solstice Connections,” which is the first installment of a regular column called A Pedagogy of Gaia which I’m writing for Humanistic Paganism.

I offer these intimate and highly personal thoughts with love and respect to people of all faiths and no faith, and hope that they will be received in the same spirit.

Wishing you a Blessed Solstice, a Joyful Yule, and a Happy New Year.

Seasons of Desire, Seasons of Gratitude

Long Time No Read

It’s been a year since I wrote anything here. Did you miss me?

Did you even notice I had stopped? I thought I’d made myself clear when I wrote about stepping into the dark, but apparently I was too subtle. I’ve spoken to a few readers who didn’t understand its implications.

I’m curious to know how many people will even see this, since the site has been fallow for a year. If you’re reading this, please leave a comment and let me know. You may be brief; a simple anonymous “Yo!” will suffice. But say something, won’t you? You don’t even have to read the rest of this article, which is too long anyhow.

Writing Elsewhere

I have still been writing lo these many months. I just haven’t been writing here. But I have been writing a lot. Some of it is ephemera: status updates, tweets, comments on blogs and the like; no matter how thoughtful, no matter how substantive, these still feel insubstantial, like chaff that is lost in the breeze.

I had some essays published in a series of e-book anthologies called Voices from the Grain, but that seems to be defunct now, or dormant. You can read my articles for Yule, Ostara, and Beltane. See also my article for Candlemas which was published in a different venue because the ebook didn’t “make.”

I started another blog to write in another mode as an experiment. It’s called Celebration of Gaia. I’m particularly pleased of my essay on the Summer Solstice.

But mainly I have been attempting to focus on fiction writing. It’s very different, and hard work to boot, but I’m hopeful that eventually I will have something of substance, a story worth reading by my own standards at least. Maybe, someday, I’ll have something to share.

Another Equinox

In the meantime, this is surely an auspicious time for an update in the classic confessional style which I’ve always employed here. It’s the autumnal equinox again. It’s a good time for reflection and introspection. Also, the equinox marks the point at which I stopped writing here a year ago.

Equinox Muffins

Since then I’ve continued to celebrate the eight holidays that make the Wheel of the Year, finding them a rich field of inquiry. They open up so many questions. They offer a continuous series of opportunities to reflect on cherished values and the deep mysteries attendant to our place in the cosmos.

There are many ways to interpret the Wheel. For example, the solstices divide the year into halves. From the winter solstice to the summer solstice the days get longer; from the summer solstice to the winter solstice the days get shorter. So in terms of light, the year has a waxing half and a waning half. The holidays in the waxing half celebrate desire, while the harvest festivals in the waning half are a time for gratitude. That’s one way to look at it.

The Wheel recapitulates the life cycle. I’m somewhere past the summer solstice of my life, moving into the cross-quarter: my Lammas, my Lughnasa. Perhaps I’m there now, perhaps I’m still approaching. Perhaps that’s why that holiday has resonated so deeply in my soul and been so precious to me. Of course we may experience gratitude and desire every day, throughout the year and throughout our lives, but I feel an undeniable sense of passage, of tipping forward. Gratitude comes easier to me now. The flames of desire and ambition still burn, but it takes a little more effort to keep them stoked. I remember being young. This feels different.

And now it’s time once again for the equinox, the second of the three harvest celebrations. I associate this holiday with gratitude, balance, and the mysteries of darkness. Without darkness there is no wonder. For this, I am grateful. I have not yet reached the autumnal equinox of my life. At least, I don’t think so. I’m looking forward to it with hope and trepidation. I’m sure not in any rush.

Bring the Crisis

I’ve come to understand my recent spiritual crisis as a transition between life-stages. We hear a lot about the midlife crisis, spoken in ominous tones, as if it’s a singular discrete event unique to the middle years, as if it’s something dreadful. But that’s not quite accurate on either count. What is life but a series of crises? And what is a crisis but a change, an opportunity? Without crisis there is only stasis. If we wish to grow, to develop as human beings, to reach our potential, then we should embrace the crisis.

That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’m doing. My personal crisis has been documented in my writings here over the last several years. I’m happy to report that the crisis is ongoing. I feel that I have undergone, and am still undergoing, a spiritual revolution. It has been a process of transforming the self which seemed to begin almost spontaneously. At some point I recognized it, grabbed it with both hands, and started shaping it myself, to keep it going, and to guide it.

It has been, for the most part, a wonderful and joyous thing, shot through with strains of bittersweet and melancholy. But then my whole life has been that way. It’s just part of my character, part of my way of experiencing the world. But these recent years have been particularly joyous.

Changes

Some may wonder what I’m even talking about. It might help to pull this out of the abstract and give some concrete examples of changes that have manifested in my life. These are things that have taken root over the last four years or so:

  • I meditate daily. Or almost daily. Certainly on workdays. It’s hard for me to articulate how this affects my life. I’m not sure if meditation is the catalyst for other changes, or the result. Most likely I suppose it’s an iterative process. Meditation is part of my practice that deepens and strengthens and integrates other aspects of my life. You hear people talk about meditation as peaceful and relaxing, and so it can be, but I also think it’s much more than that.
  • I stopped drinking. I noticed I was drinking more and more but enjoying it less and less. Maybe years of steady moderate-to-heavy drinking changed my body chemistry. Maybe I’ve come to cherish certain aspects of cognition which drinking does not promote. Maybe it’s a combination of the two or something else entirely. I can only say I felt the need to quit, so I did, as of Mardi Gras this year. I’m not a strict teetotaler, but almost. I’ve gone from drinking every evening to drinking only on special occasions, at intervals of a month or two. And usually after those special occasions I wonder, “Why do I bother?” Alcohol is rapidly losing its appeal.
  • I’ve made changes to my diet. A couple years ago I made a conscious effort to start eating less, to cultivate a sense of hunger. I started to place a big emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, not just for me but for my family. More recently, after watching Forks Over Knives, Xy and I decided to stop buying bird and mammal meat. Our three motivating factors might be labelled health, earth, and ethics: that is, a healthier diet, a lighter impact on the planet, and the aspiration to inflict less cruelty on other living beings. (We agreed we might make an exception for animals raised in a more humane fashion, but we haven’t actually acted on that.) We still eat a lot of fish, though, and I find myself eating other meat occasionally when it’s already bought and paid for by someone else.
  • I have gotten into a regular exercise program. I started jogging. Then I added yoga. Then calisthenics. I would rotate through these three daily, then rest for a day and start over. I did that for about a year. Combined with the lack of alcohol and dietary changes, I lost about 25 lbs. over the past two years. Now I’m actively trying to build muscle mass through eating a high-calorie, balanced diet and lifting weights four days a week.

I can hear the objection: You’re just on a self-improvement kick. It’s nothing more profound than that. Further, one might note that these changes are all very self-centered. And it’s true that many of my recent efforts have had an intensely inward focus. Yet despite appearances I do actually have a social conscience. It’s not all about me. In fact, my relations with others, my family in particular, have been a prime motivator.

Since I stopped writing here, during my daughter’s first year at her new school, I found myself visiting her classroom repeatedly to celebrate the Wheel with them. Without planning it, I developed a miniature curriculum around these seasonal holidays, one part science, one part cultural awareness, and one part spiritual development. I read them books about the solstices and equinoxes, gave demonstrations with oranges and lamps, baked treats for them, told them stories and did rituals. I had a blast and I think the kids enjoyed it too.

My interests in these matters have also driven changes in my professional life. I’m no longer strictly a technical/creative specialist. In my role as a faculty developer, I now make an effort to recognize the whole person. My repertoire has expanded to include subjects like time management and work-life balance. I regularly facilitate discussions on sensitive topics. I’ve conducted workshops on mindfulness and other types of meditation. I wrote a grant that sent three faculty members to a week-long seminar contemplative pedagogy, and we have formed a learning community here on campus. Last week, we met in the Meditation Room in the newly constructed Katharine Drexel Chapel. A decade ago I would never have imagined this.

Sum

So what’s it all about? You could say I got religion, I suppose. Sometimes that’s what I call it. But our society has such strange ideas about religion. My approach, devoid of supernatural notions, might be seen as secular. Sometimes that label seems safer. I can only report that my experience of life over these last years has been suffused with a sense of wonder, awe, humility and love.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say at the root is the simple idea that I am part of a larger whole. And so are you, Dear Reader. We are all children of the Earth.

Earth - Illustration

Does the Earth constitute a coherent whole, a self-sustaining system, an organism of sorts? I’m still sorting through the science and philosophy on that question. But whatever the exact nature of Gaia — mythical, archetypal, empirical, fantastical — my heart is filled with reverence for Her. I recognize that all my efforts and motivations spring from Her. She is the source of my very essence. I try each day to participate in Her more fully. For this, I am grateful.

Photo credit: Earth – Illustration / CC BY 2.0