Friday, August 28, 2009

Today's Youth, or Why I Fear For Our Future

I don't want to put down all teenagers and make unfair generalizations about them, but unfortunately, it's very rare that I meet a teenager who doesn't say or do something that makes me cringe in fear for the future of our country. I still remember the time, a few years ago, when two air-headed teenaged girls came in to the bookstore where I used to work and asked for a certain edition of a certain Shakespearean play that they needed for school. I knew that we had sold out of it earlier that day -- whenever the local schools assigned any book we sold out of that book within a couple days -- so I informed the girls that we were out of the book but could order it and have it in the store within a week. They replied, "No, thanks, we don't really care that much about English class," and then left the store. One of my coworkers had witnessed the exchange, and she and I just looked at each other in stunned silence, but I know we were both thinking, "Did they really say that? In public? In a bookstore?" Earlier today I found another paragon of teenage common sense at the local grocery store. I had a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for an item, so I picked up 2 of the specified items and headed to the express lane. As you've probably already surmised, I work in retail and have done so for several years (more years than I really care to admit, especially to myself) and I know that, with most register systems, coupons are pretty much idiot-proof: you scan the coupon's barcode and the register adjusts the cost as required. But apparently, processing the B1G1 coupon that I had was an activity that was beyond the capabilities of the teenaged girl who rang me up. She scanned the items, she scanned the coupon, and then looked at the register (which had just beeped angrily at her) in a very confused way. She scanned the coupon again, and the register beeped at her angrily once more. Not particularly surprising, that; after all, as my former Weight Watchers group leader was fond of saying, "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got." However, it was obvious that this girl had never heard that particular bit of advice, because she scanned the coupon again. Guess what happened this time? You're right -- the register beeped angrily at her! She gave me an exasperated look and asked, "Did you notice how much these were?" I replied, "No, I didn't, but according to that, they're 79 cents each," as I directed her attention to the monitor just behind her head, on which the items I was in the process of purchasing were itemized, along with their prices. And so now I must ask of today's teenagers: Is it really that hard to think? Is it really that hard to take notice of your surroundings and process the information presented to you without having it handed to you on a platter? If you can't handle something as simple as that, how will you be able to handle Life After High School? And what will you do when running the country becomes your responsibility? I can only hope that these three teenagers, and the countless others just like them, go off to college and get metaphorically whipped into shape by a few good teachers. Otherwise, we're all doomed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Great Religion Debate; or, "My imaginary friend is better than yours!"

I'm a very spiritual person, but I'm not particularly religious. Some people may not realize that those terms can be mutually exclusive, but in my case they certainly are. I do believe in a higher power (or a great spirit, or a supreme being, however you may choose to anthropomorphize it), but I vehemently resist whenever other people tell me how I should worship that power/spirit/being. After all, they're not living my life, and they have no knowledge of my relationship with divinity, how can they tell me that what I'm doing is wrong? For all that, how can they know that what they're doing is right? I will worship as I choose, thank you very much, but as long as you can respect my spiritual path, I will respect yours, and we'll get along with no problems.

The issue here is the whole "respect" thing. People who follow very traditional religions seem to have a hard time understanding and respecting someone like me who pretty much does whatever I please in the name of spirituality. Perhaps I should take a moment to clarify a few things about my spiritual beliefs. I mentioned that yes, I do believe in a higher power; in my life, that power has taken the form of the Goddess, so I walk a very feminist-based, New Age kinda path. I consider myself an eclectic Pagan, mainly because there really is no better term: I pick and choose beliefs and rituals from a number of different spiritual backgrounds and somehow combine them into a system that works for me. I'm into natural healing, yoga, mehndi, meditation, and divination; I'm a witch but not a Wiccan; I've studied Kabbalah and Kahuna, and learned the sacred dances of Native Americans, West Africans, and the Middle East; I'm of European descent but I mainly work with goddesses from Egypt, India, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Oh, and I pretty much do all this on my own, although I have been known to participate in public Pagan rituals and even occasionally attend the local Unitarian-Universalist church. That's basically what's meant by eclectic: if I run across a belief or spiritual practice that makes sense to me, it gets added to the roster and becomes part of my path.

Back when I was in my twenties, I was an angry Pagan. I had very little respect for people who followed traditional religions, even though I demanded that those same people respect my spiritual choices. I hadn't yet realized that respect is a two-way street. Fortunately for my spiritual evolution, a close friend pointed this out to me and I realized it was something I had to work on. A few years ago, I was working with a young man who was the same type of angry Pagan that I had been, and that helped me to realize even more that I didn't want to be that type of person. So I'm trying to be more respectful, and I think I've made some progress. I'm realizing that there is value in all the traditional religions, and I've come to believe that all spiritual paths lead to the same place, even if they take a different route. I've even come to believe that all the various deities, angels, elementals, etc., are simply different aspects of the same divine being, and that being chooses which face to show to each person based on what that person needs to learn in their lifetime and what they have already learned. So Buddha, Christ, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Amaterasu, Isis, Tara, Sophia, Kali, Ganesha, they're all the same, they just take different forms and teach us different things. I understand this, and several people I know, who are also progressive in their spiritual beliefs, tend to agree with me on this. However, when I try to explain this to people who follow more traditional religions, they think I'm crazy, or misinformed, or blasphemous, or a poor lost sheep who needs to be saved, or an evil creature who will burn in hell for all eternity. Sometimes I wonder whether the fact that some people understand this means that those people are further along the path to enlightenment than those who don't, but then I worry that I might be letting arrogance lead me astray from the path.

One of my oldest friends, J., is a born-again Christian. We were both raised as Catholics, but as we grew up we (obviously) went in very different directions spiritually. This has caused a bit of tension in our friendship from time to time. Several years ago, when she had just been born again and I was still an angry Pagan, she tried the "I can't be friends with you anymore unless you accept Jesus as your lord and savior" tactic on me. It didn't work the way she expected it to work, as I am still a Goddess worshipper and we are still somehow friends. But it did add an uncomfortable undercurrent of wariness to our relationship: she couldn't accept or respect my spiritual choices and tended to treat me like a wayward child, and I resented the fact that she couldn't accept and respect my choices. Things settled down between us after that, mainly because of a tacit agreement to just not discuss religion and spirituality, but things came to a head a few weeks ago. Our mutual friend, E., has been going through a separation from her husband this year; J. insists that E.'s husband left her because Satan influenced him to do so, but I think that using Satan as an excuse for bad behavior is a total cop-out. Doing so allows the person to completely avoid taking responsibility for their behavior. I said that to J. one time when we were chatting about the situation, and she replied very condescendingly that I don't understand because I don't read scripture. Double, double, toil and trouble, rage burn and emotion bubble. I bit back the urge to bite off J.'s head and told her not to start that with me. I told her that just because I walk a different path than she does doesn't mean that I'm a lost soul who needs to be saved. She replied, still in that condescending tone, "That's OK, I'll pray for you." Ooh, that got me so mad! That's one of the things I hate the most, when a Christian tells you that they'll pray for you. It's one thing if you're going through a difficult time and you ask a Christian friend for help and they say that, because they truly believe that doing so will help you through. It's a very different thing, however, when you're just minding your own business and they say that, meaning that they think you're a sinner and they'll intercede with God on your behalf in an attempt to save your mortal soul from eternal damnation. So I asked J. why she thought I needed her prayers. Am I a bad person? Am I an evil person? Or am I stupid? Just because I don't follow the same spiritual path that she does? She got very flustered when I asked her that. I explained to her once again that I am walking the path that Spirit wants me to walk, and it doesn't matter whether or not she approves of my choices. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree." Hallelujah! She finally got it. We'll see if it sticks.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Repurposing (not really a word, I know, but I'm going with it.)

Those of you have read my blog in the past have probably noticed that it now has a new title and purpose. I want you all to know that I am not giving up on my weight loss and fitness goals (even though I have gotten severely sidetracked over the past few months), I just felt the need to expand my blog so I can write about more than just my weight loss and fitness goals (especially as it's been very difficult to write about those during this period of being sidetracked). On top of being sidetracked by school, work, and general stress, I've recently realized that my weight issues (as well as a few other psychological and emotional issues) are a direct result of trauma that I suffered as a child but never properly dealt with, and in order successfully reach my weight loss goals, I will need to first deal with and heal from that trauma. No, I will not go into detail about it here (I don't want this to degenerate into some sort of "I'm a victim, pity me" thing), and please don't ask me about it -- those who I want to know about it have already been told. I'm not giving up on my weight loss goals, I'm just approaching the situation from a different direction right now.

I feel that the true purpose of all people on earth is to seek spiritual enlightenment, and I think the best way to do so is to improve yourself. I have been working on improving myself for several years now, and I feel that I have made some progress, but I recognize the fact that I am an imperfect person and I do stumble... a lot. I get lazy, I get arrogant, and sometimes I not only stumble off the path to enlightenment, I get stuck in the mud beside the path and wallow for weeks or months at a time. But I try, and that's the important thing. I thought that repurposing my blog would allow me to write about my experiences (good and bad) on the road to enlightenment, and that writing about things that happen to me might help me to understand, life better, or at the very least, allow me to blow off steam and move on from upsetting situations. And maybe, just maybe, we'll all have a little fun along the way.