Monthly Archives: May 2014

One Has Left the Sunlit Lands

Wake, O Mighty Dead, prepare your halls
There will be feasting and poetry and dance
Maya Angelou has left the sunlit lands

Wake, O Mighty Dead, one less giant walks the Earth
One whose steps smoothed the road is among you
Maya Angelou has left the sunlit lands

Wake, O Mighty Dead, do not let her power be forgot
We who remain must honor her name
Maya Angelou has left the sunlit lands

Maya Angelou, 4 April, 1928 – 28 May 2014

Pay It Forward

Yesterday, I had this thought:

I am reading a book made of electrons with a small brick of plastic and glass. While I do this, I am in an alluminum tube thousands of feet in the air, moving at hundreds of miles an hour, taking hours to trace a cross-country route that would have taken a week or more three generations ago. The generation before that might never have thought of taking this route at all.

My life, from a certain point of view, is very weird. From another, it’s perfectly normal.

How will the lives of my great grand children, or those of my friends, be very weird and perfectly normal? What I do today helps make that happen. If I want them to have a life that is weird in a good way, I have to work to make the world better than it was when I found it.

I owe a debt to my ancestors, but I pay it to my descendants.

I Am Large, I Contain Multitudes

I am this body, which is the expression of certain genes in a particular environment, and this mind, which is the product of those and of all the other minds I’ve encountered. I am this life, which is discrete and individual, but it’s also the same life as that which first sparked billions of years ago. I didn’t spring from dead matter, after all, but from the living cells of my parents. As they did from theirs, and so on back to the first life.

My life is mine, but it is also Life.

My mind is mine, as well, unique. But It is made, in part, from the ideas and thoughts and words of others. Copies of them, coded on the patterns of neural firing, chemical lightning. I am a continuation of those thoughts, those thinkers, those lives.

Similarly, my words and ideas touch other minds. Part of me becomes part of them, and we are bound together in webs of meaning.

My mind is mine, but it is also Mind.

And spirit? I am inspired by a god who was old before the language I speak was new. His fire burns in my blood, his voice sounds in my mind. Through Him I am connected to those times and places, and to those who will know Him in the future.

My spirit is mine, but it is also Spirit.

Through these connections, I am part of all life and mind and spirit that was or will be. Even that is bounded in space and time, but I can live with that.

The Past is Not Gone

There’s a popular New Age aphorism: we create that into which we put our energy. It’s generally understood to mean that we get what we focus on, that if we spend our time and energy on what we desire, the universe will manifest it. The same thing happens with what we fear.  It’s meant as encouragement, as a reminder that we can get what we want out of life, as long as we keep focused and stay positive.

It’s also bullshit.

Self-improvement gurus sell it under the name “The Law of Attraction.” The self righteous imply that it explains why the poor are poor and the sick are sick.

The reason it’s bullshit is that it’s a vast oversimplification of a complex phenomenon. We are co-authors of our realities, that much is true, but it’s not a matter of simple intent, or focus of imagination.

Our actions shape the world we live in, within certain limitations. We might be poor because we have bad habits with work or money, but it’s not because we spend time thinking about being poor. If we’re healthy, it’s because we make choices about how we exercise or what we eat, not because we visualize ourselves as thin and happy.

There’s more to it than our actions and choices. Physics and luck are part of it, but not everything. The present is built on the past, on the choices made by our parents and neighbors, and the generations before them.

I am who I am, in part, because three hundred years ago, a Swiss man decided to emigrate to the new world. And because my grandparents decided to move off the farm and into the city after World War Two. And because my father took a job in Missouri, and another in Iowa. Because my mother decided to be a nurse on a psych ward, and was disabled wrestling with a violent patient.

I am where I am because American polititians used the concept of Manifest Destiny to promote western expansion, and because the Mexican government ceded California in 1848. The Gold Rush and Hollywood made San Francisco a promised land.

And let’s not forget the work of folks like Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, and Victor and Cora Anderson, and the generations who studied with them, some of whom taught me.

We’re the product of our choices, our parents, our teachers, and history. We need to remember that, and to understand how the past affects us, if we want to make the best choices we can in the present.

This is why I believe we have to revive and maintain traditions of ancestor reverence and hero cultus. Simply remembering the past isn’t enough, not if it’s just facts from long ago. The relationship has to be personal, to be kept part of the present. Active relationships with the ancestors and the mighty dead keep them alive, or at least present to us.

Those who came before us, who left us the world we now live in, had all the human flaws and weaknesses we might have. To forget that, worse, to hide it, would be to disrespect them. We can’t ignore the bad they’ve done, the ways in which they fell short. If we do that, we risk losing connection with that part of the world. We forget that we owe it to our descendents to clean up the messes left to us, and to try and make less of a mess for them.

I can’t ignore that my ancestors owned slaves, or that some of the heroes who have influenced my life were addicts or abusers. How could I correctly account for their influence on my present life if I did?

If we forget our past and our dead, if we do not honor the good they did, and make restitution for the evil as best we can, how can we ask our children, our students, and all those who come after us to thank us for the world we leave to them?

It is not only by our actions that our world is shaped. Our dead live on, invisibly and subtly shaping our world. The past lives on, the bones of the present. The universe manifests not what we desire, but what we do in relationship with all those who have gone before us.

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