Thursday, May 25, 2017

Better Than Fiction

It's been a long time since my last blog post, and that is because things are finally happening in my life, and while this is a very welcome thing, it is also something that I've had to take some time to get used to. For the past few months, I've been working as a high school French substitute teacher in a town that is a couple of hours' train ride north from my hometown, and it has been a life-changing experience. Being wanted and appreciated and welcomed with open arms in this new place has made me see how one-sided my relationship with my hometown has been: me desperately wanting to be a part of it, seeking some kind of connection with it, and it rejecting me every time. I feel more of a connection with this new town than I have felt with my hometown in the recent years, and if I can find a job here - this substitute teaching gig ends as the summer holiday begins - I will move here permanently instead of just staying here temporarily for the duration of the substitute teaching gig. I have also fallen in love with the sweetest, kindest, gentlest man I've ever met. There's a very strong connection between us even though we've basically only just met - so far we've only had one date, but it lasted for three days and two nights, during which time we hardly slept at all, so we did get to know each other somewhat during it - and I think he might be my soulmate. I didn't even think I had one, but there's a good chance that he will prove me wrong. And this will neatly lead me to the subject I feel like writing about tonight: the first date.

I like to read romance stories and watch romantic comedies, and today, as I started listening to My Single Friend, the way the book started got me thinking. A woman went on (yet another) first date. She was dressed fetchingly - in a way that, it was told, she never normally dressed - and spoke and acted in a manner that was calculated to keep her date interested in her. Unfortunately, she wasn't very good at playing the dating game, and the date did not go well. She told her male friend about it. He listened sympathetically and then told her she should just be herself on dates to start having better luck with them, reminding her of several great literary love stories in which the man had fallen in love with the woman in spite of all her flaws. She answered him: "Those women weren't real, they were fictional characters. Trust me on this, these days women are expected to outsmart Carol Vorderman, outcook Nigella and outpout Penelope Cruz, all at the same time."

Sure, this is from a work of fiction, but it could just as easily have been from real life. There are unwritten rules for first dates and for the beginning of a romantic relationship that we've come to accept as the norm - what to do and what not to do, how to play things right to get ahead in the game. But by following these rules and striving for perfection, hiding our flaws under layers of make-up, a push-up bra, carefully rehearsed lines and underwear that makes our tummies look flat, aren't we actually creating a fictional version of ourselves for our date to be attracted to? This is perfectly fine if all we're looking for is some fun for the night, but if we want something more long-term, wouldn't the better strategy be to just ignore the rules and the game and just be ourselves, imperfect but real? For if we bagged our date by being our perfect, game-playing, fictional self, isn't he going to lose all interest in us as soon as we drop the act?

What I want from a romantic relationship is a real connection with the other person. I can be attracted by good looks and witty lines, but without anything deeper than that, I lose interest quite quickly. I want a partner I can be close to in every way: physically, mentally and emotionally. I want someone who is attracted to the real me, not to some perfect illusion. And I can only get that by ignoring the rules of the dating game and being the real me, even on a first date. And when it's that time of the month and I'm lying in bed next to my date feeling disgusting and bloated and utterly unattractive and he says to me "You're lovely" and looks like he actually means it, I know that my strategy has been a good one.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Art of Accepting Gifts

This is a skill that has taken me quite a while to master.

I have always seen gifts received as obligations to get their giver a gift of equal or greater value in return. As I've been poor for most of my life - there was the briefest of periods when I had a job and a salary, but that is by now just a distant memory - giving people gifts has never been something I've really been able to afford to do. It's not unusual for the combined balance of my wallet and my bank accounts to reach a sum below one euro by the end of the 28-day period between welfare checks. When I have to give someone a gift, it means that, during that particular 28-day period, I have to pinch my pennies even harder than usual. So, given these facts, it probably comes as no surprise that I've never been a big fan of receiving gifts!

Lately, though, as part of my mental makeover, I've done a bit of thinking. When I give a gift, all I want in return is to know that it did some good - that it brightened someone's day, was useful, or made a little bit of a difference in some other way. And here's what struck me: What if I'm not the only one who feels this way?

With that thought, I think I'm finally starting to get what accepting gifts is all about. It isn't about taking on an obligation to give the other person a gift of equal or greater value or being indebted to them until I do. It is about allowing myself to just enjoy the gifts I get and let them brighten my day. And when someone gives me a gift, whether it's in the form of an object or a thoughtful, generous act, the only debt I owe them is to let them know how much I enjoyed and appreciated it.

So, when a friend told me today that they wanted to get me a gift for my birthday, for the first time ever I didn't act all awkward and uncomfortable and tell them not to. Instead, I showed my surprise and pleasure, and on my birthday, I'm going to thank them for the gift and enjoy it - no strings attached, other than the ribbon it's tied with.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Making My Own Light

It may very well be that I'll never work as a teacher again. It has taken me nearly five years of uninterrupted unemployment to accept this. It is still the career I want and I'll keep doing my best to make it happen, but I no longer feel that my life or my future depend on it. I can see myself living without it.

This process of letting go of something that I loved so much, of something that was once the central part of my life, has been incredibly painful and difficult, and it hasn't been made any easier by a society that places the blame for unemployment on the unemployed themselves. A couple of people in my life, having read the bits and pieces about this that I've posted here in this blog, have told me that they'd had no idea I'd been going through such a tough time and for so long. They knew that I'd really loved my job, they knew that I was unemployed, and they knew that I'd been doing all I could to get hired again but that none of my efforts had paid off in the slightest, and yet they'd had no idea of how hard all that had been for me. I'll admit that not having had to go through it all alone would perhaps have been easier, but I guess I've always been a little too solitary and a little too independent for my own good. People have their own lives and problems to deal with, so how are they supposed to know I need their love, affection, compassion and support if I don't cry out for it? How are they supposed to know what I'm going through if I keep all of my pain inside? I need to either start being more vocal about my problems - which is so totally against my nature it's likely never going to happen - or I need to learn to give to myself the love, affection, compassion and support people normally look for from others. Become emotionally self-sufficient. It isn't impossible.

No matter how dark it gets in this place of unemployment, rejection and poverty that I find myself trapped in, no matter how long all the doors I find to lead me out of here keep getting slammed shut in my face, I can learn to make my own light. Through different kinds of meditations and physical workouts, and by reading books and working with tarot and oracle cards, I can make myself radiate such harmony, balance and well-being in all aspects of my self - the physical, the emotional and the spiritual - that, if like really attracts like, the Universe will have no choice but to open all the doors and windows wide and send plenty of good things my way. And if not, well, becoming physically fit, strong, healthy and attractive, emotionally stable and spiritually enlightened are perfectly rewarding goals in themselves, too.

One of the tools I'm using are affirmations, and so far this one has been especially useful:

"I am always in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing."

This one little sentence is at the same time comforting, liberating and empowering. It reminds me that things happen for a reason. Life is a journey filled with lessons we need to learn. Lessons that are there to shape us into better, stronger, wiser, more enlightened beings. We are either stuck in a situation or circumstance, or forced to encounter it over and over again, until we learn whatever it is there to teach us. Nothing happens through sheer randomness, and I can take control of my own life by learning the lessons each situation or circumstance offers me, integrating what I learn into my self and into my life, thus changing both. Even the bad or uncomfortable stuff that happens happens for a reason, and I can move on from it by learning the lesson in it and becoming what I need to be to continue my life's journey. I think that learning to "make my own light", as I put it earlier, will let me move on from the dark place I am in right now. We'll see. At the very least, it'll make it easier for me to endure in it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Point of Spirituality

People turn to spirituality, the search for something beyond the mundane and material, for different reasons, and as this blog is gradually starting to take on more shape and depth, I think it useful to that end for me to share mine with you.

As you may or may not know, I used to be a teacher until I lost my job and couldn't get another one thanks to school budget cuts and the job market being suddenly flooded with unemployed teachers, a lot of them with far more work experience than I have. It wasn't just a job I lost, though. To me, teaching was so much more than just a source of income. Helping other people find the motivation and inspiration to realise their full potential and make themselves the best future they possibly can gave my life meaning, and being part of that community of students and teachers gave me somewhere to belong. I was doing something good, making a difference, in my own small way making the world a better place. Losing that, being robbed of that sense of purpose, of my raison d'être, and at the same time experiencing a huge drop in quality of life due to going from an employed professional with a decent salary to an unemployed loser living solely on welfare and being under constant scrutiny from government officials in a society that places all of the blame for unemployment on the unemployed themselves, left inside me a void that was aching to be filled again.

Last summer (summer 2015) marked the start of my fifth consecutive year of unemployment. I was in a pretty bad shape thanks to the years of constant rejection on the job market, having been forced to endure this state of unemployment and purposelessness and all the hardships that come with it for far too long. Had I found a quick, sure way to end my life without suffering and without any risk of failing or of being "saved", I would've done it - that's how desperate I was to get out of the situation I was stuck in. No such way out was available, though, so I had to keep on enduring.

Spiritual questions had always kind of lurked at the back of my mind, and every now and then over the years I had read up on one religion or another, out of casual interest. Last summer, in my desperation, I turned to spirituality in earnest, searching for something to help me endure this continued state of unemployment I couldn't find a way out of. I found Wicca, and claimed it as my own, and I also started to study witchcraft and different forms of magic to bring some beauty, joy and fulfillment back into my life.

So, for me, spirituality and the practice of magic are ways to help me cope with the loss of meaning in my life, and to get a new sense of purpose and fill the void inside me before it devours all of me leaving behind just a hollow shell filled with nothing but bitterness, disappointment, and the pain caused by remnants of shattered dreams I once believed were going to come true. I'm glad to say this seems to be working - I am finding new sources of contentment, joy and fulfillment, and the void inside me seems to be slowly decreasing in size as I grow back parts of me that were devoured by it, rediscovering and reclaiming the good in me that was lost and little by little becoming whole again. And right now, to me personally, that's the point of spirituality - to help me endure in this material world and heal the hurt it caused when it let me down.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Things I Love Most About Wicca

I think this is a good topic for a blog post since this blog is fairly new, and not all of my readers necessarily know all that much about me or about Wicca. So, by reading this, you can learn something about one or both of those things, and if you already know everything there is to know about both of them then you can just read it for a fun little diversion.

So here we go, the things I love most about Wicca:

It encourages me to explore, love and honour all aspects of my being.

I am a physical, emotional, intellectual, imaginative and spiritual being, and all of these aspects of my self are equally important to me. My religion needs to be one that doesn't dismiss or demonise any of these integral parts of me and that allows me to fully love and explore them and all the joys that they can bring into my life. In Wicca, I have found just such a religion.

It teaches that the only way to atone for the wrongs we've done is to try and heal the hurt they've caused.

This is just about the only kind of idea of atonement and redemption that I can agree with. I want to be good and do good, and therefore, when I do harm, I not only harm the object of that harm but also cause emotional harm to myself. No amount of punishment or forgiveness from others can heal that. I just can't subscribe to the "I've done wrong, punish me so I can move on" idea, never could, it's just not for me. Inflicting harm on the harm-doer doesn't undo the harm they've done, it just brings more harm into the world, and I don't see how any good can come out of that. The only way for me to move on after doing harm is to try and repair the damage and heal the hurt my actions have caused, redeeming myself in my own eyes, making amends and in the process healing the emotional hurt my wrongdoing has caused me.

Doing harm does me harm. Doing good does me good. Healing the world heals me. And that's all I need on this subject.

It discourages preaching to and trying to convert others.

Some people are quite content to live their lives without any kind of spirituality, and that's just fine by me. It's their choice and it doesn't make them inferior in any way. We're all individuals, all different, and not everyone needs spirituality in their lives in order to feel fulfilled.

Those who have a need for spirituality will discover it in their own time, in their own way. Furthermore, the Divine wears countless faces and none of them is more - or less - real than any other: everyone's spiritual path is as unique as they themselves are. My spiritual path isn't necessarily the right spiritual path for anyone else, and even if it were, they would need to come to it in their own time, in their own way. I can put my thoughts, ideas and experiences out here where anyone who wants to can get to know them, but shoving them into people's faces without their consent is an absolute no-no.

I love that Wicca agrees with all of this.

It encourages its practitioners to live peaceful and harmonious lives, but doesn't demand pacifism.

"An' it harm none, do what you will."

This is the Wiccan Rede, the cardinal rule that all wiccans are to live by. At the first glance, it would seem to demand pacifism and "turning the other cheek" just like Christianity. However, when we look a little deeper, we see that it, in fact, doesn't.

When we allow harm to be done, we become complicit in it, kind of like silent partners, condoning it by not taking action against it. Allowing harm to be done can be just as harmful as doing harm, and therefore is against the Wiccan Rede. Taking action against it, even if you have to do a little harm to prevent a greater harm, is the better option, though only if the result is a success and the greater harm is prevented. If you fail, then you will only have added to the grand total of harm. This is where common sense comes into play: you shouldn't charge into the face of every harm-doer - pick your battles, and always try to choose a course of action that will most probably lead to more good than harm.

I love that I am free to choose pacifism but don't have to, and am encouraged to use my common sense to choose the best course of action in every individual situation as it unfolds.

It celebrates nature and encourages attuning to its cycles.

I've always seen the beauty and wonder in nature and in the changing seasons, and am really glad that my religion does too.