200. Tempérance

ainikkiThis post marks my 200th on this site. A look back at the subjects I’ve most written about are atheism (no surprise there), Christianity, community, relationships, religion, depression, fundamentalism, acceptance, experience, and family. These are all things I’ve been pondering since my first post on this blog on April 19, 2009.

“I am many things,” I wrote in that first entry. “An artist. A composer. A writer. A some-time cook. A fan of public radio. Irish-American. A Christian. I’m also gay.”

Two years after writing that, two of those ended up not being true anymore.

Last night I decided to do what many have been advising me to do lately: meditate. That word has always brought up negative connotations, especially since coming out as an atheist it’s basically become a synonym for “prayer.”

Merriam-Webster defines meditate thus: (1) to engage in contemplation or reflection; (2) to focus one’s thoughts on: reflect on or ponder over.

As I’ve been writing about the last few weeks, there’s been a lot to reflect on and ponder over.

Last night I made sure everything was put away (so I wouldn’t think about it), lit candles in the living room on the coffee table, and laid out the cards. There’s an app on my iPod called Altered States that uses “advanced binaural brainwave entrainment to stimulate brainwave frequencies associated with different states of mind.” I used a setting called Mindful Meditation, designed to “create an aware, or awakened, meditative state.”

Here are some reflections that I had while meditating on the cards. This entry will be a little longer than the usual thousand words. But not too much longer.

1. Ego: Three of Cups

This is representative of friendships and collegiate, harmonious relationships.

Despite my hermetical tendencies, I’m surrounded by wonderful people who, even though I have difficult believing it, actually desire my company. This card also reminds me to take stock of the good things—and the good people—in my life right now.

Wikipedia says of this card: “It can also signal that this is the time to reach out if things have been particularly rough in the past.”

2. Crossing: Eight of Wands

This represents a very focused kind of motion and activity.

This reminds me that there are active opportunities to seize, especially relating to the first card. More on this later, but persistence is essential if I’m to make it to the Nine of Wands. One site interprets this card: “You might not realize that your efforts are out of the ordinary.” I’m adept at underestimating my own abilities and strengths, and believing the lie that I’m powerless and inept has, historically, held me back from confidence and going after what I want.

3. Unconscious (Id): Ace of Cups

This represents the beginning of love, happiness and compassion.

I contemplated this card for a while, trying to think back to some of my motivations and sources of joy and pleasure as a child. Thinking about my current career crossroads conundrum, my first love really was writing. I used to spend hours in the closet (oh, irony), writing stories and plays. I also tried to think about some of the blocks getting in the way of reconnecting to that joy.

4. Past: Five of Swords

This action is the foundation of where you stand now. If your life is in shambles, understand that compromising your integrity may have been the source of your undoing.

It hit me last night that a cause of so much trouble has been letting the expectations of others steer my life. The main reason why I chose music composition to major in was because my father thought that I showed promise and talent as a composer—and didn’t think much of my interest in writing. This summer, a good friend of mine suggested I try applying for a master’s in composition. I didn’t want to disappoint him, my friends who’ve expressed that I have talent in music—or my father. No one led me astray per se. They seemed to have a better idea of what I’m capable of and should do—but I failed to listen to my own voice.

5. Superego: Six of Pentacles, reversed

This can suggest that you are not aware of the potential sources of assistance available to you.

So much here. I need to follow up with a director friend of mine about a workshop of my one-act opera; contact friends who’ve expressed interest in singing and helping out with this project; contact a woman I met at an LGBT networking event about a job possibility. This goes back to the first and second card, of seizing opportunities I know are right there, but also recognizing the people who have generously offered their resources.

The image in the card is of two beggars (from the Five of Pentacles) kneeling before a wealthy man. I’ve often said that I don’t really know how to let people help me. To be brutally honest with myself (and you, dear reader), it comes from my pride getting in the way. I fear feeling indebted or powerless to others, even to those who have no ulterior motives. My bloody lizard brain, however, hisses that by accepting assistance, I’m proving myself a failure—that everyone sees me as a failure. So I shut down, secretly resenting the man offering help and hating myself.

This card is reminding me to confront these issues in my superego, the thoughts and attitudes buried at the seat of my subconscious. It’s the disapproving voice of my parents, and anyone who has judged me in my life.

6. Application: Death, reversed

You may be reluctant to let go of the past or you may not know how to make the change you need. Let go of any restrictive, oppressive, limiting attitudes and beliefs.

This card reminded me that life is short—so why am I letting these petty inner voices hold me back? What about my past am I holding on to? Is it really just the cold comfort of being a victim? Of my inner child still believing that God will solve all my problems?

7. Self-image: Four of Swords, reversed

This can suggest that you are feeling frustrated with the lack of progress and change. Part of this lack of change, however, is as a result of your passive approach.

This felt connected to my reflections on the Six of Pentacles. Rather than pick up my sword and go after what I want, I’ve relinquished my power for the time being and opted instead to lie down. I’ve let those negative, judgmental voices crowd out positive thinking. I want things to change, but need to truly accept that no one is going to change them for me. I have to get up from the slab, stop playing dead, and dedicate myself to going after what I desire.

8. Surrounding: Seven of Swords, reversed

This suggests that you may be finding it difficult to take the first step in a new direction.

Usually, this card is about betrayal, deception, or stealth. I had a different thought while meditating. Like the Ten of Wands, the man in the picture is trying to carry too much. He’s hauling five swords. Two are left in the ground, and his gaze is fixed on what’s behind rather than what’s ahead. The group in the background is often interpreted as the “thief” being found out. What I saw is a man going it alone, apart from the group, trying to do it all on his own.

9. Hopes/Fears: Ace of Pentacles, reversed

Your goals may need to be re-aligned to something more realistic. You need to plan and have more foresight and consideration into the aspects that align to your passions and career interests.

Aces are often about seeds of potential. As I contemplated this card, I focused on the garden in the background. The element associated with this card is Earth, and that theme is present throughout the pentacle suit. I pulled out the Nine of Pentacles, which portrays a young woman in a verdant garden with a bird lighted on her hand. I also pulled out the Page of Pentacles (in the court cards, pages are also associated with Earth), and the Ten.

I pondered what might be keeping me from going through the entrance into the garden. The answer seems obvious. In addition to silencing the negative inner voices, I need to apply myself like the man in the Eight of Pentacles, and not be discouraged by the lack of progress in Seven.

10. Summation: Temperance

You are seeking balance between your inner and outer selves, searching for a higher meaning and purpose in life. Throughout this transition, you may experience a clash between the old and the new you, or confusion about which direction you ought to take and what is really important to you.

If we’re talking about a destination for the journey I’m currently on, this would be it. I’m doing at thirty-one what most people do in high school and college—figure out who they are and what they want out of life. For most of my life, I’ve been the figure in the Eight of Swords: blindfolded, bound, and trapped by the thoughts and beliefs of others. Now, I’m finally realizing that the way out was clear all along; and, like Dorothy in Oz, the power to return home was always mine.

In listening to music this past week, trying to figure out what is “progressive” in Classical music right now, and even in trying to get my head into the mindset to compose something more “academic,” I started to remember what turned me off from music academia in the first place. Trying to be clever and “cutting edge” never felt like being creative. Far from it. Do I really want to return to that world, to posture myself amongst other composers who are trying to be ahead of everyone else and jockeying for tenure and pay raises?

I think of the composers I admire: Purcell, Bach, Mozart, Robert Schumann, Britten. They were innovative by fully dedicating themselves to pursuing their passion. The innovation took care of itself.

I also reflect on how I’ve enjoyed getting back to writing, and the positive feedback I’ve received so far.

Perhaps the way forward is to focus on becoming a writer who also composes, rather than the other way around. After all, that’s where I began.

Look at what you want,
Not at where you are,
Not at what you’ll be—
Look at all the things you’ve done for me.

Moving on.

Celtic cross


128. profluent

“History is the fiction we invent to persuade ourselves that events are knowable and that life has order and direction. That’s why events are always reinterpreted when values change. We need new versions of history to allow for our current prejudices.”
— Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

, adjective: Flowing smoothly or abundantly forth.

Today I am 29 years, 1 months, and 3 days old.

In comparison to the incomprehensible age of the universe, the age of our own solar system, or even the microscopically brief length of time that we have even been “human,” this is an insignificant fraction of an insignificant fraction. To me, that ineffable smallness is a beautiful thought—that I mean absolutely nothing in the near infinity of time and space, and yet am here all the same, with my own small thoughts, emotions and experiences, and the power to decide upon and create my own meaning.

“I suddenly felt very deeply that I was alive: Alive with my own particular thoughts, with my own particular story, in this itty-bitty splash of time. And in that splash of time, I get to think about things and do stuff and wonder about the world and love people, and drink my coffee if I want to. And then that’s it.”
— Julia Sweeney, Letting Go of God

This is something that never made sense before I came out as an atheist, and something that doesn’t make sense to my friends now who are theists. And I think that’s rather sad. I could be wrong, of course, about the notion that this is all there is; that there is no deity outside of the universe measuring the threads of our lives; that nothing awaits us after we die. There could be a god, but the probability of that being true is astronomically small, or at least insignificant as a fact.

A few days ago my friend Emily turned 30. In my experience, after 25 age doesn’t start to matter again until around 40, but reaching 30 is still a cultural milestone. While I was making coffee this morning, and taking the dishes out of the dishwasher and putting them away as I waited for the grounds to steep, I considered the idea that there is nothing we can do to stop time, the process of aging, or the inevitability of death. Someday, probably sooner than I’d like to think since time itself is a fiction that we create to make sense of our waking moments, I am going to die. Life is uncertain, but of that I can be certain as an organic being.

This past weekend we threw Emily one hell of a party as only twentysomethings with too much education and access to alcohol can. Since we aren’t teenagers it wasn’t a wild party by any definition. However, I did end up getting very drunk since the only thing I’d had to eat the entire day was a scone from Starbucks and two pieces of chocolate cake. The result was that I blacked out for part of the evening, although I do recall playing a Bach prelude from memory and then breaking down in tears because I’d just played a Bach prelude from memory and no one at that party fully appreciated that fact; the fact that I love Bach, the fact that I write music, write stories (or this blog), or all of the sundry incongruous elements that make up Me.

And there’s no one special person right now who appreciates that. That’s mainly what upset me this weekend. And I was up until about three in the morning talking in my bed with the only other gay guy at the party (who I wasn’t even sure would like me since 1) he’s a Christian and a pastor; 2) I’m an outspoken atheist and a loud one, and he knew that) about some of those things—including Seth, with whom we’ve both had unfortunate experiences.

In the little over a year since I came out as an atheist, the desire to deeply and intimately share the experience of being alive with another human being has grown a lot. In the past my youngest sister has expressed a total lack of sympathy or understanding when I’d talk about wanting to find a guy. (This is the sister who, incidentally, is currently substituting a dog for a meaningful relationship with a guy because she “can’t find anybody good enough,” which is not-so-subtle code for “fear of intimacy,” the congenital malady of my family.)

For me, the desire to be with someone comes out of the knowledge that this is the only go-round that we get on this planet, and I want to spend that time with someone who, out of all the other guys in this world, wants to spend it with me (and vice versa); who finds my quirkiness enchanting, and my insanity endearing (even if, at times, infuriating); and who desires as much as I do to deepen his understanding of humanity and of existence by exploring life with another person.

“I speak of none other than the computer that is to come after me,” intoned Deep Thought, his voice regaining its accustomed declamatory tones. “. . . A computer which can calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix. And you yourselves shall take on new forms and go down into the computer to navigate its ten-million-year program!”
— Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 28

When you believe that “there are other worlds than this . . . that this world, that seems so real, is no more than a shadow of the life to come” (William Nicholson, Shadowlands), it doesn’t matter whether or not if you find someone in the Here and Now. To my youngest sister, all that matters is knowing Jesus.

I want to focus on making this life the best one possible—which includes waking up with the guy I’m in love with (and vice versa).

101. yule

Do atheists hate Christmas?

With all of the talk about the “war on Christmas,” it would seem that the answer would be “Yes.” Atheists want to rain on everyone’s parade, and spoil the party with derisive and insistent assertions that “God doesn’t exist and neither did your baby Jesus!” We loudly point out that “Christmas” has pagan origins, and it was only later that the Church jumped on the Saturnalia bandwagon when they saw how they could use it to trick more gullible people into believing into the fictional god person and the even more fictional Jesus (who is just another recycled version of Apollo and Dionysus). We scowl and even growl at the happy people obliviously wishing each other a “Merry Christmas” and aggressively reply with “Happy Holidays.” We sue Christians for putting up crèches on public property, and try to force churches to take down their religious displays. We ban the singing of carols mentioning “God,” “Jesus” or any sacred motif.

Basically, we’re carefully and deliberately eviscerating any joy or fun out of the holiday season because, after all, atheists don’t believe in anything, and if we can’t have any fun, the rest of America doesn’t deserve to either.

At least, I think that’s something like what many of you will be hearing in church this weekend…

Today I saw this posted on Twitter and thought it ties pretty well into what I was going to write about today:

This is my first Christmas as a nontheist. This is the first year that I can remember where I haven’t gone to church on Christmas Eve, heard the songs and the traditional reading of the Christmas story, lit candles, sat with my family in a pew and sang “Cantique de Noël.” Of course, I see the origin of the symbols now:

  • We light candles against the night in order to remind ourselves that morning is coming.
  • We raise our voices together in song to remind ourselves that we are not alone.
  • In the story of the birth of Jesus is the story of the death and rebirth of the sun and the triumph of light over darkness.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these. In the midst of all the reasons we have to despair and lose hope, here are tiny beacons to raise our spirits.

Now, certainly there are atheists who want to rain on everyone’s parade, and who think (like the fundamentalists also most likely believe) that they’re really doing everyone a big favor by setting them straight and down the path to true enlightenment. After all, most people don’t really think about what they’re celebrating during Christmas. They’re just employing the symbols and the language of the season as part of the social traditions that are really just about gathering together with family and friends.

I guess what most irks me now about the Christmas season is the mindless dragging-out of all the trappings, the chintzy songs and the spirit of commercial merriment that any of us who venture out at any point between September and December 25 are forced to endure. It’s having to run the gauntlet of holiday parties, avoiding having what’s left of your soul hammered to death by the relentless stream of advertising campaigns, being saddled with the artificial guilt of having to get everyone in your life some sort of meaningful gift, and listening to the million-and-one iterations of “Merry Christmas!” from well-meaning stranger, friends and family.

No wonder there’s so much depression around this time of year. Every year we’re forced as a society into celebrating a holiday without much context to its symbols or its history, that is little more than a thin pretense for stores to quickly rake in billions of dollars in revenue (and have you noticed that they’re starting earlier every year?). And to make it palatable, it’s thickly coated with a sugary glaze of saccharine emotional appeals. I could delve into a diatribe at this point on everything I hate about commercialism and how it and not atheists are responsible for the evisceration of everything that’s truly special about this holiday.

But I’m trying to focus on the positives.

To be honest, I really don’t object much to Christians having their “special time of year.” If it’s going to get you through the rest of the winter—great, I’m glad you found something that works for you. But for the sake of all that’s decent, I wish they’d observe it at home and in their churches, show a little regard for the beliefs (or non-beliefs) of others, and leave those of us who don’t want to go along with the rest of callow America alone. Because unlike most Americans (it would seem), I take God pretty seriously: Seriously enough to not believe in Him.

And I take words, symbolism and their meanings pretty seriously too. I wish that people who didn’t really believe in God or that “Jesus is the reason for the season” felt that they had to pretend like they gave a damn about God, going to church because “that’s what we do on Christmas Eve;” or that corporations felt the need to bombard us with vaguely religious paraphernalia for three months out of the year because it makes people feel a little more mirthful, a little more generous, and a little more willing to part with their hard-earned money once a year.

Just as gay marriage will one day hopefully restore sanctity to marriage (if conservatives get over themselves), I think atheists could actually bring back some of the importance to Christmas by stripping away the artificial trimmings and trappings and getting back to what really matters this time of year: being with the people we love the most. We were doing that before the Church came along and told us we needed Jesus to do it properly.

So let’s welcome return of the triumphant sun, of longer days, the coming summer, and the likelihood that we’ll do all this again next year.