Of Shepherds and Sheep

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It is the dark of the year, the dormant time when nights are long and cold and the days are too short to accomplish much.  It is too cold in the garage to dye and I spend time wondering if I can afford to do the renovations required to make it an efficient dye studio.  I want space and equipment to turn my mental images into reality.  I follow other dyers on Facebook and goggle at the things they produce.  I want my own voice with color and pattern and chafe at my restrictions.  And I want validation.  I want others to like what I do and buy it.  I don’t want to have to pitch to the lowest common denominator in order to make a few dollars, but I need time and resources to practice and develop.  I feel guilty taking advantage of other’s differences in order to advance my own needs.  Compromising principles and ideals puts food on the table, however.  Finding the balance in that is always a problem.

Whine, whine, whine.  So easy to do when you are cold and lonely and recovering from yet another betrayal by the old body.  In my head I am still 30 yet my body is rapidly approaching 64.  Genetics, karma, and bad habits are catching up with me.  People say that age is just a number.  Will somebody please remind me of that  when my knees don’t want to bend the way I would like them to?

We incarnate here for the Great Work whether we are conscious of it or not.  In our own feeble, fumbling ways we are all searching for the Middle Path and the way back to the Source.  Robes and badges and ranks and tools and systems are just distractions.  Attachments to structures are useful, but are full of pitfalls.  We wonder why schisms develop and groups squabble among themselves.  Finding the balance between the tools we need to do our work and the Work itself is a struggle.

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It has been said that the Universe (whatever that is) recycles situations until we learn the lessons.  Life is a spiral.  Sacred geometry and all that. So now I am looking at a repeating situation in my life and wondering just what the Universal curriculum is in this particular turn of the screw. It ain’t my first rodeo and I am seeing a pattern here.  Methinks there is fuel for more therapy in this.

I own the qualities of being ornery, independent, and rebellious.  My motto should be “The Emperor Has No Clothes” and if I ever get to change my current one I will most likely switch to that. Imperator non habet vestimenta.

In my rambling adventures through this particular life I have found myself again and again in situations requiring a level of obedience and submission that I struggle with.  I recognize the need for structure, organization,  and self-discipline in my life and will not argue that fact.  But there comes a breaking point.  That point occurs when the outer trappings of the inner work become more important than the work itself.  When rank and badges and testing and degrees cease becoming symbols and become validation for egos or, worse yet, distractions and a way of hiding from the unpleasant truth that the Work engenders.  We have to hug our Shadows.  I am old friends with Kali-ma, Hecate, Isis, and any other name you would like to hang on that archetype.

Where is the balance here?  There needs to be some system to communicate responsibilities within an organization.  Signals as to who to go to when certain needs arise.  Yet, repeatedly when I have reached out to others of “higher rank”, the “shepherds” or “leaders” of whatever group I am currently involved in I have been met with dead ends. Broken and crying in instructor’s offices, on meditation cushions, in the middle of ritual, in the hospital; I have lost count of the places and times and situations.  Poor, pitiful me.  I toss their rule book out the window and whine when they don’t like it.  My personal alphabet doesn’t aline with theirs and I want so badly to belong, yet I can’t swallow all of the Kool-Aid required to get there.

So, what is the lesson here?  That my path is my own and that I am my own shepherd?  Yes.  Always.  There is no arguing with that truth.  And I should give up asking for validation from other people?  Probably, but that is a tough one for me.  I feel like a single cell in a larger organism.  I am unable to isolate myself from what surrounds me.  I just ain’t wired like that.

BUT. . . .(you know there is always at least one of these). . . I wonder if I don’t know the correct way to ask for help and comfort. How many times have I been told that I am too blunt and too direct? Or is it ego and the shadow self coming forth?  and on and on and on ad infinitum with the navel gazing.  Or is it, as a good little Buddhist, am I once again tripping over my own expectations and here is something I need to let go of yet again? and again and again? ( I am nothing if not stubborn.)  And do I need  to recognize that those I ask for help have clay feet and love them anyway?  (The answer to that one is “of course.”)  Dukkha is a wobbly wheel.

I do not believe in separating myself from the world, of building up so much detachment that I do not react to what is around me.  I refuse to be “above it all” and I have no desire for a teflon shield. I came here voluntarily and I wallow in the world I have helped create.  I have found that the more time I have spent on the cushion or my knees, in prayer or meditation or whatever you want to call the act of plugging in to that which is greater than us, the more connected to the “all” I am.  The fewer defenses I have, the more my boundaries erode.  The more urgency I feel to respond to brokeness. And I try in my own small ways.  Daily I realize how little power I actually have when it comes to grand gestures and the birds remind me that it is the little things that matter as I fill the feeders.

Aaaaaaannnnnnddddd. . . . here we go with the pop psychology. . . .allow me to throw around a few familiar terms here: “healthy boundaries”, “self-care”, “empath”, “codependence”, “inner child”, “PTSD”, “12-steps”, “unresolved anger.” Had enough?  I can give you plenty more.

We all need our “tribe” and modern society no longer seems to support that.  If you look around you at many social groups; religious, spiritual, or otherwise; the “heavy lifting” seems to be done by single older women, largely because the men don’t seem to be able to live long enough.  The crones.  The ones with the time and resources to care for the children, volunteer, do the administrative work, count the birds, rescue the strays, and organize the thrift stores.  They are the ones who take up the slack when the “shepherds” can’t. I could go on a rant about who cares for the elders in our society. Too often it is a one-sided relationship.  And I could be ranting based on  anxiety about my own rapidly approaching elder-hood.

As one who was born bossy and had responsibility foisted on me at a very young age, who does not know how to behave otherwise, and who has spent most of my life as a leader and instigator of one sort or another (often not voluntarily) as well as being a compulsive nurturer I have  fought many battles over the idea that those who lead others; call them “pastors”, “temple chiefs”, “sergeants”,”teachers”, “gurus”, or “managers”, as well as whatever other words you can dig up in the thesaurus, have a responsibility to care for their followers.  In my many years of battling corporations my biggest and most wearying task was making sure that my staff was cared for, that their needs were met. Because if my people were not whole they could not serve those who were not.  And I always thought that my staff should not have to ask or act out in order to get what they needed. They needed structure and rules and direction, but they also needed someone to realize when they needed support and propping up when the work became overwhelming.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was drilled into my head in school and daily I see how it can be applied.  I think if Jesus were to speak in contemporary jargon it would have been the basis for the Sermon on the Mount.

Spiritual types of the “mindfulness” persuasion talk about “presence.”  It is the quality of being there, in the moment, with whatever is going on, and not fighting it.  Sometimes it can be unsettling to be with someone who is present. They see through your smoke screens and love you anyway.   Often they love you in spite of/ because of your bullshit.

It is a quality I have often seen develop with age and experience as well as time spent in contemplation.  There are reasons that in some societies the elders gravitate toward the monastic life.  And I wonder if it is part of the reason that elders are no longer cared for in contemporary Western cultures.  Elders remind us that our physical containers wear out and “presence” reminds us to get our heads out of our own asses.  It is a daily practice to be present and we often fail at it more often than we succeed. The point is to keep trying.  Use whatever you need to use as a reminder.  One well known teacher uses the sound of a bell.  I often use a piece of jewelry.

It is when the mechanisms of mutual support break down that a group splinters.  Egos get in the way.   Much goes unspoken.  Hurts fester. Employees resign.  Customers get pissed off. Confusion reigns. People squabble and fight back.  A cohort gets pissed off over the interpretation of a verse in their version of the rules and trots off down the street to do their own thing and the cycle begins all over again.  It isn’t always a bad thing, growth often requires it, but it can also be an unecessary waste of time and energy as well as causing rifts between people who are already too isolated by their own egos.

Nothing lasts forever, but if we take on a task and set ourselves to accomplish it, the shepherds need to look after the sheep and quit worrying about all the shiny baubles, spiritual merit badges, certificates, and extraneous regalia.  We need each other, not the gadgets.

Going to therapy is all well and good, but it is no substitute for connection and community, for spending unstructured time together, hanging out and simply sharing who we are.  It takes time to be comfortable with each other and to be vulnerable. Strength comes from our vulnerability to each other and our mutual trust and interdependence.  We learn how our pieces fit together in order to build something greater.

As our society wobbles toward major changes, requiring uncomfortable and possibly dangerous conditions, all we are going to have is each other.  Would we not be better off to develop the skills and systems we need to build and support community now rather than picking up after the next major disaster? Or will the disasters and upheavals be the impetus we need to learn how to work with each other?  Funny how it often happens that way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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