Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Post and Courier - Shootout on Ladson Road wounds 1 man - Charleston SC -

The Post and Courier - Shootout on Ladson Road wounds 1 man - Charleston SC -

This isn't directly spiritually related. However, seeing as I drive this road every day to work, I find it definitely affects previously posted inner peace!

St. Joseph of Arimethea

Page 82 of Jordan Stratford's book, Living Gnosticism:An Ancient Way of Knowing, from which I derive my Gnostic liturgical/holiday calendar, lists today, July 31, as the day to honor Joseph of Arimethea. Joseph is the one thought to have donated his tomb to Jesus after his crucifixion. Western churches celebrate his day in March, while the Eastern traditions, like the Gnostic one I derive my calendar from, celebrate it today. Legends have also tied him to the Holy Grail, and it seems to be in this respect that the aforementioned book honors him.

But what is this Holy Grail? The DaVinci Code, similar to the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, theorizes that it symbolizes the unity of male and female, the Goddess, as well as the secret that Jesus had a child, and therefore a family tree still in existence. To me, it further symbolizes the secret knowledge of the God within. We all have our "holy grails", those things which are our dreams, our life purposes, the seemingly unattainable goals. For me, it is summed up perfectly in the words of Jordan Stratford's book:

May my house be at peace in this time of war. May I have a voice in this time of oppressive silence. May I have love in this time of immense loneliness. May I have justice in this time of cruelty, democracy in this age of despots.

Peace. Internal and external. That is what I long for, ultimately. To be happy with who I am as a person. To come to terms with the things I have been through in life, and be prepared for things I will inevitably go through as this life progresses. Being okay with myself even on days I feel lonely and feel I have no friends, no close family, no potential romantic interests. Peace that everything is going to be okay. I know I'm learning that peace, when I sit in my car on break at work, de-stressing from the usual strange happenings, and feel instantly calm when I see a raccoon near the dumpster, or two owls flittling through the trees, catching mice on the ground. Or when I am put into awkward positions by my most incompetent co-worker, who tries to make me look like the bad guy because I'm the one actually enforcing the daily rules and schedule, and actually tries to basically turn the kids against me - and then has the nerve to say I'm not running group therapy very well because she's not doing her job of helping establish control of the kids' behaviors so I can gather my thoughts for the day's topic. Things like this happen, and yet I'm not as angry as I normally would be, or at least the anger doesn't last nearly as long as it used to.

Interestingly enough, I happened to watch a movie on my Netflix Rental Queue called Ink. It's an indie movie, and I'd never heard of it, but as I was browsing the movies you could instantly watch on your Wii or computer, it caught my eye. I immediately had to order it on Amazon, because although I didn't get to watch it very closely for the last half of the movie, what I did get to watch immediately resonated with me. In it, an overstressed businessman is suffering from depression and loneliness and guilt. His estranged elementary-aged daughter, who lives with his in-laws, is put into a coma. In reality, both conditions are a fight amongst two sets of spiritual beings - Storytellers, who endow peoples' dreams with hope and positivity and love, and Incubi, who torment people with nightmares and hopelessness. In a dream,a kind of middle character, Ink, who kidnaps the little girl's soul in an attempt to purchase his way into the graces of the Incubi - this spiritual abduction is the source of her coma. The Storytellers, aided by a mysterious blind Pathfinder, are on a quest to save her and restore her to life.

One of the scenes that stuck out to me, perhaps partly because it was one of the few later scenes I was able to focus on(my housemate is dog-sitting, and the arrival of the dog was causing a bit of a stir), is when the father is in a car, unconscious after a car accident. An Incubi is then standing beside him. If I remember correctly, the Incubus is telling him not to wake up, that his life is worthless, things along those lines. A Storyteller appears and chases the Incubus away. She then comes to the unconscious man and touches his forehead. She begins showing him memories of his first date with his wife, and the happy years of their marriage. Throughout, she reminds him: "It's going to be okay, John. In the end, everything is going to be okay."

Today is a day to remember: in the end, it's all going to work out. Everything will be okay.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sacred Spaces

I've been thinking a fair bit today about places that we consider "sacred", or holy. But what does that mean? I'm sure it means different things depending on who you are and what theological perspective you're coming from - as I've learned from the Unitarians, even athiests can have things they consider "sacred". I am a participant in the UU's Prison Ministry program - I have a prison penpal I write to when I can. Part of that program is, if one penpal chooses to take part in a correspondence course/class of some kind through the CLF, both get the lessons so they can participate in it together. One I am about to begin(and hopefully finish), is about our own understanding of the sacred. I'm sure it will give me some things to write about here. Anyways, for me, the "sacred" is that which takes me out of my dull, normal day-to-day life, and makes me more aware of things greater than myself. I've decided to list and describe my sacred spaces in this entry.

First, is nature. Preferably near some body of water - I'm definitely an aquatic-oriented person, a Sea Druid of sorts - the Druid equivalent of a "Sea Witch", or a Witch who focuses his/her witchcraft on water and its associations/materials(sand, seashells, plant life associated with some form of water, etc.). The mountains are great too, and I get a deeply spiritual experience from visiting mountain ranges and other wooded areas(never been to a desert area, so don't know there), but my home is the sea.

The second place is church. Primarily churches that are aesthetically pleasing to me and/or have a good bit of history to them. Old Catholic/Episcopal churches, the local Unitarian Church, and my current church membership are some examples. If I choose to attend a church service, compatible theological leanings also play a role, of course. My home church, pictured here and in some other posts, is quite beautiful in my opinion, inside and out. As the oldest Congregational Church in the South, it also has a lot of history - surviving the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, a major earthquake in 1886, a major fire in 1861, and many hurricanes. And as a Congregational Church which is a member of two denominations - the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterians -  it is also one of the most liberal.

And finally, there is my home altar. I got accustomed to the idea of having a home altar during my days as a Pagan. Home altars are a great personal place inside the home(or outside in the backyard) to devote to spirituality. On it could be anything you like - seasonal decorations, flowers, candles, statuary, etc. I'm considering getting a small table for a seasonal altar, with changing decorations for the holidays, times of year, etc. But I'm not sure where I would put it, though, so for now I just have my one "permanent" altar, made of a small table that would otherwise have been used for eating in front of the TV.

Ignore the remotes, flashlights, and iPod Touch in the frame, they are just there for convenience because of the altar being right next to my bed due to space. Therefore, other things end up next to my bed on the floor as well, unfortunately. The books on the left consist of a meditation book and the Book of Common Prayer used in the Anglican tradition. In the center is my current primary devotional book, Celtic Daily Prayer; my NRSV BIble; The Gospel of Gabriel, a book I bought at a local New Age/comic-book shop; and The Other Bible. To the right, the binder is my current Grimoire, and a book I've previously reviewed, and which I am in the process of copying down some of the prayers therein for use - I've found that written prayers are a good way to combat a problem I had as a Southern Baptist - feeling I should pray, but not having anything to say or knowing how to say it. Behind the books, barely visible, is my athame, or ritual knife/dagger. When I actually use it, it is used mainly for directing energy, as a focus point. I got this one at the previously mentioned New-Age store. There was actually a local fisherman that sold crafts he created from leftover items he caught, and one such creation was a sword made from a swordfish that he caught - he used the parts that could be sold and eaten, and the parts that would otherwise be trashed, me made the sword and other things. He was at the local open market a few months ago, and I made a mental note to buy it later once I had more money, but I haven't seen him since, and I can't remember his name.

This is a better view of the center of my altar. The two sticks are my wands. Yes, I have wands. Two of them. How stereotypical of me. Anyways, the bent one is one I bought at last year's Pagan Unity Day, kind of the local equivalent of Pagan Pride Day. The straighter one, I found in a creek behind the apartments building I lived in when I lived just outside of Chicago. I felt drawn to it, and kept it. Upon describing it to Pagan friends on forums I frequented at the time, it was decided that it was most likely a willow  branch. Upon looking up the religious symbolism of the willow, I found it interesting that the willow represents intuition, emotion, psychic ability/divination, and again, water.  Wands in general have basically the same usage as athames, only are more commonly used in spellwork and are more "feminine" to athame's "masculine". Mine, like the other tools, are decoration more than they are actually used.

This is the current top of my altar. The unsightly candlelighter is there just because of nowhere else to put it at the moment where I won't forget where it is. Barely visible are a rosary(mainly for decoration, but when I do use it, there is a Gnostic version of the rosary I pray), and a pendulum, which is another divination tool. The tall chalice candleholder is currently empty. Soon I may put in there a "Joys and Concerns" candle, which is a Unitarian-Universalist tradition of lighting a candle to acknowledge daily joys and daily concerns. The red candle to the left is from a spell I performed a while back, and have just not removed it in case I choose to repeat it or perform something similar - I for one am okay with "recycling" candles and using them for more than one spell; some other Witches and Druids hold the belief that a candle should only be used for one particular spell and used up, or only re-used for that same spell. As with any such spiritual practice, what the practitioner believes is right for them is what is best followed. The rest of my candles are representative of my chosen patrons, and are, in no particular order:

- Pleroma = represented by the large pillar candle in the center. This symbolizes that Pleroma is at the heart and center of everything.

- the elements = one each for Earth,  Fire, Air, and Water. Spirit, the "fifth element" in some traditions, is synonymous to me with Pleroma, and therefore, there is no further representation.

- ancestors, both spiritual and physical = being adopted, I do not know anything about most of my physical ancestors, but I don't feel like that hinders their presence much. Spiritual ancestors are those who came before me in the Gnostic, Christian, and Druidic traditions and lay the groundwork for all.

- St. Patrick = the saint who represents Ireland(and by extension Celtic spirituality), luck, and driving away negativity. In my Pagan days, this patronage was filled by Fortuna, Greco-Roman goddess of fortune. However, I didn't quite connect with her like I feel like I have St. Patrick. The lore around St. Patrick is that he drove away the snakes from Ireland, the snakes representing the pagans. Consequently, he has a bit of a bad rep in the Pagan faiths. But to me, this is representative of driving away anything negative that hinders you or holds you back. As such, I have no problem relating to him.

- Gabriel = the archangel, representative of premonitions, clairvoyance, and truth, also associated with water in some traditions.

- Sophia = Aeon of Wisdom. Often considered a "goddess" of sorts, and the equivalent of the Holy Spirit. Depending on your school of thought(i.e. whether you are Gnostic in the classical sense, or the more "New Age" sense), she may be called by other Goddess names, most notably Isis and Quan Yin, similar to how Christ is often equated with Krishna, Mithras, Horus, etc.

- St. Brigid = matron saint of wisdom, creativity, the fires, smithing, and intellect. When I was Pagan, I was immediately drawn to her goddess equivalent. Since she was eventually canonized as a Christian saint, with virtually the same representations, it carried over. To me, Sophia seems to be more related to spiritual wisdom, the "bigger things in life", where as Brigid has a more "earthly" feel to me, representing the more day-to-day, right-from-wrong, mundane decisions that more directly affect the physical world around me.

And finally, an honorable mention, is Abraxas, the Aeon of balance and unity, which I will place a candle for once I make enough room.

So there we have it. My sacred spaces in a nutshell. We all need them, in some form or another.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Of Oceans and Eggs

I recently read an article, Scientists find surprises in deep Atlantic Ocean, that details a recent marine expedition within the mid-Atlantic Ridge, in which they discovered what may be ten new species of marine life, including some coral that could be up to a thousand years old.

It never ceases to amaze me. It is the complexity of life that exists that leads me to believe in the Divine. I've always been someone who sees patterns and connections. While I am a proponent of evolution, such great diversity, I have difficulty believing happened solely by chance.

At the same time, it adds to the sadness I feel towards what we are doing to this planet. We are destroying it without understanding it. Humanity's immature capability to pillage and not take responsibility for our actions has always been one of our biggest downfalls. Yet it seems people are finally slowly beginning to realize. The environmental movement, or "green movement" seems to be more popular now than it ever was. Most fads I greatly question - at least this is a semi-productive one. The question is whether it will last long enough to make a real difference. I have no concern for the planet Earth. I have no doubt that no matter what we do to the Earth, after we have driven ourselves into extinction, it will bounce back. She's survived asteroids, meteors, complete geological makeovers, volcanoes..... dear Gaia will be fine. But we as humans should want to continue to be part of that process. Species either evolve(perhaps eventually into new species), or go extinct. Which will it be for us?

And for a final deep philosophical question, which came first: the chicken or the egg? Well, it seems scientists have officially answered it - the chicken. Guess all of our philosophers will have to come up with something new to ponder about. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Superstition Really Works

I recently read an article on that, as a psychologist and as a practitioner of "alternative spiritual practices" that interested me. It basically proves that superstitions, such as lucky charms, really do work on a psychological level to improve performance. The owner believes that it helps, so it does.

Even though I am both a theist and a Druid, this is similar to how I view prayer and spellwork. It helps us because we believe it does. I do believe Pleroma(and any other entity someone may pray to) hears our prayers, but it is our belief in such systems that do the most help - after all, if you don't believe in God, you wouldn't bother praying to Him.

Likewise, the bulk of a spell is the Witch's or Druid's belief that it will work. If one book/website says to use one ingredient for the spell, but another one feels more right to me, as the one performing it, I will use what I feel more comfortable using, otherwise I would be distracted by using something that didn't make sense to me. I limit most of my spells to things that involve drawing something to me(like drawing good luck), driving away something(like obstacles or bad luck), or geared towards changing my mindset, because those are what I believe work most, as they are meant to change my viewpoint or perspective. While I may pray for rain, I don't do a spell to make it rain, because I don't believe that works. If it's meant to rain, it'll rain.

In all, some superstitions or 'magical thinking' isn't bad. How dull would life be if everything could be explained?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Feast of the Magdalene

According to Jordan Stratford's work, Living Gnosticism:An Ancient Way of Knowing, one of my favorite "Gnosticism 101" books and still my primary resource into the Gnostic liturgical calendar, July 22 is the Feast of the Magdalene. In his book, on page 81, he states:
The identification with Mary Magdalene is extremely popular among contemporary Gnostics. As the first of the apostles to witness of the Resurrection, she is seen as co-equal with Christ and the first to truly understand the post-incarnational aspect of the Logos. In this role of initiated initiator, she is celebrated as an aspect of Sophia Herself.
 Poor Mary Magdalene. She has gone through so much in her history, ever since she was equated with a prostitute, not by the Bible itself, but by Pope Gregory the Great, in the sixth century.

But then, when the Gnostic scriptures were discovered, It turned out that there was a Gospel, the Gospel of Mary, dedicated to her, which revere her as Christ's most beloved. Indeed, many now believe that the "beloved disciple" in John was originally a reference to her before being edited by patriarchical scribes later on. And of course, books such as The Da Vinci Code brought to public eye, the view that she was married to Jesus and that they had children, something that I personally have no trouble believing in the possibility of.

Now, in many Gnostic circles, as mentioned in the above quote from Stratford's book, Mary Magdalene is seen as a sort of Christian Goddess, an incarnation of the Sophia, along with Isis, Asherah, and others. The concept of the Goddess is something that has been in my mind lately, and will likely be the topic of an upcoming blog.

So, in celebration of today's liturgical holiday, I close with the Gospel readings from today's meditation in The Gnosis Archive. From the Gospel of Luke:

And behold a woman in the city, which was a harlot, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisees house brought an alabaster box of ointment. And she stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself: This man if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a harlot. And Jesus turned to the woman, and said unto Simon the Pharisee: Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee: Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.

And from the Gospel of Phillip:
The Sophia whom they call barren is the mother of the angels. And the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalen. The Lord loved Mary more than all the disciples and kissed her on her mouth often. The others said to him: ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’ The Saviour answered and said to them: ‘Why do I not love you like her?’ There were three who walked with the Lord at all times, Mary his mother, and her sister and Magdalene, whom they called his consort. For Mary was his sister and his mother and his consort.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reading the Label

Whenever I first began this spiritual path, I was horribly caught up in labels: Am I a Christian? Am I a Pagan? Am I an eclectic? WHAT AM I?! My OCD tendency to need to categorize something, as well as a desire to just figure out where I fit in, where I belong. I quickly realized that there were so many labels that could fit me that I would go crazy with it all:

- I could still be considered Unitarian Universalist, because although I attend a Christian church, I do still sporadically maintain my involvement in UU online.

- I am Gnostic, because I seek spiritual knowledge of the Divine, and include the Gnostic scriptures as part of my chosen sacred texts.

- I am Christian, because the spiritual teacher I follow is Jesus, and the sacred texts I use the most(Christian and Gnostic) tend to center around him.

- I am Druid because I attempt to honor the cycles of nature, seek further wisdom of Celtic spirituality, and wish to grow in my nature spirituality.

- I am panentheist because I believe there is a divine spark that resides within everything, and that said divine spark also exists beyond everything as well. Note that this is different from pantheism, the primary difference being that pantheism does not contain that component of divinity existing beyond the material universe.

- I could be considered an animist, because I believe that everything has a 'spirit' or 'soul' - plants, animals, everything.

Finally, I realized these labels don't quite matter so much. They're just a way of describing myself to other people. My expression of animism probably overlaps, and is a form of, panentheism - if I believe there's a divine spark in everything, by extension that means, to me, that everything has a soul. The soul is the divine spark. If I'm talking to a mainstream Christian, I just call myself Christian. If I'm talking to someone more familiar with alternative spiritualities, I may describe myself as one of the other labels. In all, what's important is how I live it out.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What Dreams May Come

I was going to post this yesterday, but I've been pretty much exhausted. The last few days at work have been hell. Kid 1 tried to fight Kid 2, and Kid 3 fought Kid 1 for trying to fight Kid 2. Meanwhile I was alone with 7 kids. A little later, Kid 3 spit on a staff, which got some other kids mad, one of whom then proceeded to beat the shit out of him. Another kid locked himself in his room and had to have the door busted open with a hammer. Yesterday was mostly better, but my 11yr old shadow did spend an hour in the "time-out area" because I wouldn't let him follow me to the group I was assigned to, rather than staying in the group he's part of(unless there are special circumstances, we can't really allow them to leave the group they're supposed to be in). So, I was very sore yesterday from all the restraints, etc. from the last couple of days. Add to that the fact that I'm apparently in one of my insomnia phases, and I really needed this day off.

When I have slept, I've been having kind of weird dreams lately. I know they're weird, because I usually only remember the weird ones. The first weird one involved myself as a little kid, along with a bunch of other little kids, in a cliff-filled cave, fighting alongside pterodactyls fighting bad guys with balloons(the bad guys never made an appearance in the dream, I just somehow knew we were fighting bad guys).

As I enjoy dream interpretations, etc., I decided to look up some of the symbolisms of some of it, using an online dream dictionary. I find it very interesting and it's given me some things to contemplate. Here's some of what came up:

Cave: To see or dream that you are in a cave, symbolizes the womb and thus signify refuge, protection and concealment.To dream that you are walking in a dark cave, represents an exploration of your unconscious mind. It signals self discovery.

Child:  To dream that you are a small child again, suggests that you are feeling the burdens of adulthood. You are trying to escape from your daily responsibility and are looking for someone else to shield, protect and care for you. 

Children:  To see children in your dream, signify an aspect of yourself and your childlike qualities. You may be retreating back to a childlike state and longing for the past. You are trying to still satisfy repressed desires and unfulfilled hopes. Perhaps there is something that you need to see grow and nurture. Take some time off and cater to the inner child within. Alternatively, the dream may be highlighting your innocence, purity, simplicity, and carefree attitude. If you are fighting with children, then it implies that you are repressing your inner child. The children could represent someone in your waking life (coworker, mate, sibling, etc.) who is acting like a child. If you see children fighting in your dream, then it means that your sense of morality and character are in conflict.  

Dinosaur: To see a dinosaur in your dream, symbolizes an outdated attitude. You may need to discard your old ways of thinking and habits.

Balloon: To see balloons in your dream, indicate declining hopes and disappointments in your search for love. A situation in your life will take a turn downward. Balloons also represent arrogance and an inflated opinion of yourself. To dream that you or someone is blowing up a balloon, represents your aspirations, goals and ambitions. You are experiencing renewed hope. To see black balloons in your dream, symbolizes depression, especially if the balloons are descending. To see an ascending balloon in your dream, signifies frustrating conditions in your life in which you are seeking to rise above. You are expressing a desire to escape. On a positive note, balloons symbolize celebration and festivities. You need to acknowledge your inner child. To see a balloon pop in your dream,  symbolizes an unrealized goal or dream. It may also represent the stresses in your life. The pressure may be starting to be too great for you to bear.

Enemy: To see your enemy in your dream, represents opposing ideas and contradictory attitudes. You are in denial about something or you are rejecting someone. Enemies may also represent the enemies within yourself and the inner conflict you have with yourself.  Consider the phrase "I am my own worst enemy." Perhaps you are trying to rid yourself of certain aspects of your character. To dream that you are dealing with an enemy, represents a resolution to some inner conflict or waking life problem.

I speculate on whether or not this has to do with where I am in life, versus where I thought I would be. I thought at this point I would be done with school, or almost finished at least, instead of still having two more years to go. I thought I would be married with a family, or at least have someone. I think I was made more aware of this particular issue when the abortion occurred, and in fact July marks the 4-year anniversary of the abortion. I'm absolutely nowhere in life that I thought I would be at this point, and in some areas it feels like I'm no closer to accomplishing those goals and dreams than when I first started thinking about them 10 years ago. 
The second one I didn't really bother looking up because it was so situational-specific. In it, I was visiting the low management, co-ed group home that I worked at as a second job from Nov. 2008 until June 4 of this year(I quit because the office politics were at least as bad as the full-time job, for much less pay, and my grades were suffering). In the dream, before I left, the youngest, a 14 year old boy, who was the most attached to me while I was working there,  hugged me, crying, begging me not to leave. I hugged him back and then tearfully said goodbye, and woke up.

This one actually has me more intrigued than the first one I posted, because I actually did get to say my goodbyes before I left. That particular kid spent most of the day with me. I remember because he got kind of defiant near the end of my shift. There was some kind of on-campus skit that he was supposed to be involved in the following week that had a rehearsal. The only way he went to the practice was when I promised him I wouldn't leave before he was finished. I ended up staying at the practice with him and some of the others. He and a couple of others still talk to me online occasionally via facebook, and he has texted me a couple of times on a cellphone he's probably not supposed to have(SC DSS regulations won't allow group home kids to have a cellphone, although somehow the kids that were allowed to have after-school jobs did have one; that was a big problem while I was working there, the kids were always managing to buy those pay-as-you-go phones). But as far as seeing or talking regularly, we said our goodbyes.  

Dreams really are an interesting phenomena. They seem to unlock spiritual and psychological doors that we just can't come to when we're awake. I really should keep a better dream journal.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To University, and Beyond!

I remember having little difficulty deciding on which college to go to. I had narrowed my options to three schools - two private, Christian universities, and a state university. The state university was an option because I was already familiar with it, due to visiting a cousin who was a student there at the time. The other two, I had just heard of in passing from other friends of the family. I took the SATs, applied to the schools, and told myself that whichever one I got accepted into, would be the one God meant for me to attend. Imagine my frustration and inability to see the humor, when I got accepted into all three! I remember thinking "Really, God? You know how indecisive I am!" So, I set out visiting each of the schools.

The public university, while I was familiar with it, kind of scared me. It seemed big, confusing, hard to navigate, and most importantly, just too many people for this strong introvert. So that one was tossed out. On to the first of the private schools. It honestly creeped me out like nothing I had felt up to that point. The minute the car entered campus grounds, I felt this strong sense of foreboding. Something was telling me NO WAY, and was telling me very loudly. Later on in the year, I saw on the news that a fire had burned one of the dormitories, injuring and killing at least a couple of people.

The third school was quite a different experience. Just like I KNEW not to go to the first private school, the minute I set foot on the second one, I KNEW that that's where I would be going. It had a lot of rough times, for sure, but I still don't regret going to that particular school for undergrad.

I associated with several groups of friends throughout my five years of undergrad. The initial group of friends was definitely the largest. There were about 8 of us overall. It started two unrelated sets of friends - the Jennifers, who I met at an on-campus concert during our orientation weekend; and two friends that I met in workstudy in the library about a week later, whom, because of my shyness, I actually tried to avoid and they practically dragged me to the school cafeteria to eat with them. Both sets had a nursing student in them, who met each other, then the five of us kind of merged, later to be joined by a couple of other of their nursing student friends. By the end of sophomore year, almost all of these original friends that I had met in the early days of freshman year had transferred to other schools or graduated. After that I became friends with two girls, one who was a barely-in-remission bulimic/cutter, and one who was so strongly ADHD that when I did talk, I could barely actually finish the sentence. That was rocky, as the two of them were always fighting and pulling me in the middle of it, and the bulimic friend had a very possessive boyfriend(now husband) who would find ways to make sure she didn't hang out with me when he didn't want her to. We eventually drifted apart for the most part, although I have reconnected with one via facebook. I also semi-regularly hung out with friends I went to church with, including one guy who apparently took me on as his new mentor/big brother and always came to me for advice with his girl problems and his drug(marijuana specifically) problems, until he was expelled for being involved in some kind of robbery. Somehow, I can't remember exactly whether it was through Bulimic Friend or the girl I dated my first senior year, my group of friends shifted to a few American Sign Language students and some of their dorm-mates. Through one of them, I met another eventual good friend, who was her boyfriend at the time. Though she and I are no longer friends, he and I are.

I dated three girls during college, throughout the span of both of my senior years. The first only lasted about two weeks. I was pretty much a rebound boyfriend, and I knew it but didn't care. I was lonely. I hadn't "dated" anyone since sophomore year of high school by that point, and the only friends I saw regularly were kind of rocky in our friendships due to possessive-boyfriend drama and the drama of "our personalities really don't fit, but we don't have anyone else to hang out with". A few months later began my first actual serious relationship, with an ASL major who, incidentally enough, had been my date to spring formal two years prior. We dated for about six months. It was mildly rocky, but in all I actually did not have much bad to say about this relationship, and still don't, except for the awkward way the break-up itself was handled, which is understandable at this point, since I was her first serious relationship as well. We were just in two different places at that point. Contributed in part to the things I had learned as a Religious Studies minor, I had begun my process of becoming bitter towards Christianity and becoming increasingly questioning, whereas she had begun to more fully embrace it.

The third relationship, and the most recent, was by far the most dramatic. We met online. I was well into my bitterness and anger phase regarding religion, and she was a borderline-Goth Russian Jew living in Chicago. The complete opposite of anything that my parents would want me to date. And that, in retrospect, was part of her allure. By dating her, I would be asserting my independence over what my parents wanted and expected me to do. We began dating, taking turns every other month flying out to visit each other. I graduated that May. She didn't come because, as she said, she couldn't sit through something so long and boring as graduating, not even for her younger brother.

She was the one who gave me the initial push I needed to actually start figuring out for myself what I believed. For reasons already discussed in previous entries, I began my search on the metaphysical/"New Age" paths. Knowing what I knew about my family history, I decided to give my hand at Tarot. Now, due to time, I still haven't had much of a chance to become "adept" at it. But I still always seem to get a clear reading when it involves something potentially traumatic. In one of my early readings during this time, I pulled out both the Death and the Tower cards. Concerned, I consulted with some of the friends I had made on some of the Pagan forums I frequented, who assured me that those cards don't actually mean literal death, but primarily major life change, a transition from one phase to another. The Tower, more specifically, typically refers to major unexpected change. Throughout the conversations, I concluded that the reading was likely referring to my graduation, a month away. I didn't give it much thought. Then, a month after graduation, she told me, via AOL Instant Messenger, on my parents' computer, with my parents in the room with me,  that she was pregnant and having an abortion. This is still one of the most dramatic experiences of my life since finding out I was adopted. I felt helpless. I felt like a failure. I'm pro-choice, but what's a pro-choice man to do when he wants to keep the baby, and the mother chooses not to? It's a difficult dilemma to be in, the proverbial rock-and-a-hard place. And my parents still don't know about it. I found out with them in the same room as myself, and they were, and still are, completely clueless.

In March of 2007(St. Patrick's day, oh the irony), against my better judgment, I moved up to Chicago to be closer to her. By this point we had begun having more relationship difficulties, and in fact got into a fight the very night I moved up there. Although I had been smart enough to save up around $8,000 for the move between graduation and the actual move, I moved without a job or without even any serious prospects. We got along okay for awhile, but then started fighting more, and she pretty much seemed uninterested. Then, on Memorial Day that year, we broke up. I remained in Chicago for a few more months while I decided on my next move. I realized that I'm intrinsically drawn to the sea, so why not move to a coastal area? I began looking into coastal cities that had the Masters program I wanted to go into, and wound up here in SC. There were a lot of steps - the obvious GREs, applying to school, finding work, and moving down here. I lived in an extended stay hotel for a week, before moving in with a couple of roommates who turned out to be potheads. After them, I lived with a young gay couple who had a spare room for rent for just short of a year and a half, before moving where I am now, where I've lived just over a year.

Memorial Day 2007 was the second bad Memorial Day for me. The first was Memorial Day 2003. I remember that year, about a month prior, while coming home from university for the summer at the end of my sophomore year, having yet another sense of knowing something was going to happen. By this point I had become well-aware of recognizing what that feeling stood for, because throughout that school year, I had felt that same sense of foreboding prior to: an ice storm leading up to a death of a schoolmate, a freak accident resulting in the death of one of the music department's pianists, and a school shooting at a nearby middle school, all within a one month time frame. So I kind of spent the next month a little on edge, wondering what would happen. Then, that Memorial Day, my aunt's husband was killed in a freak accident while doing yardwork with his tractor, which toppled over and crushed him to death, being found later by my aunt. He was the first in a series of freak accidents that happened in our town that summer. I remember my family speculating that God was punishing our town because the new Civic Center had a mural of the triple-goddess Hecate, the primary goddess associated with witchcraft.

One of the clearest senses of deja vu I can remember, happened my freshman year.  I was surfing the web when I saw an ad on Yahoo advertising a new movie in theaters, The Mothman Prophecies. I had never heard of it, and thinking it was some new superhero thing(I was thinking more, Batman), I clicked on the website, and suddenly had the strongest senses of familiarity. Before even looking to see what the movie was about, I knew there would be something about a bridge collapsing in West Virginia, resulting in a large number of deaths. Sure enough, after some digging, there it was.

Another interesting incident occurred while I was dating the ASL major. We went to visit the previously mentioned Biltmore House, which my grandmother still refuses to go back to. This was my first time going, although for me it's more out of lack of time and money to return. I remember as soon as we entered the main building, the entire time we were in there I felt.... heavy. Like something was trying to glue my feet to the floor. I remember wondering why it suddenly took so much energy just to walk. I remember in one of the rooms I smelled really strong perfume, which apparently only I seemed to be aware of. And then, as soon as we exited the building, it was all gone. No scent, save the natural outdoor odors, and no heaviness in my feet. I remember thinking that was weird, because unlike typical descriptions of such experiences, I didn't(and still don't) recall hearing much concerning traumatic experiences happening in the mansion which would supposedly lead to things like poltergeists, spirits, ghosts, etc.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I worked at a summer church camp in Virginia. Though I tended to somehow end up being associated with all the more "troubled" campers, whether they just latched onto me or ended up with my assigned group, I loved it, and it is what led to my chosen career path and changing my major from Music and Religious Studies to Psychology. And to think I actually hated kids at the time. I just wanted a way to not spend the entire summer with my parents.

So there we have it. Over the course of many hours, many years, and three blog posts, we have most of the major events in my family history and my life that have made me who I am today. Do I believe I have psychic abilities? I admit I still struggle on that. While I do believe in some aspects of the "supernatural" or "paranormal", college and psychology also honed my scientific mindset, so there is still a lot I am skeptical of, admittedly. But I do believe that, to the extent that psychic abilities and paranormal phenomena are possible, I am at least somewhat clairvoyant and precognitive. Although I won't admit that to very many people. I get enough crazy looks already!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I was born in 1982 to an umarried mother and a married father. Apparently, my father had told my mother that he was separated from his wife, but she found out(after getting pregnant) that such wasn't the case. He was actually with his wife when she called and told him she was pregnant. Purportedly, that's when his wife actually did leave him. My mom moved in with my father, and they were together until I was about six months old, during which time he supposedly tried to make me drink beer instead of milk, bought alcohol instead of my diapers, the standard alcoholic deadbeat dad behaviors. When my mom left him, we moved around a few times, first in with my aunt Brenda(we have a picture of my 1st birthday, where I'm eating cake batter because the electricity was turned off and they couldn't make an actual cake), then with my grandmother(Emma, from the previous posting), and my stepgrandfather, Emma's third and current husband Jim. It was during that time that my mom's younger half-brother(a different one from the Biltmore House story.... my mom has two younger half-brothers, each from different fathers) met the man who would become my stepfather, Larry. He actually introduced Larry to the family in an attempt to play matchmaker and hook him up with aunt Brenda, and tried to discourage him from dating my mom because she was a single mom. But, he became interested in her instead, and they married when I was around 2 years old. Sometime during the next few years, after lawyers and social workers, and the expenses for them, my mom and Larry convinced my father to give up his parental rights, and I was adopted, giving me my stepfather's last name. They then hid this from me for the next few years, until I was 12. Needless to say, I could write a whole host of entries on the problems that caused me in my teen and early college years, so I'm sure that will be referenced again at some point.

I was not exactly a healthy child. I had seizures which lasted until I was around 3 or 4 years old. I attribute their disappearance to febrile epilepsy, which a child eventually usually outgrows.  My mother attributes it to her vows that if God took them away, she would start taking me to church. Which she did. Three times a week -twice on Sunday, and Wednesday - and Vacation Bible School. By the time I was 12, I had had seven ear operations, the last of which kept me from going deaf in my left ear. The other six were having tubes put in. I was small and underweight(still am, actually), and was born a month early, maybe a little more so.

My younger half-sister was born in 1988. The pregnancy seemed fine, however, upon her birth it was noticed that she had spina bifida, which basically means she was born with a hole in her spine. She had various leg surgeries growing up to assist with leg lengths and muscle growth, and had shunts put in to control her fluid buildup in the brain. At first she was able to walk with crutches, leg braces, and walkers, however when she was in 8th grade(my senior year of high school) she was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, a condition which is common in Spina Bifida patients, in which brain fluids are leaked into the spine, causing mood swings, headaches, fatigue, and loss of motor skills. She had brain surgery, and has been solely confined to a wheelchair ever since, aside from her physical therapy.

I should note that my sister is fully mentally sound. In 4th grade she could read on an 8th grade level. The surgery did nothing to damage her intelligence. Her motor skills are just a lot slower now, and that's only because it took them two years to diagnose the Chiari Malformation, and therefore the damage had been done. She seems to have inherited a small bit of the family legacy, as evidenced by the interesting occasion as a child, where she named one of her dolls "Litha". According to the family, she had never heard the name before, and as it turns out, Litha is a long-deceased relative of my mom's family that she had never actually mentioned to either of us prior to this point. 

My first vague memory is when we got our first dog. I remember getting him, that's about it. He was a stray, that showed up at our house. My mom's version is that I decided I wanted a dog, and so I prayed to God to send me a dog. The next day, the stray dog showed up, and when nobody answered our "Found: Missing Dog" ads in the classifieds, we kept him.

The next really clear memory I have is going to Waffle House with my (step)grandfather, my step/adoptive father's dad. I would drink a chocolate milk and he would have a coffee, while waiting for my uncle(dad's brother) to get off of work. My stepgrandfather passed away of lung cancer when I was around five, I believe while my mom was pregnant with my sister. He initially went into the hospital for some problems with his foot. I spent the night at my aunt's(dad's sister) house while my parents were at the hospital with he and my (step)grandmother, Julia. One night, I woke up from a nightmare, and demanded to go see him in the hospital right then. It took them forever to assure me that we would go the next morning and get me to go back to sleep. By the time we got there the next morning, he had already passed. Like it was yesterday, I remember the red carpets of the hospital chapel, or maybe it was the funeral parlor. I remember at the funeral parlor, being lifted up by my aunt's husband and placing a red flower(I don't recall if it was a rose or tulip) in my grandpa's hands.

Elementary school and middle school were lonely times for me. I was shy, off in my own little world most of the time. I made friends, but they were few. Because I was shy and girls tend to be more "let's start a conversation" than guys, most of  the friends I did have tended to be girls(which is still the case today). This isn't as much of an issue as you get older, of course, but in elementary school, with black-and-white "the opposite sex has cooties" mindset at that age, and sucking at sports, I got picked on a lot. I remember being called a "fag" on the bus when I was around kindergarten or first grade, and having to ask my mom what that meant. I remember in middle school a kid on the bus showing me a picture of a naked baby, and asking if I liked it. I had popularity for approximately two weeks when I won the county spelling bee in 7th grade, becoming the first person in my school's history to make it to the regionals. Aside from that, I was virtually invisible. My emotional issues were exacerbated when I was told the truth about my beginnings. I further learned not to trust people when I told my then best friend what I had just found out about my past. A week later, I am approached by a girl from my class who turned out to be my biological father's niece, my cousin. I was still processing the fact that I was adopted, and suddenly I have this girl coming to me telling me how much my father loves and misses me. I became angry and depressed and argumentative. The only reason I didn't get involved with drugs or alcohol at that age was because I was fortunate enough to never have had friends that pressured me to.  I buried myself in my schoolwork, becoming the model student, sitting in the back of the class trying not to be noticed. My parents responded to my anger by arguing with me, accusing me of being a bad son, accusing me of being just like my birthfather(meant to be the biggest insult possible), forced "family Bible devotionals" focusing on verses that could be used to enforce "I'm a good parent, you're a bad son, so God is punishing you", and even hints that I shouldn't have been born a time or two. It wasn't until I moved away to college that I even remotely began healing from these experiences.

My freshman year of high school, my grandma Julia died of emphysema. I remember clearly because she went into the hospital with fluid in her lungs. Like her late husband, it seemed to be a routine, relatively minor issue that doctors just wanted to keep a close eye on. But somehow I knew, I just knew, that such wasn't the case. Sure enough, within a couple of weeks, she got worse, and died in her sleep. Fortunately, this time I was old enough, and my parents had dealt with the guilt of "not letting me say goodbye to my grandpa" long enough, that I was able to say goodbye this time.

Four big experiences shaped my senior year of high school. There's the obvious high school prom. I went with a group of friends. We had to leave early because one of them, a diabetic, had a blood sugar attack, and we had to rush him home to get his medications so he wouldn't go into a diabetic coma(as it turned out, one of the security guards at the prom site was also diabetic and knew to give him enough sugar to make it home and not have to call an ambulance). Then, there's the obvious graduation, which passed without much fanfare for me. The third, was my friend Bethany's illness. I remember because it's one of the birthdays I remember most clearly. On my birthday, she was sitting in front of me in my Honors English class, and she took my hand and wrote on it "Happy birthday! I love you!". I remember feeling so wonderful because she was the only friend who had remembered my birthday, even out of my best friends who I hung out with much more than her. A week later, she came down with what doctors would later guess was viral encephalitis, which caused brain damage and wiped out her memory, and she didn't even know her own parents anymore. This resulted in some friends and I going to visit her over Christmas break, and having to introduce ourselves to someone we had known since 6th grade. And the fourth experience was my sister's brain surgery. I remember thinking it was weird how everybody else seemed to be freaking out and mortified over the brain surgery, but I was just sitting there with this attitude of "so what?". Just like I knew my grandma was not going to make it out of that last hospital visit, I knew my sister would. 

That pretty much sums up my life up to college. I was going to put everything from birth up until now in one entry, but I didn't realize so many experiences would come to mind to write about. Due to length and the time, I'll sum up college and beyond in my next entry, and tie it all back together with the more "supernatural" elements of my family history and the spiritual purposes of this blog. Which actually makes perfect sense now that I think about it, because the college years where when I really started thinking about these experiences of knowing things, and trying to interpret them instead of following the family tradition of "Whoa! That's weird! Let's not do that again or think about what it is."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Family History is So Weird

A while ago, out of a sense of nostalgia and boredom, I watched one of my favorite movies from the 80s: Poltergeist, the freakiest, most unusual haunted house movie I've ever seen, about a psychic/clairvoyant little girl who gets sucked into the spirit world by evil spirits via a portal in her closet. Coincidentally, about 30 minutes later, I watched a rerun of Family Guy, and the episode happened to primarily be a parody of Poltergeist. So I'm in a bit of a "weird" mood at the moment. It has me thinking about the stranger aspects of my life, and my family history.

On the MBTI, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality profile test, I am an INFJ. This means that I'm introverted and highly intuitive. We are also the most mystically-oriented personality type. It also means that I'm, in a nutshell, kind of weird and unorthodox in my thinking. If I remember right, it is estimated that only about 1% of the population, if even that, is INFJ. I do know that it is the most rare personality type. A Social Workers conference I went to back in February had a class on the personality types. The lecturer described INFJs as "woo-woo, really out there". The lecturer presented video clips of interviews of people with the various personality types. The INFJs talked a lot about being "in their head" alot, and feeling others' emotions. One commented on how he couldn't ride the subway, because he could feel the oppressions of the ancestors of those riding the subway with him and it overwhelmed him.

I'm sure my personality type has contributed to my interests and eventual metaphysical path. But that's not all. In hindsight, a lot of "strange" experiences in my life have led me in this direction.

My family has a long history, dating back to a 1770s Scottish sea captain who migrated here with his family(and some slaves, I think) to Wilkes County, North Carolina. Most of what I know is my mother's side of the family, thanks to that side having the most currently living relatives and a genealogy buff for a great-uncle. It is also because I am adopted in a stepparent adoption, and know next to nothing about my adoptive father's family, since he doesn't talk about it much, nor my biological father's family, since I have never met him. The family history is full of lies, conspiracy theories, murders, suicide, and superstition. For now, "superstition" is the focal point.

One of the most well-known aspects of my family history involves my grandmother, grandfather, and great-great-grandmother. Family lore has it that when she was 14, my grandmother, Emma, and some of her friends went to visit the town fortune teller. While the fortune teller told the fortunes of all of her friends, she refused to give my grandmother's fortune. A few years later, Emma met and fell in love with my grandfather, Lester. Lester happened to be the grandson of said fortune teller, known in our family as Grandma Knight. When she was 18, Emma and Lester gave birth to Brenda, my mom's sister. The pregnancy was out of wedlock, so they eloped(I think) to somewhere in South Carolina, where they married before returning to Union County, North Carolina. Throughout their short marriage, when they would visit Grandma Knight, she still refused to tell my grandmother's fortune. She would simply hold my aunt Brenda and silently cry.

Fast forward a couple of years, to June 1962. Brenda is around 2 years old, and my grandmother is 3 months away from giving birth to my mother, Jo. Lester, by then 22, is at a poker game. He's driving home in a rainstorm at 2:00am, when he hydroplanes off of a bridge. He is unable to get out of the car, and he drowns.  As I learned a couple of years ago, there's even a conspiracy theory behind this - apparently one of Lester's brothers, along with an unknown woman, are in the car with him, and survive. There are questions as to how they survived and he didn't, who the woman was,and why they were driving so fast in a rainstorm at that time of night. According to grandma Emma, my aunt woke up crying at precisely 2:00am. Later the next day they heard of Lester's death on the radio.

After Lester's death, purportedly Grandma Knight finally told my grandmother's fortune. She said that she foresaw the pain from Lester's death, and therefore refused to do readings for my grandmother. It was later said that she intended to "pass on" her psychic traits to my grandmother after she herself died. Apparently other people heard this as well, as after Grandma Knight's death, my grandmother began getting phone calls from guys asking if their wives were cheating on them, etc. Apparently it seems to be true, and even my conservative family believes so to an extent. For instance, when my uncle(my mom's younger half-brother) was in school, my grandma accompanied him on a school field trip to a local tourist attraction, the Biltmore House. My grandmother, although she had never been there, knew everything about the place and knew every exhibit the tour guide was about to point out. It freaked her out so much that she refuses to go back, even to this day.

They say sometimes that characteristics sometimes "skip a generation". As such, my mom has claimed significantly less supernatural or "psychic" experiences than my grandmother has. And then, I was born......

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Balancing Act: Order out of Chaos

I went to church today. For the second Sunday in a row. It's progress, at least. We have a new interim minister, he seems like he'll be interesting.

After church, I went to Waterfront Park, where I read another chapter in the current book I'm reading, wrote in my journal, and generally was deep in thought.  My thoughts further went to the topic of these last two entries: balance.

What is balance, anyways? It would seem that one must know the answer to that question before achieving it. Is it meditating? Is it being "one with nature"? Is it simply being happy with your life as is?

Perhaps balance is about something more. Should it be about having friendships and hobbies outside of your workplace/family life? 98% of my friends live generally too far away for me to meet up with on a regular basis, and our schedules conflict too much to meet. Most I haven't seen in at least a couple of years. The other 2% are work friends, and just about the only thing we have in common are when we are venting about work over a beer/soda after our shift. And hobbies? I suck at art. I love to travel to new, faraway places, but don't have time and can't afford it. I want to try things like kayaking and canoeing, but I hesitate to try such activities alone for safety reasons, and meeting up with friends is presented with the aforementioned issue.

 Then I think, maybe balance is a little bit of all of that, based on the circumstances you're in. Maybe I should try kayaking by myself(after of course seeking instruction from a class, or maybe at least having a guide with me). Maybe I should attempt to attend church more regularly than I do, in order to further develop the acquaintances I've made through others of similar religious leanings. Maybe I should go to the next Buddhist meditation group meeting that meets once a month. Or perhaps I'll become further active in the church's Environmental Missions Group, which I'm officially a member of, which works to promote environmentally friendly practices among the church's members, including being the primary coordinator of the church's Earth Day celebrations(in my particular church, the only celebrations that surpass Earth Day are Christmas and Easter, and they make a very big deal out of Earth Day).

I have yet to find a meditation technique that really consistently works for me. God knows I need the stress reduction. I have my Oracle cards and Tarot cards. I also have a set of Runes that I haven't yet learned the meanings for to even begin to know how to meditate on them or use them. I have books with meditation techniques, such as one that has a "finger labyrinth", for you to meditate while tracing your finger through the maze. I just rediscovered that one last night, so perhaps I'll try it. I even have this watercolor board, that I bought from the bargain section of a Barnes & Noble, where you can paint on it with water, and as the water fades, the painting disappears. It's supposed to represent you getting your stresses out, and seeing them fade away as the water dries. I have beautiful sounding New Age music on my iPod, which works less for meditation and more to help me get to sleep on a restless night. My mind has too much chatter, too much going on inside it. If I'm not worried about something, I'm thinking about something. If I'm not thinking about something, I'm planning something. The curse of the intellectual.

Perhaps, in the end, balance is just about being who you are, right now. Having everything you need for the moment, no matter your situation. Perhaps it's as the poem "Four Things" states: if you have faith, peace, love, and friends, you have everything.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Balancing Act: The Chaos of Life

While this blog is primarily geared towards my spirituality and spiritual practice, this entry may end up being more about work. This blog is still in its early stages, and as I believe all areas of life are intertwined, aspects of life such as where one works, can effect their spiritual practices(and vice versa). Therefore, I feel occasionally discussing my work(to the extent I'm legally allowed), such as in this entry, provides a bigger picture of who I am as a person, and how that impacts my spirituality. So while there is a spiritual topic in mind for this entry, as has happened before, the backstory may end up becoming the focus. Such is the case with free-association writing, I suppose.

I work at what is most easily explained as a mental hospital for adolescents. The facility has two units: a general aggressive/addictions side, and a sex offender side. From February 2008 to July 1, 2010, I worked full-time, 2nd shift. As of July 1, I am part-time/flex. This basically means that every month, I give my supervisors a calendar of what days and hours I'm available to work for that month. This month the schedule is pretty much the same, and I still will primarily work 2nd shift, with a few days doing a split shift(i.e., first shift is from 7:00am-3:30pm;second shift is 3:00pm-11:30pm; on split shift days I will be working, for example, 11:00am-7:30pm). I did this in part to make more time for grad school, as I start my first internship next month. In part, it is also because I'm just sick of the drama and want to be there as little as I can. Since other places seem hesitant to hire a grad student, this is the best arrangement I've been able to come up with. If all goes as planned, I will be there just enough to pay the bills; financial aid overage checks each semester will fill in the gaps; and aside from vision, I'm not worried about insurance, as I have student insurance through my school, which is included in my tuition.

This place is one of the most corrupt I have ever worked. We are supposed to have a staff-to-patient ratio of 1 staff for every 5 patients, however I have been regularly left alone with as many as 15 kids. We don't find out until we arrive at our shift which unit we are going to work on - 99% of the time, I work the sex offender side, although once in a while I work the general aggressive side, usually when it's decided one of the sex offenders has become unhealthily attached to me. I've been involved in three serious runaway attempts since starting working there, and in all three incidents, they have tried to find some way to blame me for it. Two of those incidents, I was the only staff actually trying to catch the kid. The most recent, I single-handedly stopped the kid from jumping over the gates, and their reaction was still basically "you should have never let him get out of the building to begin with." The one prior to that, it was thought(admittedly by myself as well) that the kid running was somehow due to not getting to talk to me when he wanted(because he was VERY attached to me, and pretty much as close to my stalker as you can get in a hospital setting), and I worked the general aggressive unit for two months, until I was assaulted, resulting in a black eye, busted lip, bruised ear, mild concussion, and a broken nose that required surgery. It was premeditated for two days before the attack, the kid's therapist had been warned, as had administrative staff and my supervisors, and I still ended up assigned to that kid's area. And then, they attempted to cover it up. Some co-worker friends looked shortly after, and the documentation regarding the incident "disappeared", the police report I still have in my possession being the only evidence I know of.  Most recently, we admitted three patients who were on their local news for starting a riot at their previous facility. The parent company, Psychiatric Solutions, Inc., has been in a slew of legal troubles and malpractice issues involving patients being raped, deaths, and even a riot that required a SWAT team.

 At my facility I work in itself, there is little communication between staff or departments. I've seen staff curse at kids;a staff was recently fired for throwing a shoe at a kid;and I've heard of at least one staff who sneaks alcohol and drinks on the job. On the sex offender unit, the kids are divided into groups 1 and 2. I was assigned to group 1, with the additional assignment of being in charge of monitoring laundry. The kids are designated specific laundry days to manage this, Rooms 1, 3, and 5 on Monday, rooms 7, 9, and 11 on Tuesday, etc. This is because in a 60 bed facility, there are only 3 washers and 3 dryers. The sex offender unit has one washer, one dryer, and 27 kids. I went around the rooms, making a list of who needed to wash clothes, starting off with whoever was actually designated for that day, and planning on fitting in emergency washes as I'm able afterwards. A co-worker and good friend of mine was assigned to shower duty. 27 kids and two bathrooms mean one staff pretty much has to spend the whole shift making sure everybody gets a shower and is able to use the restroom when needed, because of course, there can't be more than one person in the bathroom at a time, because they could rape each other and God knows what else since there are no cameras in the bathroom. Another co-worker was assigned to the hallway, to monitor the kids who, for one reason or another, was either unable or unwilling to go to their designated group areas(each unit has a "day room", a "living room", two bathrooms, and their bedrooms, the doors of which have to remain open) and remained in their bedrooms. However, that staff took on the responsibility of doing laundry upon himself, resulting in (1)kids getting to do laundry that I had not intended to do laundry yet, (2)kids not doing laundry that should have, and (3)my co-worker, a female, being basically left alone with a 17year old schizoaffective serial rapist who has even tried to rape his social worker.

Thursday was probably the only day that week that I wasn't assigned, alone, to the hall, with the kids who can't or won't go anywhere. Included in that group is this one 11 year old kid. I have been instructed by not only my supervisors, but their supervisors as well, not to restrain the kid should he become destructive or aggressive towards himself or others. The reason, is because he specifically puts me in situations to where I do have to, because he is attracted to me and gets sexual gratification out of my restraining him. But yet I still end up being assigned to his area 95% of the time. So what always ends up happening, is that I'll be with him, inevitably he'll start acting out, then I'll have to switch out with another staff so that they can restrain him, because I've been ordered not to. Yesterday, I was with him for a good 3-4 hours before a co-worker finally relieved me so I could take my 30 minute meal break. When I returned, I asked that co-worker if he was okay staying there for awhile while I worked his area a bit, to give me a chance to move around a little and work off some energy, get some paperwork done, etc., and he was fine with it. The kid started biting himself and proceeded to be disruptive for the next 2-3 hours. Knowing that he wanted me there, I intentionally didn't return to his area after that, because that would be reinforcing the negative behavior and thoughts that say "If I want this, I'll hurt myself and get my way". It gets to be very overwhelming - I'm the "go to" person for a lot of my coworkers, and I regularly get called on by most of the kids on the unit I'm working for everything from "I need to see the nurse for my headache" to "My roommate just hit me". Even if there are 5 other staff in the area, I'm the one people keep yelling for. In spite of my unsuccessful attempts otherwise, kids try to call me "Uncle", "Dad", "big brother", etc. All at once, I'll have one kid asking me some weird question, the 11 year old acting like my shadow, and another kid trying to talk to me about some book, and then inevitably going into tirades of "shut the fuck up, I'm talking to Chad!" when someone interrupts him.

I was going to do this as one entry, with the reflections on the background info at the end. But, as I predicted, the backstory became the focus, and it's gotten very long. So this is to be continued in "A Balancing Act: Order out of Chaos".

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You Are the Music in Me

I have always been very involved in music in one way or another. I sang in church from the time I learned to use my vocal chords, up until the time adolescence caused my social anxiety and shyness to kick in. In middle school I joined the band, playing trumpet, and was in chorus there as well. In high school, I dropped chorus, but continued on in band. In college, I re-joined a choral ensemble, continued playing trumpet, and (very briefly) took guitar and piano lessons as well. Music is very therapeutic. While some people exercise, join sports, or engage in some other aggressive activity to release anger and anxiety, I pull up whatever mood-appropriate music(be it scream, hard rock, pop, whatever) I can find in my CD player or on my iPod, and listen to it, and if I'm alone maybe even sing along. I may still be angry or depressed or whatever afterwards, but the feeling is definitely less severe. I used to want to be a professional musician - some days when I'm frustrated at the goings-on at the mental health facility where I work, I mentally threaten to quit, drop out of school, start a band, and just become a wandering, starving artist.

Interestingly enough, I have gotten back into some Christian music. I just can't see myself getting back into most of the repetitive Praise and Worship, cult-like stuff that is on the radio a lot of times these days, but some other songs that either I can relate to personally or are worded as such that my mind makes kind of a "Gnostic" interpretation rather than a "fundamentalist, evangelistic bullshit" interpretation.

I will close with the video and lyrics of a song I heard recently, that has caught my interest and been stuck in my head for a few days. To me, it talks about knowing what you believe. When it talks about being at war with the world, for me "the world" represents the materialistic; the mundane, day-to-day bullshit that we have to deal with, that threatens to overpower me and cause me to lose focus and lose my way. The song is "Awake and Alive" by Skillet.

"I'm at war with the world and they
Try to pull me into the dark
I struggle to find my faith
As I'm slippin' from your arms

It's getting harder to stay awake
And my strength is fading fast
You breathe into me at last

I'm awake I'm alive
Now I know what I believe inside
Now it's my time
I'll do what I want 'cause this is my life
here, right now
I'll stand my ground and never back down
I know what I believe inside
I'm awake and I'm alive

I'm at war with the world cause I
Ain't never gonna sell my soul
I've already made up my mind
No matter what I can't be bought or sold

When my faith is getting weak
And I feel like giving in
You breathe into me again

Waking up waking up
In the dark
I can feel you in my sleep
In your arms I feel you breathe into me
Forever hold this heart that I will give to you
Forever I will live for you"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Charmed Theology

Interesting coincidence: as I'm writing this entry, I'm watching an old Charmed rerun. One of the things I've had on my mind lately is wondering where one of my flash drives is, that has been lost. This flash drive contains within it digital copies of all of my spells, spiritual research and studies, that has been done for the last 3-4 years. There isn't a *lot* on it, surprisingly enough, since some of my spiritual contemplating/growth/study was put on a bit of hiatus due to major life changes going on at the time that took priority: being unemployed, in a new city, and having just broken up with my girlfriend of a year and a half, most of my spellwork focused on finding a job and deciding where I should live. Maslow's hierarchy at its finest, I suppose.
Anyways, this episode looks to be the season opener of season 2, or at least somewhere near it. It's the one year anniversary of their becoming witches, and their Book of Shadows is stolen by a demon, who reads it backwards in order to undo all the spells the characters have performed, thus bringing back to life all the demons/warlocks they have defeated. A Book of Shadows is basically a spellbook, most commonly used by Wiccans and Witches, and includes spells, the results of those spells, rituals, holiday information, and anything else the particular owner finds relevant to his or her spiritual path. The title "Book of Shadows" is most commonly used by Wiccans, although many non-Wiccan Witches have been known to use that label as well; Christian Witches often call it their "Book of Light" or "Book of Shadows and Light". I personally call mine a more masculine, and more generic/encompassing "Grimoire", which is more commonly used by Ceremonial Magicians and other followers of the more ritualistic spiritual paths. When first starting my experimenting, I used my regular hardback journal that I was already writing in. Once I knew that this was a path that I was going to be practicing fairly long-term, I bought a binder and notebook paper, and organized it and began using that. Some people buy the big expensive, elaborate books that can be found in New Age stores and online, but many of us who are poorer and/or more practical, just use notebooks and binders like any other journal. This way, if I decide to dispose of some sections or reorganize, all I have to do is take the pages out of the binder and put them where I want them. My current book has sections on languages/symbols, prayers, spells, spell results, and rituals. The now-missing flash drive has those sections as well, as well as a few forum posts in past forums I used to frequent, which I found meaningful; research into holidays, spiritual beings(gods/goddesses, saints, etc.), correspondences, etc. As I'm no longer a polytheistic Pagan, much of those sections are no longer relevant to my spiritual practice. Still, I had planned on using it for my current spirituality as well and updating it. So I'm kind of sad, and annoyed, at losing it, and I'm debating whether to buy a new flash drive, or use a second notebook.

The other coincidence is that the demon in this episode was named Abraxas . Abraxas is a prominent character in Gnosticism. In ancient sects he was often considered the greatest Archon, the ruler of the 365 heavens. In those systems, his name spells out Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn - the 7 astronomical entities that can be seen in the night sky without a telescope. In modern Gnosticism, he seems to be seen more the way psychologist Carl Jung described him, a representation of oneness, kind of the Gnostic version of yin-yang.

In the episode, Abraxas was sort of used as a rite of passage on their one-year anniversary, with his theft of their Book of Shadows being the catalyst for them learning about witchcraft's connection to their inner selves and nature, and the "real meaning" behind their powers. Charmed unfortunately has always been kind of cheesy(like, honestly, most 90s shows of that genre), and it did get cheesier as it progressed. But in the early seasons, I did always like how they somewhat incorporated actual elements and informatin of the genuine spiritual practices that are often found in modern-day Wicca, witchcraft, and Paganism. The problem, of course, comes with the New Agey stuff that inevitably sells the show, and with people who are drawn to such spiritual practices thinking(or claiming) that they actually *can* do things like the Halliwell sisters do. Spellwork and magic doesn't work like that. To me, spellwork is like another way of praying. It's just more interactive and focused.... kind of like, if you're in a Catholic/Episcopal church, you pray by standing, kneeling, crossing yourself, and take the Eucharist("The Lord's Supper" to most southern Protestants), whereas in a Protestant church you just stand there passively listening to someone else pray. It's meditating to focus yourself on a desire or goal. It's using that energy, that desire, to work(through a spell as well as "less spiritual" or "mundane" means) towards that desire or goal. Just like many Christians believe "God helps those who help themselves", so do many Witches and Druids believe that if you cast a spell for, say, a job, but don't fill out applications or send out resumes, then you can cast all the spells in the world and you'll still be unemployed.

But it would be nice if life really were like Charmed, though. Just not Buffy. I'm happy without the vampires.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Multifaith seminary to create new model for theological education

Multifaith seminary to create new model for theological education

Saw this on the UCC newsletter a few days ago. If more people did things like this, the world would be a better place. Things like this, is why I love the UCC.

Friday, July 2, 2010


In the beginning was the Pleroma. The Fullness.The Ultimate Reality. The First Thought. The Ultimate Reality had a thought, and the Aeons, or angelic forces, were borne from this thought. The first and most revered of these Aeons was Sophia, or Wisdom. Sophia wanted to create something on her own, without the aid of the Pleroma, and thus (in some myths accidentally) created the Demiurge, also called Yaldabaoth or Samael. In shame, Sophia hid him within a cloud. The Demiurge, unaware of either Sophia his mother or the Pleroma, used his mother's energy to create the material world, in essence trapping her power within it. Thus the aim of Gnosticism is to recognize this spark of Sophia, of the divine within, and therefore escape the material world and reunite with the Pleroma.

In some sects, Yaldabaoth is seen as downright evil. In one Gnostic interpretation of the Flood Story(which I became interested in upon watching a documentary on those lame Ark-seekers earlier today), Yaldabaoth decided that humanity was growing too quickly, and essentially becoming too smart. Therefore, he decided to flood the whole earth to wipe out the intelligent people and save only the dim-witted or stupid people, the stupidest of all being Noah. However, Eve's daughter Norea learned of this, and attempted to enter the Ark. Noah would not allow her to, and so she burned down the Ark- three times.  Finally, Yaldabaoth attempted to overpower her. She cried out for help, where she was rescued by Eleleth, an Aeon of truth and understanding, who reminded her that she was a daughter of the First Thought, an incarnation of Sophia, and that Yaldabaoth could do nothing to her.

Other Gnostic sects, mainly the Valentinians, saw the Demiurge not as some evil being, but simply ignorant. In their versions of the aforementioned myth, Yaldabaoth was trying to destroy his creation, but the First Thought told Noah, so that he could save anyone who would listen.

Ultimately, to me, the Demiurge and his Archons, or "Rulers", rulers of the material world and essentially synonymous with demons, are symbols of whatever holds you back, or keeps one from reaching his or her full potential in life. For a theist/spiritual person, it is those things that cause us to be caught up in the material, getting stuck in our short-term problems and day-to-day worries that distracts us from our spiritual selves and our awareness of the greater spiritual world that exists above and around us. If we can become more aware of the more important things in life, then we can control our inner "demiurges" or "rulers".

Thursday, July 1, 2010


"Forgive all others and in this way you will be forgiven for the evil deeds you have done. Also remember to forgive yourself. For just as you forgive, so does the One Spirit forgive you. By forgiving others you will be forgiven."

The above passage comes from The Lost Sutras of Jesus , a book that tells the story of some monks that traveled to China, and along the way, wrote some scrolls(about eight) that present Christianity in a form that has been syncretized with elements of Taoism and Buddhism. Written approximately 635 C.E(Common Era, the academic "politically correct" replacement of A.D., with B.C.E. being the equivalent of B.C.), it was then found hidden away in caves and translated in the 1930s. As this is one of my favorite books, and I still read passages from it on occasion, I will probably reference this book in a number of posts in this blog.

 Forgiveness is an interesting thing. People make it sound so easy, but in reality it is so hard. I find it amazing, within myself, that I find it so easy to forgive, say, one of the clients at work who targets me in a burst of anger. I may be extra cautious or alert the next time I am around that client, but otherwise I act in the same manner as I did before the incident(s).

Yet there are things in my life that I still have difficulty forgiving. I've only within the last few years been able to even begin to forgive my family for things that I experienced in childhood. Some mistakes that I myself made, especially when my most recent ex-girlfriend got pregnant and had an abortion against my wishes, I still struggle with, even now. I see where I am in life, in a generally unhappy job, trying not to get kicked out of school, and wonder where I would be had I recognized sooner how different she and I really were, and broken up with her before I made major life decisions and moved to Chicago to be closer to her. Would I have been able to keep my job in North Carolina and work my way through school and have been already finished by now, instead of just getting started? Would I have already met someone else more compatible by now? These questions still plague me from time to time, and I wonder if they will ever stop. It's the ultimate irony of my life: forgiveness, love, and peace are at the core of virtually every religion and spirituality I've experimented with or studied, and those are the very concepts that I feel like I will never even begin to understand or be able to live out.