Doctor Who and the Eternal Now

At the end of the 9th Doctor’s tenure, in the episode The Parting of the Ways, when Rose Tyler is in the chip shop telling her mother that the Doctor is dying right now in a place located1 200,000 years in the future, a very interesting concept is brought centre-stage for that one brief moment:

Rose: Two hundred thousand years in the future, he’s dying and there’s nothing I can do.

Jackie: Well like you said, two hundred thousand years. It’s way off.

Rose: But it’s not! It’s now. That fight is happening right now. And he’s fighting for us and the whole planet and I’m just sitting here eating chips.

Not only is it typically really challenging to even entertain, let alone grasp, such a seemingly impossible situation of an event in the far distant future happening simultaneous to the present moment, it usually proves impossible. I’ve come to conclude this from several attempts at exploring this concept in philosophical conversations with friends. But those conversations didn’t take place within the context of discussing Doctor Who; they occurred within the context of discussing the Buddhist concept of the Eternal Now.

Over the course of these conversations, I’ve shared two different interpretations of what is meant by the Eternal Now. The first has to do with the understanding that there really is only the present moment – this is where our bodies are, our senses, our experiences, be they thoughts, feelings, or physical actions and sensations. When we think of our future, we are, by definition, not engaging in the present moment. Likewise, with the past, we leave our bodies behind and focus on memories. “Be in the Here and Now” is a common philosophical cliché bandied about in New-Age and Self-Help communities, but it has currency (if you’ll pardon the word play). It’s important to fully engage or engage as fully as possible with the here and now – to be present with our current physical circumstances, to be present with whatever emotions arise from whatever it is we’re experiencing.

This is not to say that there is no value in considering the future or in analyzing the past. As a historian and archaeologist-of-the-self who thrives on digging up and examining things from the past (both my own and our collective past), I can attest wholeheartedly that there is enormous value in reflecting on the past.

However, you cannot make your home there. Neither can you live in the future. Our bodies mediate everything we experience, and our bodies exist only in the present moment. So many of us forget to live our lives because we’re so busy worrying about the future or reliving the past.

Anxiety Disorder Recovery

How It Actually Works

Reliving the past is a way of bringing the past into the now, which you can do any time you like, as suggested above, and even sometimes when you don’t like, in the case of PTSD flashbacks. It is not so much that we’re going backwards in time but rather bringing the past forward into present physical embodiment.

 

The other definition that the phrase “Infinite Now” or “Eternal Now” calls to mind is that everything – past, present, and future, all that is, was, and ever will be, is unfolding and occurring at this very moment. This is a much harder concept to grasp than the initial interpretation of the Eternal Now because we understand time from a linear perspective. It seems absolutely impossible for everything to be happening Now. Linear time is how we can even have a “past” that we remember and a “future” that we believe we have not yet experienced. This definition – this simultaneous, singular NOW moment – is what the Doctor Who scene illustrates with the events 200,000 years in the future occurring at the same time as Rose, Jackie, and Mickey in the chip shop in 21st century London.

On the Eternal Now site I linked to above, there is the following text:

The only time we can live is here and now in the moment. We live eternal now. We call it now is now. When next moment comes, we call that moment is now. Past is gone and future is not yet here. The only time we can live is now. Awakened ones live in eternal now. This is quality you can tell whether they are awakened or not.

In Mel Brooks’ movie, Spaceballs, there’s a scene where Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz are trying to locate Lone Starr, Barf, Vespa, and Dot. Colonel Sandurz has the brilliant idea of using the new “instant cassette” technology to assist in their quest. Instant Cassettes being, of course, VHS video cassettes that are available before the movie is even completed. Here’s the segment from youtube with relevant dialogue:

HELMET What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?

SANDURZ Now. You’re looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.

HELMET What happened to then?

SANDURZ We passed then?

HELMET When?

SANDURZ Just now. We’re at now, now.

HELMET Go back to then.

SANDURZ When?

HELMET Now.

SANDURZ Now?

HELMET Now.

SANDURZ I can’t.

HELMET Why?

SANDURZ We missed it.

HELMET When?

SANDURZ Just now.

HELMET When will then be now?

SANDURZ Soon.

In this absolutely dizzying exchange, the characters are caught in a mise-en-abyme infinite recursion. YouTube commenters suggest that the Fourth Wall is shattered beyond repair and that, somewhere, Doctor Who is attempting to correct the time paradox that was just made.

Everything that happens now, is happening now. It carries a distinct Keanu Reeves aura of “whoa”. It is a slippery blending of the two different takes on the Eternal Now. If it is true, as it is suggested on the buddhist website, that the only time we can live is now, then all nows happen now.

DH: Go back to then.
CS: I can’t.
DH: Why?
CS: We missed it.
DH: When will then be now?
CS: Soon.

Now then, a digression from the Eternal Now, this section of dialogue plays on the multiple meanings of ‘then’: past then and future then, but as no distinction is made within the dialogue, it creates a further recursion of past becoming future becoming now. Additionally, in order to find the information they’re looking for, the Corporal rewinds the tape to earlier in the movie: the past becomes the now.

Because we experience time linearly and have a memory of the past but no memory of the future and because we can bring the past to life through memory, recall, and recreation, it seems like it would be easier for us to grasp that events in the past can happen simultaneously to what is unfolding for us in our current Now state. Even as I write it out like it, it seems far-fetched and way out in left field, but re-embodying an event that happened in our past, which we do automatically — recalling that experience in the body, feeling and sensing our emotional state as we play out the past again — makes aspects of our past very real in this Now moment.

The idea that something in the future is happening simultaneous to what is happening right now in our lives is an idea that is, as I stated earlier, usually really challenging to wrap our minds around. But in the Doctor Who chip-shop scene, we get it. We understand exactly what Rose is getting at and, through this connection, we become more in touch with the extant multidimensionality of the universe. Jackie remains trapped within the linear frame of reference and has a more difficult time jumping out of that ingrained rut.

To jump topics a bit, with respect to the linearity of time, talking of past, present, and future, we almost always will talk of “past lives” when we speak of the concept of reincarnation. However, that’s not always going to be the case.

At the very end of the 1970 movie, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever2, the audiences are treated to a mind-boggling twist. The premise of the movie, based on the 1965 Broadway musical, is that of a woman with ESP who wants to stop smoking and turns to a psychiatrist for help via hypnosis. The psychiatrist discovers that he has inadvertently regressed her into previous lives – that is, lives in our linear past that she has already lived. The end, however, turns everything we think we understand about reincarnation and the time-space continuum on its nose. Dr. Chabot hypnotizes Daisy once more because he wants to know whether they had any previous lives together. She begins talking about a life she had in Virginia with him. He asks her what year it is and she responds with “two thousand thirty-eight”.

While this isn’t a real life anecdote, there is a book called Past Lives, Future Lives by Jenny Cockell, in which she explores her past lives and possible future lives.3  There are also plenty of visionaries tapping into some sort of potential future timeline. Nostradamus, for instance. Hildegard von Bingen. Could these visions possibly happen if the Future was not also happening Now? And those visions that do not manifest in our reality, could they have manifested in a parallel reality?

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, now a century old (see what I did there?), introduced to modern physics the idea of Time Dilation:

In the theory of relativity, time dilation is an actual difference of elapsed time between two events as measured by observers either moving relative to each other or differently situated from gravitational masses.

An accurate clock at rest with respect to one observer may be measured to tick at a different rate when compared to a second observer’s own equally accurate clocks. This effect arises neither from technical aspects of the clocks nor from the fact that signals need time to propagate, but from the nature of spacetime itself.

[…]

Clocks on the Space Shuttle run slightly slower than reference clocks on Earth, while clocks on GPS and Galileo satellites run slightly faster. Such time dilation has been repeatedly demonstrated (see experimental confirmation below), for instance by small disparities in atomic clocks on Earth and in space, even though both clocks work perfectly (it is not a mechanical malfunction). The laws of nature are such that time itself (i.e. spacetime) will bend due to differences in either gravity or velocity – each of which affects time in different ways. [x]

What this illustrates is that time is a malleable construct, rather than something linearly concrete. It moves at different rates, rather than at a constant, consistent, and universal rate and both speed and gravity have an effect on this. It is, indeed, like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… timey wimey… stuff.

On the one hand, we can feel completely befuddled by this notion of the malleability of time. On the other hand, we actually get it: “Time flies when you’re having fun.” And “time seems to drag on” when you’re not. Where we are in time, that is, where we are emotionally and psychologically, affect how we perceive time. When you feel light and joyful and fully in the moment, fully in the flow of things, time can seem to disappear completely for the duration of that emotional state. When you are weighed down by the gravity of worry, anxiety, grief, regret, and impatience, in particular, time moves more slowly.

What Doctor Who (and so many other pop culture examples) does is give us a full-colour, vicariously experiential illustration of the malleability of time and space using situations that are emotionally potent. When we bring a situation to life in such a way that we’re pulled in emotionally, we’re drawn in far more extensively than we would be were we listening to a university lecture or a TED Talk. Within this ‘drawing in,’ a much smoother transitional understanding is created for us, thereby providing us with a non-threatening frame of reference because it occurs as a seemingly logical element to a story line we’re invested in following, rather than as a discreet, distinct, academic, esoteric philosophy that confuses our system and pushes us too far out of our comfort zone (hence my use of the phrase ‘non-threatening’). When we’re pushed too far out of our comfort zone, we become dismissive. When we’re push out of our comfort zone in a way that opens up ideas and concepts in a safe way, we become more intrigued. By creating safe, fun, entertaining, story elements, Doctor Who, et al., makes these sorts of concepts far more accessible to a far wider audience than they otherwise would be in a different, more traditional context. In doing so, we are provided with tools to help us better understand the machinations of the universe. Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction.

 

Endnote:

1. I use the word ‘located’ very purposefully here as a nod to ‘space-time’ rather than maintaining a definition of them as two separate entities. Location in space is location in time and location in time is location in space. When time-travelling into the past, you’re not just going back in time, you’re going back to a specific location as well. Same with the future. Same with parallel realities. These three short videos from CERN scientists provide a simplified explanation of space-time, but they leave out time-travel. Because CERN, not Doctor Who.

2. Even the title of the movie hints at the simultaneity of time. The word ‘forever’ is a time-based rather than spatial-based word. If you can see forever, then you’re able to see the past, the present, the future, as well as all parallel realities in all directions. This really is only possible if everything is being played out simultaneously within the Eternal Now. And while the movie only deals with past, present and future, Doctor Who brings parallel realities into play.

3. For more information on reincarnation, please refer to the case studies of Dr. Ian Stevenson. For a Jewish perspective, Reincarnation and the Holocaust.

Aborting the Birth of a Healer

I follow Dreamwork with Toko-Pa on Facebook because she posts beautiful artwork and insightful commentary. I appreciate her perspective immensely. Last week, she posted this:

In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé. Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born:

And then she linked to an article called The Shamanic View of Mental Illness (featuring Malidoma Patrice Somé) by Stephanie Marohn. The following selection, under the subtitle of What a Shaman Sees in A Mental Hospital, is what is most relevant to my experience.

 

On the mental ward, Dr Somé saw a lot of “beings” hanging around the patients, “entities” that are invisible to most people but that shamans and psychics are able to see.  “They were causing the crisis in these people,” he says.  It appeared to him that these beings were trying to get the medications and their effects out of the bodies of the people the beings were trying to merge with, and were increasing the patients’ pain in the process.  “The beings were acting almost like some kind of excavator in the energy field of people.  They were really fierce about that.  The people they were doing that to were just screaming and yelling,” he said.  He couldn’t stay in that environment and had to leave.

Schizophrenia3

In the Dagara tradition, the community helps the person reconcile the energies of both worlds–“the world of the spirit that he or she is merged with, and the village and community.”  That person is able then to serve as a bridge between the worlds and help the living with information and healing they need.  Thus, the spiritual crisis ends with the birth of another healer.  “The other world’s relationship with our world is one of sponsorship,” Dr. Somé explains.  “More often than not, the knowledge and skills that arise from this kind of merger are a knowledge or a skill that is provided directly from the other world.”

The beings who were increasing the pain of the inmates on the mental hospital ward were actually attempting to merge with the inmates in order to get messages through to this world.  The people they had chosen to merge with were getting no assistance in learning how to be a bridge between the worlds and the beings’ attempts to merge were thwarted.  The result was the sustaining of the initial disorder of energy and the aborting of the birth of a healer.

“The Western culture has consistently ignored the birth of the healer,” states Dr. Somé.  “Consequently, there will be a tendency from the other world to keep trying as many people as possible in an attempt to get somebody’s attention.  They have to try harder.”  The spirits are drawn to people whose senses have not been anesthetized.  “The sensitivity is pretty much read as an invitation to come in,” he notes.

 

It has been a challenging and difficult winter for me. Spring has been no easier. My sensitivity has increased dramatically over the past year, and that has been read as an invitation. Because I had specific, pertinent knowledge prior to my series of ‘spiritual emergencies’ of the past several months, I have managed to stay out of a mental hospital, but it came close a few times. It is tiring and exhausting work to maintain the perception of relative sanity to all but a few people (most of whom have been extremely supportive). This perception must be maintained because of the stigma of mental illness in this culture. Not only is mental illness sometimes caused by spiritual disturbances that need tending to but which are ignored or utterly dismissed as delusion, people who have issues with their mental stability have to go undercover lest they shoulder the exasperating and additionally wearisome burden of discrimination from people who are ill-informed and do not wish to correct that.

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 1.53.08 PM

 

When one has the inclination towards becoming a healer and has had that inclination all one’s life, complete with a significant interest in shamanism specifically, but lacks the training necessary to cope with all that is coming one’s way, there is a certain level of naïvety. Things start out a certain way. It’s exciting. It’s very positive. It feels amazing. Not euphoric, mind you. Not mania-levels of amazing, just really good and happy, like things are moving in the right direction, and you’re finally going to make substantial in-roads towards making a lasting, positive difference in the world as a career path. It feels like this:

large

 

Everything is shiny! Everything is happy! Look at their innocent faces. There is momentum! Everything is good and you are at peace, taking it all as it comes. But I will tell you this. After months upon months of trying to keep up appearances and not knowing where to turn for the sort of training one needs in order to handle such a confusing onslaught of beings, energies, influences, etc., it becomes wearing, particularly when those beings, energies, influences are hellbent on exploiting any ounce of negativity and emotionality in one’s system — targeting the weak points in order to draw attention to them. The centre cannot hold. Things fall apart in one way or another. It feels like this:

No-Ash-I-chews-you

 

It becomes a lived shamanic dismemberment experience. It is intense, traumatic, and not a process I ever wish to repeat. It has also been extremely useful and productive, and I am deeply grateful that this pain has had purpose. With the help of some supportive friends and a small handful of healers and helpers, I have managed to tend to and to begin in earnest a journey that is healing some of the most wounded parts of myself. It’s not a pretty process. There’s nothing tidy, nice, or pleasant about it. There is a lot of grieving. It is very private. There is a lot of crying involved because of the need to release. I hate crying.

I have been able to take this prolonged situation that, in many ways, could have been construed as being quite negative and very dark and turn it into something productive and useful. I am the sort of person who stubbornly refuses not to use every experience as a learning experience. There is a reason for everything, and no we don’t always get to know what that reason is. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a valid and important reason why any given thing happens. And yes, sometimes that reason is because we are stupid and make bad decisions, but still. Reason. And it’s hellishly painful, at times, too — both to be told there is a reason for bad things when nothing seems reasonable in this world and to actually experience those unreasonably bad things. It might serve us to toy with reframing ‘bad,’ choosing instead to call it ‘hard’. Hard is not necessarily bad. Good is not necessarily easy. There are so many shitty experiences that life has to offer each one of us, but those experiences teach us so much for the rest of our lives if we open ourselves to them rather than shutting them out, abjectly refusing to look at them to see if there’s anything useful there to learn. (There always will be.) We’re afraid of the pain, not realizing that, by avoiding it, we’re making it more painful than it needs to be, whatever “it” is.

And you know what? It’s ok to be afraid of the pain, and it’s ok to avoid. It’s necessary at times. It’s life-saving at times. But avoidance is meant to be temporary because avoidance is not living, it is defense. A life steeped in abject avoidance is a recipe for disease and ill-health. Sometimes, it can become vitally important to reassess your coping mechanisms to see if they’re serving you or if you are now serving them. It is a matter of whether you feel free or whether you feel defensive. Either way, your soul will evolve: It is as the 14th century medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich, shares in her vision of what Christ said to her: “Botte alle shalle be wele, and alle manner of thinge shall be wele. [Vis. 13.45, 61]” But all shall be well and everything shall be well. Either way, it’s gonna be ok.

 

In realizing that I could turn this process that I was enduring into a learning experience, turn it into something positive, I decided to liken this exploitation of the negativity I held in my system to what therapists go through during their training. In order to become therapists, they have to go through therapy of their own. They have to deal with their own shit before they can effectively and safely help others deal with theirs.

I have a lot of shit to deal with. (We all do.)

Right now, however, I am learning that I need more training than I am currently willing to give myself over to. There are no definitive arrows pointing in a particular direction of training in this path, and so I am working to establish a temporary respite from pursuing healing as my vocation. To use the above phrasing of Stephanie Marohn, I am aborting this process of becoming a healer and am doing so consciously. To be sure, I am using this word to mean ‘pausing, setting aside’. Abort in order to retry later because this is an undeniable calling for me. Mostly because I don’t want to deny it! It is simply that I have recognized that I need to train in another area of my life for awhile, in order to learn other, more mundane things. And when the time is right, the birth process will begin again with gusto. It’s in a holding pattern for now, shelved for later. I’m ok with that. Shifting gears and changing directions is sometimes necessary and is sometimes also illusory — it’s all part of the process of getting myself where I need to be.

Alle shalle be wele.

It already is.

In time, it will feel well, too.

Fat Phobic Propaganda Masked as Concern Trolling: An Example

McWhat?Facebook provides me with an infinite supply of material on which to comment. This gem of an image showed up this morning provoking some seriously reactive vitriol from me, which I have turned into a blog post for all of you lovely readers who don’t have enough swearing in your day. So let’s break this image down a little bit. Just a little bit. Because I could easily turn this into a 10-20-page, fully-cited research paper. And as a note, I’m writing the following to an audience who passes this graphic around as though it’s a good thing. If that’s you, then that’s you. If that’s not, then it’s not. And here we go:

[A drawing of corpulent Ronald McDonald sitting, smugly eating a hamburger with a grinning sneer on his face. There is an Arches M on his left breast rotated and altered to appear like an F. Under Ronald is the text, “Junk food is engineered to addict you to chemical ingredients” In the upper left-hand corner of the image is an inset photo of a hamburger with upside down golden arches superimposed on top of it. Underneath of which is the text, “i’m dying ‘cos of it”.]

Scientific support of the claim made by the text aside, the imagery associated with these words perpetuates the knee-jerk assumption that fat is bad, that fat is caused by overeating, and that fat is caused by being addicted to junk food. In effect, it’s fat shaming and fat phobic. Did you know that there are wonderfully fit fat people in this world who eat a diet that is truly healthy for their needs and who still happen to be fat? There are fat nutritionists, fat vegans, fat athletes at the top of their game.* I am very frustrated by this association of bad food = fat bodies. What’s actually happening, though, is the sort of the reverse —  that there is the assumption that fatness is solely caused by diet, and it’s not. Capitalism, environmental issues, emotional states, mental states, genetics, disability, etc. are implicated in the causes of obesity. We want the world to be simple and it’s not. It’s exceedingly complex and we are lazily-but-incessantly circling ONE factor and ignoring all the others.

If we separate body size from the health aspect, we clarify matters and bring the issue of health into the foreground, leaving behind our mass cultural fixation on body size. Why is this important to do? 1. Because there are So Many unhealthy people of All Sizes. Health is not simply a physical issue (e.g. mental health, emotional health), and body size does not indicate levels of fitness. 2. We think body size indicates levels of fitness, and we discriminate with wanton liberty against fat people. Did you know that fat people have lower rates of mortality than people of “normal weight”? Yet we say “fat” like it’s a bad thing and then we act accordingly. Then again, if we separate body size from matters of health, it doesn’t give health fanatics the easy, go-to imagery of a corpulent Ronald McDonald in order to make their point. Which is what, exactly? What’s he wearing the F on his left breast for? F as a grade or F for fat? The upside-down M turned W for What.. Weight? *disgusted sigh*

The text explicitly addresses addiction and the addictive quality of junk food, with imagery referencing McDonald’s as the primary source of junk food. On a social level, addiction means no self-control and we believe, socioculturally, that fat people are fat because they lack self-control. You literally have no idea how much self-control a fat-bodied person may or may not have. You may still be breathing because of how much self-control they have.

*And when I referenced healthy fat people earlier, don’t let this make you think that only healthy fat people should be given the time of day. Every person, regardless of their size, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Let’s say that again because it bears repeating over and over and over: Every person, regardless of their size, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The only thing you know about a random fat person is that they’re fat and that they’re doing whatever they’re doing in the exact moment you see them. You see them inside a fast food restaurant? A) what are you doing there? B) are you making an assumption about their lifestyle? C) why the fuck do you care? Ohhhh, because of their heeaaallllth. This is called Concern Trolling. Stop it. Just fucking stop it. [Want a clear definition of a Concern Troll? This site has the best definition I’ve come across so far.]

Have you had food knocked out of your hand “for your own good”? Have you had people grab things from your shopping cart and put them back while they make “helpful” sizeist commentary? Have you been lectured by strangers about your health just because of your size? Check yourself before you open your mouth. Everyone has a right to exist in the body they’re in. If you’re uncomfortable with the appearance of that person’s body, Guess What! That’s YOUR problem. Don’t make it everyone else’s. Take responsibility for your own feelings.

But what if it’s your friend and you’re worried about her? Concern trolling your friend… Hrm… Did she ASK you for your opinion? If she did, that’s one thing. If she didn’t, fuck off. No, seriously. Fuck right off. She didn’t ask, so it’s not your place to say any damned thing. Support your friend by not being a judgmental asshole. Let her live her life however she wants to live it and be there to support her when she asks you to. If you offer that you have advice, give her the option of saying she’s not interested and leave it at that. Be respectful.

Getting back to the above image, let’s look at the inset text: “i’m dying ‘cos of it” Really? Guess what! We’re ALL GONNA DIE! We’re all going to die. Life is a terminal condition, my lovelies. No one gets out alive. This is concern trolling because the maker of this graphic probably just really wants you to live! rather than being in the throes of all the gloom and doom that ill-health brings, while failing to recognize the complex, multidimensionality of what certain types of challenges can bring for people. Enjoy life however you can and let fat people enjoy their food without shaming them for it. They’re people. PEOPLE!!! Actual real human beings with real, valid feelings. They have the right to eat whatever the hell they want and so do you. If you don’t want people judging you mercilessly and openly over every morsel you consume, do not do it to other people. Check your assumptions and check them thoroughly because your assumptions are doing a lot more harm than you realize. Listen to your internal talk and stop shaming yourself for what you ‘sneak’ or ‘cheat’ on. And stop feeling so smug about ‘eating clean’. Be grateful that You Have Food.

Speaking of shame, it really makes me wonder if the emotional state of the eater affects how much nutrition they gain from their food. Like, if you eat and feel guilty for it, do you retain more of the negative nutritive aspects of the food than the positive? What if there were no guilty pleasures? What if there were just pleasures? What if we took the guilt right out of it and all enjoyed our food so fully and so gratefully that there was no hand-wringing concern about the nutritive quality of it because we just got so much emotional benefit from the taste and the pleasure around guilt-free eating that it didn’t even matter? What if we stopped shaming people for what they ate? What sort of world would that be? It’d be a lot freer. Probably a lot happier.

Digressing from the health aspect here for a moment, I want to draw attention to the fact that there is classism tied up in this, as well. Like 69 cents for a hamburger (or however much it is these days) versus how much for a salad? Combos are cheaper than buying just burger and fries separately? Fast food being FAST because you’re working two maybe three jobs to make ends meet and possibly care for a family so y’all don’t starve? Why not attack THAT genre of injustice before you go around fat shaming pretending to be concerned about the quality of food, hmmmm? Why, because it’s easier to victim blame than to tackle an entire system of oppression, classism being just one aspect of it and sizeism another?

Gimme a break.

If you want to sign onto this campaign advertised by the above image about junk food and fast food having addictive qualities to it, then you had better be prepared to take a closer look at all aspects of the issue:  the societal addiction to fat phobia and fat discrimination, the classism that is woven throughout junk food accessibility, how urban planning and addiction to the car adversely affects accessibility, the addiction we have to shaming ourselves for eating food we think tastes good or that is convenient (OMG, you can’t enjoy your food! that’s so hedonistic and ungodly and unPuritanical. How dare you engage in sensual pleasures! you disgust me. *raises eyebrow*), the discomfort we feel with our own internal emotional state which we then unconsciously project onto other people (e.g. “I’m afraid that my being the slightest bit overweight or out of shape might make someone reject me, so I will distance myself vocally from people fatter than me in order to make me feel more accepted socially, and I will do this by focusing on how well I eat and whether I get exercise.” This is the typical thought process we attribute to the oh-so-prevalent phenomenon called bullying, btw. We do it internally and externally. Check that shit, loves.).

Also be prepared to take a look at how you’re contributing to the oppression of a growing number of people on this planet by your privilege-based, concern-trolling attitude because you’re too lazy to look at the heart of the matter. If you want to be part of the solution, then work towards actually being part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. Think critically. Because the problem is Not obesity or being fat. The problem is our attitude about it. The problem is our own shortsightedness and narrow-mindedness about body size and what it may or may not mean about a person’s worth. The problem is our own issues with self-acceptance. The problem is our fear of rejection. The problem is our issue with purity, which the taint of engineered junk food chemicals threatens, as well as the taints of overeating, lack of self-control, addiction, leading to the worst of all: the ‘taint’ of being fat.

I have a price. I know that now.

I am having an existential crisis of sorts unfold before me.

My newsfeed on Facebook was recently beset with commencement and convocation photos of people graduating with Masters and Doctorates. Of professor friends and acquaintances participating in ceremony.

Diving straight to the heart of it, these represent, for me, family photos I was left out of, and it hit me so embarrassingly hard.

Let me explain.

Growing up, more than any other place and for better or worse, school was where my need for acceptance was met. Not entirely, of course. Oh so far from it. But certainly more consistently than at home and by so many other people. It is where I felt valued; where I was met with approval. I have letter grades to show for it, you know. And even though this is true for so many people, it still pains me to say that my teachers and professors, whether they knew it or not, were my surrogate parents. My dad put me up on a pedestal that I felt I could never live up to, and my mom was simply exhausted from life and had very little left in her for me. It’s how life was. I learned early on to be as emotionally independent as I could be, but I still had needs. A Lot of them. I still do. That happens when you’re human.

I took 5 years to finish my undergrad, at the end of which, I decided to apply to the Master’s program in the same department because little else was calling my name. It was the best thing I could think of doing with myself at the time. I spent an additional year and a half coming to the realization that I didn’t have the zeal I needed for that particular program. It wasn’t what *I* wanted to do with myself. So with help, I put effort toward creating my own program. And then life flung some big changes my way and I ended up in a different country, at a different university in a different Master’s program. I didn’t finish this program, either, for the usual reasons that people generally did not finish this particular program. There was a proficiency exam that I needed to pass. I had 5 tries to do it; I quit after the 4th failure. Quit the program and didn’t look back for 8 years.

This was my teenage rebellion.

During this time, I learned that I retain information much better if I’m interested. I studied neurotransmitters, drug usage, dietary issues, food intolerances, hypoglycemia, depression, went through various phases of living as green a life as I could within the confines of extant limitations. I learned I could live without blatant plastic usage. I learned about living life with two partners. I studied pregnancy, birth, and attachment parenting. I learned a fair bit about herbalism. Gardening, urban homesteading. I created two beautiful children. During which time, I learned about trauma, separation, flashbacks, visitation, learning what was ok to talk about and with whom, trusting my gut instinct, making do, letting it all fall apart so that I could put it back anew.

All of this has value. This is life, and I dare say, it has been a life well-lived. But there is unfinished business, so many loose ends.

I see these commencement photos and it draws up so many feelings I wanted to forget about. All the insecurities have come to the fore. I look at the life I have lived since leaving university and I see it through the merciless eyes of Academia. None of it has served the Academy, so therefore none of it has value. Maybe on a person-to-person level it does, but not overall.

I went to an academic conference last year and felt both at home for the first time in a decade and so out of place as to be ashamed and embarrassed that I had nothing to show for my time spent away. Meaning that, in terms of what is valued within that particular overarching community, I had nothing but an undergraduate degree and a descriptor under my name of Independent Scholar. With no university affiliation, I was Suspect. No post-grad degrees meant no short-hand ways of gleaning where I fit into the greater scheme of things. Truth be told, I was welcomed just fine but there was an obvious undercurrent of Othering. “I took time off,” I said. “I’ll be able to go back someday.”

I felt ashamed. I still do when I tell people that I’m a stay-at-home mother. I feel like I should start telling people I’m a writer, but then, blogs aren’t really Writing, are they? (We know we value bloggers because we get free insight, but we bloggers get made fun of relentlessly… “And now there are all these bloggers…” a writing teacher dismissively said last year to my Saturday class. “Do any of you have a blog?” I did not respond. I didn’t know how to play the game.) I didn’t respond because I didn’t value myself as a blogger in the face of criticism. And I feel ashamed to tell people I’m a stay-at-home mother because I do not value my work as a parent. I keep looking at it through the lens of our sociocultural norms rather than through the lens of someone who appreciates the work I do…

I have two amazing creative projects, my boys, but they do not serve the Academy, and they’re not actively serving society. I am not contributing to the economy because I have no job for which I get cash payment, and, as a result, I spend very little. Parenthood and all that comes with it is nothing that society at large actually truly values. As a parent, I see that reflected back to me in so many ugly and sharply painful ways. And that lack of value is reflected in Academia where so many academics, who are mothers, are consistently discriminated against, and not just by male academics, either. It is a problem. THIS is what I want to go back to?

Yes.

Through all of this introspection, I have discovered that I have a price. A price that I am willing to pay in order to feel like I belong somewhere. It is the cost of a graduate degree. A graduate degree spanning 14 years, costing, on a monetary level, well over three times as much as it would have cost had I done it straight through. And maybe that price is the cost of two graduate degrees, because who knows what’ll come of my own search to feel adequate. I feel like if I have said degrees, I’ll belong somewhere where I want to belong. Somewhere where I felt like I once belonged. This is what I’m buying into. This is how I’m letting myself be bought.

I have oft times referred to the professors, students, and staff at the first and only university where I actually felt like I sort of belonged, as my dysfunctional family away from dysfunctional family. I am under no delusions that Academia is some majestic heavenly place of fluffy warm fuzzies. People bring their emotional baggage with them wherever they go and they act it out in all kinds of unsavoury and egotistical ways. But that doesn’t stop me from appreciating those people and loving them (er, some more distantly than others). So yes, I get this. And, yes, I still want to go back. Mind you, it’ll be to a different university than the one referenced above, back to the last program I was in.

Except that the truth of the matter is, of course, that I can never really go back.

  1. the people are different
  2. even if some people are the same, they’re still different from who they were a decade ago
  3. I am different
  4. it’s not going to be what I need for it to be

but tell that to my Inner Child and she will cross her arms stubbornly and hold her head aloft, abjectly refusing to hear what you are trying to tell her. The Adult in me wants to tie up loose ends and finish what she started. The Child in me wants so very much to return to a place where her interests were nurtured. Where she felt valued and loved for what she had to offer (for what is love, after all, but connection? and connecting through shared and nurtured interests can happen frequently in upper level education). Where people actively tried to help her get to where she said she wanted to be. All the things she never got as a child.

What I want her to know and understand with all her heart is that she has value no matter where she goes, no matter what she does with herself, no matter what her creative projects are. She is an amazing person who works with integrity to help others and works hard to understand the world. That is laudable in and of itself.

Getting all of that at heart level is the real work that lies ahead.

In the meantime, there is bureaucracy, red tape, and finances to be dealt with. And, hopefully, Latin. So much Latin.

And maybe my returning to grad school is my equivalent of moving back home for awhile just so that I can reassess my life and get things in order before moving on to something else. That’s a price I can live with.

Poem :: Lightening the Load

my life is an act of releasing,
of letting go

I brought so much baggage with me on this trip
and I usually pride myself on packing light
but I am full of self-deception and misperceptions
I forgot that wardrobe’s back opened onto another world
that looks just like me

I brought friends this time; I always do
Saturn splits the chaff from usable grain
Pluto digs around my unconscious self
bringing things from the basement out to the yard for examination
all the hidden parts of me I’ve stowed away
Chiron, the wounded healer, sees my wounds, teaches me to heal
giving me a template of understanding,
a pattern of recognition for empathy and compassion
to blossom and flow from me to others who are also wounded

we are all wounded, even if
some of us would prefer to hide it and hide from it

wounds need airing to heal
and I have been digging and digging lately
eyes shrouded, hands stained with the soil of myself,
bringing so much up
the sweat streaming into my eyes becomes tears I reluctantly shed
I keep forgetting to let this stuff go; I keep forgetting how…
my guts strewn about in the open air, the pain of it
I can no longer make heads or tails
it’s just intestines, half-digested relationships
unfinished meals of thoughts and longings
I’m pretty sure there’s a broken aorta over there
and it feels like that’s the crux of it.
will it ever get reconnected? am I even seeing it correctly?
maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill
maybe it’s only a capillary
maybe it’s a vena cava, which would explain the starving heart
how can I have a broken vena cava and still
flood the grass from the aorta?

how does one give up and release that which no longer serves?
how does one learn to let go of realities that never were?

either way, I have dirty laundry to wash and hang
and more lessons from Saturn and Chiron to survive:
I’ve surrendered to Pluto’s compulsion for reorganizing…

maybe I’ll have a yard sale
I’m so done with this shit.

Throw It on the Table and Deal with It: The Value in Valuing Yourself

In a matter of about 5 minutes on Facebook, I came across two gut-wrenching, rage-inducing links. The first was about Purity Balls in the States and the second about the mothers of some 200 girls who went missing from a Nigerian physics classroom staging a protest. I clicked on them in reverse order…

Nigerian Mothers Protesting

This is heartbreaking: Yesterday, the Mothers of the 234 missing school girls staged a protest, demanding that their children be brought back home.  The protest was held after news broke that many of the girls are reportedly being married in mass ceremonies and sold to Boko Haram officials for just 2,000 naira ($12 USD).  When officials gave parents almost no comfort or assurances about their efforts to retrieve the children, many of the Mothers broke down in tears, literally throwing themselves to the ground. Something has to be done, people. Something has to be done. http://face2faceafrica.com/article/nigerian-missing-girls-protest-chibok

“The protest was held after news broke that many of the girls are reportedly being married in mass ceremonies and sold…”

married and sold. stolen from a physics classroom, married and sold. The fact that “just 2,000 naira” $12 USD is the going price doesn’t fucking matter to me. These girls’ lives are priceless. You can buy into the story of OMG, TWELVE DOLLARS? but that’s just a diversionary tactic that supposedly shows how worthless a girl’s life is. The reality, though, is that you cannot monetize a life. You just can’t. Slavery attempts to. Capitalism tries to all the time. Healthcare tries to all the time. It doesn’t really work that way, though. If these girls really were worthless, then why were they stolen at all? These girls are precious and those men know it. The money exchanged is just a part of a propagandist story that attempts to reinforce the worthlessness of women. Except that the joke’s on all of us because it’s not true. Women are far from worthless. You can sell me and treat me like a piece of furniture, but if I know my own worth, then your actions only show how blind you are, how off the mark you are.

Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful” and they’re a militant Islamic jihadist terrorist organization in northeast Nigeria. “Western education is sinful” really calls to mind the Taliban in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. It really calls to mind Malala Yousafzai. She writes in her biography, I am Malala

“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”

To sin means to miss the target. The etymology of the word ‘sin’ is misleading, so don’t go by that. Go back to the original source and check which word got translated into the English word, ‘sin’: khata. Aramaic. It’s apparently an archery term that means to miss the target. To be off the mark.

If education is education, as Yousafzai states, then Boko Haram is completely missing the mark. Their actions are so beyond ironic as to be self-parodic without even realizing it. And once again, women and girls are paying the price. Also ironic since it was the girls who were sold for a pittance.

Nothing about this makes any fucking sense, and I feel absolutely devastated. There’s a Change.org Petition available to sign to help push the Nigerian president into actually making an effort to find the girls and return them to their families.

The next link I came across on Purity Balls was one that I skimmed over, since it was just a bunch of photos. But creepy freaking photos they were:

Striking, Creepy Photos of Christian “Purity Balls”

Photo Credit: David Magnusson

There was PolicyMic link suggested under this one on FB, so I clicked on it, hoping for an actual article, which I got: The Creepy Way Fathers Across the Country Are Controlling Their Daughters’ Virginity Highly worth the read. Particularly for the following quote:

“…it’s ironic that the method they’ve chosen to combat the hypersexualization of girlhood is, well, the hypersexualization of girlhood.

When you get down to it, Purity Balls are literally all about sex. If your worth as a human being is invariably tied to what you do with the parts between your legs, who you are becomes defined by your sexuality; you’re either pure, or impure.”

The Facebook tagline for the article reads, “You’re married to the Lord and your father is your boyfriend.”

You’re married to the Lord AND YOUR FATHER IS YOUR BOYFRIEND. Let’s push the bounds of father-daughter relationships right towards incest, shall we? Let’s overtly tinge that relationship with sex. Yes. Let’s. That’s totally the way to create healthy boundaries and a solid sense of selfhood, agency, and self-determination.

When I was looking up sin and khata for this post, I came across this beautifully apt quote from the Bible: “What goes into the man from outside cannot defile him.” (Mark 7:18) It’s a really potent quote. What goes into the woman from the outside cannot defile her, either. Yes, in context, Jesus was talking about food and how food only touches the stomach and not the heart, so it is eliminated, leaving you untouched. HOWEVER, the greater meaning here is that when our heart — our core — is pure, then we are not defiled. If we have a strong sense of self, then we cannot be defiled. We cannot be tainted by someone else.

If we are purely ourselves rather than trying to be someone else in order to please another, be accepted by another, be loved by another, then we value ourselves for who we are rather than who we can pretend to be. And like the notion of selling the Nigerian girls to Boko Haram officials, this whole concept of a lack of sex making someone pure and the presence of sex making someone impure is yet another ridiculous piece of propagandist bullshit from the patriarchy.

Sex is how we get onto this planet. But we’re born pure? How can we be pure if we got here by supposedly impure means? And where are the virginal boys and the Purity Balls for them?

Really, between the stolen girls in Nigeria and the Purity Balls in the States, I’m feeling really flattened. Did we just travel back in time several hundred years? Because that’s what this feels like. It feels like we’re dredging all this shit up from the Collective Unconscious. All our sociocultural skeletons just fell right out of the damned closet and we’re staring at them all, aghast. Bad Family Secrets right out there in the open. So here’s an idea: Let’s just throw all the shit on the table so that we can actually deal with it.

Which means we have to actually Deal With It. 

You cannot stick your head in the sand any longer. There’s too much bad in this world. So if you’re going to LA LA LA CAN’T HEAR YOU, then you’re totally part of the problem and I really have no time for your shit. Doesn’t mean I don’t have time for YOU. It means that I have no time for your bullshit and neither do you.

Men, if you can’t step up as allies and unlearn all the bullshit society has taught you, then fuck off. Get off my goddamned lawn. Women, unlearn that shit, too. It’s not about a goddamned ring — marriage, purity ball or otherwise. It’s not about sex. It’s not about money. IT’S ABOUT VALUING WHO YOU ARE AS A PERSON. NOT WHO YOU CAN MOLD YOURSELF TO BE IN ORDER TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED.

Value women. Value them for who they are on an individual level. Not for what they can do for you. If you value them, truly value them, then you will support their own agency. You will support their autonomy and grant them full self-determination. None of this paternalistic crap of telling them what they’re allowed to learn or how they’re allowed to use their bodies. Show them that they are valued no matter what they do. They ain’t here to serve you men and your overblown ideas of what has value.

All of these skeletons that we harbour are getting pulled out for us to examine. These practices of Purity Balls and kidnapping girls from school, selling them off to be married against their will are still acceptable because women are not yet valued as people. Do the hard work of valuing who you are. We are always unfolding and transforming. We are a work in progress and loving that is also a work in progress. But it’s really goddamned important work that will serve every person on this planet. Help others value who they are as people. Accept how awesome you are. Accept that you still need work. Accept that it’s TOTALLY OK because it damn well IS. Ain’t nobody perfect. And everybody’s shit stinks. That’s realism. And that’s what makes it fabulous.

Throw that shit on the table and deal with it. This is how we purify ourselves. This is how we remember that we are already undefiled. This is how we return to ourselves, men and women both.

The Dismantling-the-Patriarchy Cha-Cha

Click image for video

 

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think I’m doing both. On the surface, this is a hilarious uptake of the original video for women. …but it’s just *headdesk* 

Y’all… no.

This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. Putting this much emphasis on testicles and their size, appearance, and the supposed importance thereof diminishes the multifaceted nature of who men are. It’s not just about the size of their cocks or the potency of their balls. When we make it all about that, then too many men feel the need to prove their manhood and their masculinity by imposing it on others. Imposing it on others.


This. Is. Rape. Culture.


This is supposed to be a joke, but I’m not laughing.
Continue reading

The Origin of Patriarchy and the Restoration of Balance

Your Funeral Director

So I saw this again on Facebook yesterday. When I first saw this, I felt all defensive, like, “How dare he think he’s the ruler of the roost?! And You GO WOMAN! Damn Right, Funeral Director! I don’t even think so…” And then several months went by and now I’m all, “WTF? This man is completely infantile!”

It was at that point that I was completely flooded with ideas and threads of thoughts, epiphanies and inspirations, all of which culminate in my wondering what IS this thing where men, men’s rights activists, and patriarchy in general demand that everybody pander to their male every things like they’re helpless infants?

Ok, so this is a really tangled knot here. Let’s do some unwinding, shall we? WE SHALL.  Continue reading

The Other Zombie Apocalypse

I came across the following quote today:

“You don’t have to think very hard to realize that our dread of both relationships and loneliness … has to do with angst about death, the recognition that I’m going to die, and die very much alone, and the rest of the world is going to go merrily on without me.”

It’s from David Foster Wallace on writing, death, and redemption, and I sat there staring at it in disbelief. I vehemently disagree with this quote, as it is written. And now I will write an essay in reaction to how it is written without actually looking at the rest of the article. Without giving it context.

Dread of relationships and loneliness have very little to do with the understanding that we’re going to die. What we’re afraid of, though, is never fully living. We’re afraid of being the walking dead — dead before we die. Rotting from the inside out because we’re not getting the connection from others.

THAT IS WHAT WE’RE AFRAID OF.

Continue reading

Lessons in the Dreaming.

I woke from a dream this morning in which I was trying to help a friend escape from her abusive step-father. We had never talked about her situation before but somehow I knew. I leaned over to her and whispered in her ear, “You’re not safe here.” We then had a covert conversation about how my and N’s intervention would create such terrible backlash for her and her toddler half-brother that she just couldn’t see a way through it and she didn’t want to leave her home because she loved it so much there (the area was forested mountains of the Northeast).

It was heartbreaking. I woke up before the situation had resolved itself. The tension of the dream was palpable because the abuser was there nearly all the time.

***

On reflection, I think what happened here in this dream is a situation where, because we hadn’t discussed this at all prior to this conversation, the friend wasn’t able to sit with the idea of escape and figure things out on her own. This dream is about rescuing versus agency and autonomy. 

You cannot rescue people without co-opting their agency and their autonomy. She needed to retain her autonomy. Were this to happen in waking life, I wouldn’t be able to force her to do anything because that’s tantamount to becoming an abuser myself. I would have to let the situation go and make it absolutely clear that if/when she decides to leave, I and mine would be there for her in an instant.

This is what friendship is. It is supporting another’s decision and another’s timing. It is recognizing and acknowledging that she has agency in her life and supporting that respectfully. 

Life is so fucking hard sometimes.