N is for Nothing

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This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first one for the letter N (it’s actually the second N week already, but apparently I’m slow with the catching up I said I’d do).

I’m not quite sure how or why it happened, but after being almost obsessed with tarot and other aspects of spirituality for at least three quarters of a year (and possibly more), I suddenly don’t feel a pull towards any of these things anymore.

Maybe I’m just exhausted after the last three years that brought a lot of changes to my life that I didn’t choose (plus some that I did choose) and need to give myself a break. Maybe I just need to adjust to my new voluntarily jobless life a bit longer and be patient with myself. Maybe this is just another one of these phases where my attention turns elsewhere for a while, as it does with practically everything. Maybe there’s no reason to worry.

But I do worry. How serious can my spiritual inclinations be if I’m able to shut them off so completely all of a sudden? Isn’t this just laziness and a lack of discipline? After all, it’s not like I couldn’t do more. But apparently, I decide over and over again not to. I decide to watch one of my favorite TV series instead of reading tarot or writing on this blog. Even when I know I actually have stuff to read about. In fact, there are several aspects of my life that could bear some closer examination (after all, having the time to do that was the main reason for quitting my job). But I just don’t seem to have the energy to deal with any of that right now. So I do other things like help a friend renovate their room and exchange thoughts about racism, critical whiteness, queerness, and passing, and the desire to do things our own ways. Or I hear lectures at the university, or go to the first concert I’ve been to in years. I also hang out with people who seem to like my company, even if I’m not entirely sure why, and reconnect to some neglected parts of my life and get to know some nice people a little bit better.

As I do all these worthwhile things (yes, that includes re-watching old episodes of Glee), however, spirituality seems to have fallen by the wayside. There is a big stack of books I was looking forward to read with more focus than working 40 hours a week left me, but they remain slightly dusty and untouched. There are several blog post ideas ambling around in my head that I was looking forward to writing when I had the time and headspace to do so, but they remain (at best) scribbled notes on scraps of paper somewhere in a small heap over there in that ignored corner of my floor.

And I’m undecided what to think of this. A part of me just wants to reaffirm that this is just the way I work: bouts of obsession-like focus on some topic, followed by near-complete disinterest in the same topic a while later (with “a while” ranging anywhere from a few days to a few years). And after another while, a return to the topic, full of renewed interest and passion. Rinse and repeat. It works for me, so what if it’s not the accepted ideal of how these things are supposed to happen?

Another part of me, however, is very busy looking down on that kind of behavior as yet another expression of my utter laziness, my obvious inability to follow through with anything after things get difficult, and my complete lack of discipline at anything but getting up to pee every day (at some point). Not that this is an accurate assessment, as a calm and grown-up part of my mind would like to note. Devouring heaps and heaps of information and opinions on a topic over a period of several weeks (and often months or even years), pondering them in my conversations with other people or here on my blog (or elsewhere in writing), and often finding new connections that make sense to me can hardly be considered lazy. Nor can my stubbornness at bringing up a topic that I consider neglected in a broader discourse until I feel it has been at least recognized, even if it doesn’t make me especially popular with people who’d rather like things to stay the way they were before I spoke up, seriously be called “being a quitter.” And while I may not exhibit a lot of the kind of discipline that always does the same things at the same time the same way, I’m still able to do many things quite regularly, and not just when they are great fun.

Maybe I need to re-read Star Foster’s article on “Slacker Paganism” a friend recently pointed out to me? And then apply the wisdom therein to my own practice, of course. Because I’m secretly pretty sure this is really just one of these things where the hardest part is getting started. And perhaps there is some fundamental value for me in learning how to do things less-than-perfectly without beating myself up for it. If only the practice of that was so easy to arrive at as the theory! (Any tips for how to deal with one’s perfectionism when and where it’s not helpful?)

And I’m pretty sure that my own ideal state (or rather, flow) of things lies somewhere between total randomness and doing things only when I feel a strong, positive urge to do them, and total discipline and doing the exact same thing at the exact same time over and over again like clockwork, no matter what. Perhaps I could use a new mental image to think about regularity, too. Something like “happens easily and organically and is influenced by surroundings, weather, degree of nourishment, etc. and includes dormant times every now and then” instead of this robotic machine-thing that completely ignores that any kind of structure (for me) needs to be flexible or it will break down as soon as life interferes. Seems like the challenge (once again) is to find my own personal middle ground, even if it’s likely to be anywhere but in the exact middle of all this. Perhaps I need to think about ways to queer* the idea of discipline without losing its good and useful aspects…

* Not necessarily in the sense of spoiling it, and even less in the sense of making it homosexual, but rather in the sense of twisting and turning the general idea of “discipline,” prodding and stretching it until it starts to make sense again.

9 responses »

  1. Cat, I could have written a lot of this. This part:

    “A part of me just wants to reaffirm that this is just the way I work: bouts of obsession-like focus on some topic, followed by near-complete disinterest in the same topic a while later (with “a while” ranging anywhere from a few days to a few years). And after another while, a return to the topic, full of renewed interest and passion. Rinse and repeat. It works for me, so what if it’s not the accepted ideal of how these things are supposed to happen?”

    That is me, to a tee.

    After the bout of obsession–it is usually at least a year or more, but no more than 2-3 at a time, I’d say–passes, I may go many years without actively investigating that aspect of life again, and yet, what I have learned during that period of intensive, highly concentrated study and experience and self-learning stays with me for the rest of my life. I have internalized it and carry it around with me every day hence forth.

    People often remark with surprise on how much I know about a diverse range of subjects I didn’t specialize in in my degrees or work; it’s not the diversity that surprises them (as per a Renaissance Man), but the depth of knowledge and detail of each–and this depth is due to intensive 1-3 year cycles of immersing myself totally in the world I am exploring and self-apprenticing until I’ve gained at least rudimentary skills.

    This is not laziness to my mind (even though I allow that I am quite lazy in other ways–the state of my flat will attest to that) but simply, focus that is too single-minded and intense to sustain itself for longer than a couple of years. Indeed, I never approach anything half-baked; I always determine to experience it to the fullest while I’m within that world. It is also a reflection of my voracious appetite for the world around me, for knowledge of it and experience of it, too.

    You are on the right track in wanting to “queer” the idea of “discipline.” The standard model of discipline does not fit all types of people, just as the standard model of learning does not.

    And let’s take the queering further and question whether this Anglo-Saxon notion of “discipline”–which in countries like the U.S. and perhaps potentially Germany, is sacrosanct, next to godliness–as the ultimate moral value is appropriate or useful to begin with. In some cultures, to call someone undisciplined (or un-ambitious, or unfocused) is a powerful attack on their character and moral virtue.

    On the other hand, nor should shy away from considering that maybe you subconsciously resist going deeper into spirituality/related subjects for a reason that really might merit “working on” and trying to change. With this post, it seems you already have considered this.

    Either way, forcing yourself to engage with tarot, a pagan path, or anything else when you are not yet in a frame of mind to be organically inspired to do so, will only set yourself up for a perpetual feeling of delinquency. It’s a feeling I know quite well, when I feel I “should” be doing more of X or Y.

    It’s disheartening to walk around feeling like a kid playing truant. If you can, try to avoid that.

  2. Chiriku, thank you so much for all of this comment!

    I particularly appreciate what you said about the value of discipline in certain cultures, and I believe this is a track worth investigating further. I recently read of someone’s German-Lutheran background that – to them – strongly suggested “If it feels good, you shouldn’t take money for it.” I think I can easily expand that to “If it feels good, it’s not worth much.” Indeed, a myth to examine more in depth!

    You also gave a part of my feeling a good name, that of the “feeling of delinquency” or the “kid playing truant” – because that’s how I often feel when I don’t follow “the rules.” I’m still trying to figure out if that’s just because I started doing this consciously as a teenager, or if it really is a part that needs to grow up and face the music (e.g. my resistance to the deeper parts of spirituality).

    At any rate, you’ve given me a lot of great food for thought – thank you!

  3. You’re very welcome, Cat. Thank YOU for the (characteristically) insightful post. As you can tell, my message is directed as much at myself as you.

    That’s exactly what I mean: the German-Lutheran (and generally Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic/etc) worship of discipline, ambition, and industry, to the point where a divergent model of learning or working is considered a severe moral failing, a character flaw. I am earnestly trying to vex this notion of “discipline” and “industry” and so forth, not just giving myself an excuse for my own erratic habits. There is method to my madness, as I’m sure there is for you, and chaos has its own patterns, to say nothing of benefits.

    Yes, I perpetually feel delinquent, the kid skipping school. Maybe it’s because I know I have so much “potential” that I’m not “putting to good use” (as per that German-Lutheran worldview).

    Keep questioning…but I hardly need to tell you to do that, do I? That is one thing people like you and me will never undertake in cycles or “bouts;” it’s the one constant amid all the short-term “obsessions,” eh?

  4. Hi Cat

    Certainly there are elements of this post which resonate strongly with me too. The vague ‘should-a, would-a, could-a’ stuff and often I too wonder what I am avoiding, is it me being lazy, why does life get in the way and then when I deliberately take time off to focus on the spiritual, other things just seem to get done instead.

    Part of it, for me, I have found has to come from a combination of heart and soul rather than mind over matter. It seems to be a big part of our social conditioning to believe that there is a rigour or disciplined and ritualised way of being spiritual when in fact the more I let go of these preconceptions, the more amazing the spiritual connection becomes. Living a spiritual life is exactly that, living it! Every part of every day IS the discipline of spiritual work.

    Being part of everything, the stillness and the chaos, the cycles of nature and our own psychological cycles are part of life it seems. Asking why is another part of that which few do, most coast through life never considering or even noticing these things. You are already ahead of the pack not simply because you are extremely intelligent but because you are spiritually, emotionally and psychologically aware!

    If it helps, some of the most renowned spiritual people in history have shared similar concerns, Mother Theresa for one . . . Is the problem that there are times of quiet contrasted by times of intense activity or that someone decided that we should all be turned up to ‘spiritual high’ 24/7?

    Spirituality isn’t a competition, a feel-good exercise or a daily motivational business meeting, it is who we are growing to be in our connection with all that is. If you were being lazy about your spiritual practice, you would not be writing this blog post . . . .

  5. Chiriku, once again, you managed to describe exactly how I feel (and in such beautiful language, too!).

    That line about “all that potential” not being “put to good use”? Heard that. Told it to myself, in fact, and maybe a few times too many by now. So here’s hoping I can get back to embracing my methodical madness and beneficial chaos more than I did in the past few years. Because I miss the kind of happiness I get from that approach. After all, it’s not like reclaiming that approach means I can’t also be industrious and punctual and whatever else when it’s necessary to get important(-to-me) things done.

    And, hell yeah, is questioning ever a constant obsession for me! See? I do have a really long-term project after all. ;)

  6. Milliecrow, thank you for your comment! It may not have been your own emphasis but when I read your first paragraph I realized that, yes, other things do indeed get done. And as I said in my post, often they are important, too.

    I can also relate to what you said about letting go of preconceptions about what living a spiritual life actually means. I’m not entirely clear on that for myself at this point, so it might be another question worth pondering.

    I’m not sure how spiritually (or emotionally and psychologically) aware I actually am (I suppose there’s a lot of stuff I still miss!), but thanks nonetheless for the compliment. I’m not actually concerned so much with what others do, unless it serves as an example (good or bad) for my own behavior. And I’m definitely not comparing myself to Mother Theresa in any way, although it’s still comforting to know that even people who are widely recognized as highly spiritual struggle at times because it makes their experience more real and believable to me.

    I guess in some ways this blog post and discussion bring me back to similar issues as the ones I discussed in an earlier post

  7. Hi Cat*!
    After reading this honest and critical reflection what comes to my mind is:
    1) You worked hard and had little time for yourself.
    Now you are on vacation
    So BE on vacation! – From work, from spiritual search and maybe even from Tarot….

    2) you will get, what you put your attention to:
    = when you go “all out” into Tarot, all you will get is – Tarot .
    - But Tarot / divination is only a tool…

    3) Every night before going to sleep ask for a dream.
    A dream that will help you ….
    Leave that “in / for/ about what” open = deliberately
    – so you will be open and not on another trackway….
    Ask that you please be able to remember the dream.
    In the morning, write down your dream.Then go about your day – open…..meanings will float in. In the evening write them down.

    4) Also, in the Morning ask to recognize “signs” that are meant to point out your way….
    In the evening, write down the signs you encountered.
    For now however, you are on vacation!!!!!!!!!!!
    Do NOT do battle with yourself like in that card you drew……
    You said yourself: The Aurochs was not an Aurochs – so the battle may not be a battle and the Fire is still burning…..

  8. I can totally sympathize with this problem–I’m recently jobless myself, though I’m trying to turn my joblessness into entrepreneurship (that’s a whole different can of worms). And I have the same problems with consistency.

    I think that’s really what gets modern people–being consistent. I admire your focus, your drive, and I agree with Mi-Shell–you probably just need some down time. Take it! I have trouble with that advice, too, but it’ll probably be better for you, and your practice, in the long run.

    Hope you’re well!

  9. @ Mi-Shell:
    Thank you for chiming in here! :) I hope you know that I cherish your comments, even if I end up with another take on things than you!

    1) I wouldn’t say that I’m “on vacation.” At least not the way I understand “vacation.” What my voluntary-time-without-paid-work is about for me is having time to reconnect with myself and my own truths and beliefs instead of being subtly but consistently brainwashed by hanging out in an office with “normal” people doing a “normal” job all day. I definitely expect spirituality to be a part of that reconnection! And I’m actually happy that I now have time to do some of the work that’s important to me. So this is not about me not taking a break to do nice things because this kind of work is a very, very nice thing for me.

    2) You certainly have a point about getting what I put my attention to. :) I’m definitely aware that tarot is of course only a tool – and one that has been working great for me for a whole lot of different things at that. However, I’m not sure where you got the idea that I was talking only about tarot here?

    3) Thank you for the idea. I know that a lot of people (including you) get a lot out of working with their dreams. However, I’ve repeatedly tried writing down my dreams (if I remember them) over a period of time, and I’ve found again and again that I’m really bad at interpreting dreams, especially my own. Whenever I try it, I just end up very confused about which ones of the gazillion details I remember even matter, not to mention what they might actually mean. As easy as I often find it to read random images on cards, as hard/impossible do I find it to read my dreams. So for now I’ve decided not to work with my dreams and use my cards instead or see what themes/messages appear during my everyday life.

    4) While I fully agree that more journaling would be good for me, I already have way more things I want to explore in writing than I have time for as it is. And I have to admit that I strongly hesitate to introduce any daily task into my life again just yet. Before I do that, I need to do some more “detoxicating” of the patterns I adopted during my time in the world of “normal” full-time office work. That means, no schedule, few set dates, and a whole lot of freedom to just get up and decide what I want to do with that day (which actually includes a lot of writing, just not in a systematic way like you suggested). In a couple of weeks, however, this advice may actually be just what I need. :)

    And I like your take on “if the aurochs is not an aurochs, the battle may not be a battle…” Maybe things are exactly as they’re supposed to be right now, and I have nothing to worry about. If I stick with my detox metaphor, then I should expect my former habits and interests to change in some way as I learn to live my life differently and without stuff that’s harmful to me. And while detox isn’t the same as a vacation, it also isn’t the same as everyday life. Right? :)

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