Tag Archives: spirituality

I is for the Internet

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This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first one for the letter I.

I hesitated to even write about this topic because it seemed so banal and self-evident. It also leads to some observations of myself that I’m not particularly proud of. But sometimes even the banal and self-evident things need to be acknowledged and the shame-inducing parts of oneself made public.

So let’s start with a statement that seems anything but exceptional: The Internet is one of the major influences on my spirituality. It’s where I go to find information from multiple sources, opportunities for exchange and debate, and like-minded people. It’s where I find words and images that express something I recognize, or something that I suddenly get when I see it, or something that I don’t quite understand but that still intrigues me. It’s how I keep in touch with most of my spiritually-inclined friends, especially the ones who live in different countries. In fact, it seems so much like the “natural” thing to do that I barely even realize how much spiritually-themed time I spend at the computer (which for me usually also means sitting at a desk since I don’t have a smartphone and don’t want one, either).

Partly that’s because so much of my life in general has moved into online spaces during the last fourteen years since I first got Internet access at home. I remember when the whole Internet seemed to be magic and only very few people used it, let alone put up their own content into the cloud (non-techy people barely had email accounts back then). Now, only ten or fifteen short years after some Pagan books had references to “cybershamanism,” examined online rituals that were typed out in text-based chat rooms, or printed edgy spells for the smooth running of software and hardware, all of this seem quaintly dated. The Internet isn’t a mysterious new space for the select few anymore, for the ones who can write code and understand how all the stuff works on the backend side of things. It’s extremely accessible for almost everyone, and it’s nearly everywhere (at least in industrialized countries). And that’s wonderful. Unless it’s not.

I feel very blessed that someone has created all these places where we can put our writing and images and videos and soundfiles for everyone to access without even needing a basic understanding of programming on either side. Not to mention that it’s all practically cost-free, if we assume that a computer and online connection are already in place. I deeply cherish the variety of voices I get to hear, even with my limitation of speaking only two Western languages, and how there is a lot less educational and financial privilege necessary to publish one’s experiences or opinions for everyone to read, look at, or listen to (please note that I said “a lot less,” not “no more”). It’s a blessing to be able to connect so easily and immediately to other people who – like me – are members of such small minorities that there are never enough of us to make a functioning local group where I live. It’s a blessing to be able to have access to this huge stew of opinions, facts, thoughts, experiences, and fantasies in the two languages I speak, and to add to it in my own ways. This sure beats being limited to what you find in the local library’s card catalogue with no one to talk to about what you read!

At the same time, this mass of available data makes it impossible to even keep up the illusion that I may be able to read everything relevant about a topic within this lifetime, partly because there is just so much that is relevant, and partly also because there is such a mass of crap to wade through until I find the worthwhile bits. The instant availability of information means there is no more need for patience, no forced reflection time until the next mouthful of input arrives, which often leaves me stuffed full with food for thought that will eventually be half-digested at best. The wonders of Internet communication make me feel intimately connected to those other people at those other monitors, as long as the technology is running smoothly – and abruptly disconnected from everyone when it’s not.

That’s something I only realized very recently when my Beloved said summed it up like this: “Your dilemma is that you’re at heart a group person but that you rarely ever find a local group that you can relate to.” That hit the nail so smack on the head that I cried with both the relief of being truly understood by this wonderful human I share my life with, and with the very real tragic of this dilemma. It’s true, I’ve ended up doing a whole lot of things on my own, simply because I haven’t been able to find people to do them with in a way that doesn’t require me to twist myself into something that’s not me anymore. And yet I still yearn for face-to-face contact that is not mediated by two monitors and several kilometers of cable (or whatever material is necessary to transmit wireless data).

But as soon as I turn off that cable connection, it’s as if a lifeline is cut. Then I suddenly have to face my loneliness again, my confusion, and my disorientation. And then I immediately want to log in again, because that’s – presumably – where the answers are when you first and foremost work through stuff by reading about it like I do. (Mind you, I acted the exact same way before there were computers in my life. I just existed on a much more limited diet of whatever input I needed at the time. A small handful of zines from overseas, one or two books, and a bunch of vinyl records and mix tapes from bands I’d never get to see play live saved my sanity for a surprisingly long time at least once. No, that wasn’t directly about spirituality, but I’m not sure if the separation of the spheres even makes sense here.). Sometimes I wonder if this already counts as an “online addiction.”

At the very least, the ease of online connections makes it less urgent to find and take care of my connections offline, to both humans and spiritual beings. I get lazy. Here are some things that happen more often than I’m comfortable admitting: Instead of practicing my spirituality, I’m reading about other people’s practice. Instead of going outside myself, I’m looking at pictures of gorgeous trees and wild skies online. Instead of welcoming silence and solitude as times where the stuff I read is digested, where new connections are made in my own mind, and where maybe even the possibility to experience new feelings exists, I’m avoiding them whenever I can.

And, not for the first time, I have to admit that it doesn’t do me much good to let these things happen. Not for the first time I’m wondering how to fulfill my need for connection and food for thought, how to allow myself the joy of wandering aimlessly through the Web and discovering interesting things at a hundred times the speed I did that in libraries when I was younger (and it is a tremendous joy indeed), and at the same time not let my online consumption replace my offline creation/action. Obviously, increasing my digitally disconnected time is the way to go. As is enduring and maybe even embracing the silence and solitude. And actively looking for people with whom to communicate about those things at least a little more directly than by typing stuff into a computer (remember phone calls, Cat?).

I also believe I shouldn’t beat up myself for the amount of my Internet use, even when I know I overdid it again. Because that won’t help. Still, it’s good to know a little better what it is about the Internet that draws me in so much. Because that tells me a lot about what I might want to look for elsewhere. Or what I might want to stop running away from. Because that thing might just be a huge chunk of my active spirituality.

And if anyone is now reminded of the last part of yesterday’s post, that’s not a coincidence…

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H is for Hothead Paisan

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This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the second one for the letter H. Once again, I’m posting late, so it will be a very short wait until the next post of the series. The illustrations are (not very good) photos of some pages from two books I own: Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist and The Revenge of Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, both by Diane DiMassa.

As I was contemplating my spiritual path so far, I remembered that there had been spirituality even in the most mundane phase of my life, and that I had found it in a rather unlikely place: the Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist comic series by Diane DiMassa. If you have heard of it, you may have heard that Hothead does what others only fantasize about: chop off body male parts that have crossed female boundaries, blow up the tower of patriarchy, and generally get revenge for sexism, homophobia, and racism by (often rather amusing) acts of extreme violence.

Hothead Paisan meets God in the form of an oddly-shaped lamp

What they haven’t told you about is the other side of the coin: Hothead’s depressive episodes, her times of crushing self-doubt, and her occasional bone-deep loneliness and despair. It’s in one of those dark and scary moments that she goes off and meets God a Divine Being – in the form of a oddly-shaped lamp with a sense of humor.

Lampy (or rather, Donna Summer – since that is how Lampy is really called as we learn eventually) loves Hothead no matter what. Even when she’s just tortured and killed another bunch of rapists. Lampy also has spiritual advice for our fearsome warrior on her mission to bring justice to the world.

Hothead is given advice by Lampy (1)

Hothead is given advice by Lampy (2)

But there’s more. One day, Hothead can’t stand it any longer and decides she needs to escape and leave. The problem is, she has no idea where to go. But then she has an idea…

The reaction of Hothead’s cat Chicken to this idea is summed up in a drawing of Hothead that bears a striking resemblance to the Fool from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. With combat boots. And Chicken instead of the dog. (Click to enlarge.)

But let’s continue with the story. We’re skipping the part where Hothead arrives at the gay bar in whose back room the queer femme Sharquee does her thing, where Hothead flirts with Sharquee despite knowing that Sharquee’s big butch girlfriend is pretty jealous, and where they eventually sit down to do the reading. (Buy the book – as long as there are still some copies out there – if you want to read that part. There are also some back issues of the original comic to be had at the Hothead website.)

Well, let’s just say I should have gotten this reading many times in my life already… And I’m eternally grateful to Diane DiMassa for creating this series and for giving her main character this often overlooked depth and vulnerability together with her endless arsenal of lethal weapons – which makes her so much more lovable, relatable, and real. Not to mention the fact that it makes the series far more than just a boring fantasy of the “all violence, all the time” kind. I’m also grateful for all these references (there are more than the ones I showed you here) to non-mainstream spirituality that this thoroughly queer character and her friends encounter/embody because they made the whole topic so much more accessible and relatable for me. Plus: cat yoga. What’s not to love?

H is for Hospice Work

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This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first one for the letter H. The illustrations are ads from a campaign for a stationary hospice in the USA. You can see the whole series in better solution at the copy writer’s website.

As you may have read in my earlier PBP post on Death, I have been participating in a weekly training course for volunteer hospice workers since early November. So let me start by giving you a few facts about the volunteer hospice training I got and the actual volunteer work I do so you get an idea where I’m coming from on this.

The last meeting of my training group will be next week, and until then we’ll have logged about 100 hours of training. That training alone was an experience I wouldn’t want to miss! We have learned communication skills, talked about ethics and how to keep a non-judgmental attitude, learned a few basics about dementia, palliative care, and what happens during the process of dying and after death, explored the role of spirituality and rituals, learned about grief and bereavement, were informed about the legal limitations of what we can and can’t do (for insurance reasons), and have done a lot of introspection about our motivations, our own experiences with illness, grief, and death. After that, there will be regular feedback for the documentation we write for the hospice service after each visit (so they know what’s going on in any given hospice relationship and how we cope with it), monthly supervision, and opportunities to do further training on particular aspects of the work we do. While I still expect to make mistakes along the way, I felt as well-trained and well-supported at this service as one can be when I began my first volunteer assignment a few weeks ago.

“My” organization is an ambulant hospice service, which means we go where the people we serve are living: into their private households, into nursing homes, and occasionally into hospitals (there is a saying: hospice is not necessarily a physical place, but it’s an attitude or concept). We serve people who are living with a terminal illness and/or their families and other close ones. What we do there is as varied as the people we serve. Some need help with running errands or doing paperwork, others need someone to talk to about difficult topics who isn’t part of their family/circle of friends, yet others need someone to just sit quietly with them and maybe hold their hand, and others yet again need someone to take care of their pets or children or plants. Sometimes we are called to visit the dying person themselves, other times we are asked to support their wife/husband/partner, adult child, or other (familial) caretaker. The basic idea is that we offer a certain amount of time (usually about three hours a week) and the people we serve decide what they want to do with that time (within the limits we stated – e.g. a volunteer may not want to work with children or dogs, may not want to cook or be able to carry heavy groceries, or may be uncomfortable in the house of a heavy smoker). It is assumed that everyone we serve can and will make their own decisions about their own lives (just as they’ve usually done for many decades before we met them), and we are to accept these decisions, even if we don’t like them or don’t agree with them. It’s not our job to judge the people we serve and we’re not supposed to “fix” anyone’s life, give them advice about what would be best for them or their families, or make decisions for them.

[Photo of an old man and a boy playing cards. Text: "Hospice isn't just about dying peacefully. It's about living until you die."]

And that brings me to the central aspect of this work for me: the element of what I want to call ego-less service. By this I mean a service that isn’t done primarily because we want something for ourselves, but because we want to serve someone else and their needs and wants. I’m using the term “ego-less” instead of “selfless” because we’re not asked to do away with our personalities/selves or give up our boundaries. A hospice volunteer is not an emotional service-bot but a human being with a unique history and personality – just like the people we serve. In fact, I believe we can only be good hospice workers if we actually have a full life to return to after our visits, and that anything else will eventually lead to burn-out.

The idea of such ego-less (or low-ego) service isn’t exactly new to me. In fact, I’ve been encountering it in various contexts (and I’m not even counting my experiences as a customer of various service professionals here). Paid work as a customer service agent via telephone. Reading intelligent BDSM novels that center on giving and receiving service (such as Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace series) and talking to BDSM practitioners who are into providing (or receiving) non-sexual service. Possibly even providing tarot readings for fellow members of Aeclectic Tarot Forum and a few other friends. And now volunteer hospice work.

None of these things seem to work really well if the person providing the service does these things with an ego-centric attitude. Sure, I can “egoistically” strive to become the best customer service agent (I’ll use this example because I think it’s the most relateable one from my list) compared to my colleagues, but the quality of my service will still be measured by how well I fulfilled the needs of someone else (= the customer). There are two components to a customer service contact: emotions and facts/deeds. That means, a good customer service agent needs to first take care of people’s disappointment or anger or fear (which is usually done by listening to these emotions and validating them), and then(!) give them the information they need, or do whatever else needs to be done to solve the problem at hand (at least as much as possible). Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you received a technically good solution for your problem from a customer service provider but still felt as bad as before, if not worse. That’s usually because nobody took care of your emotions and that means you only got half of the solution you actually needed. On the other hand, if all you got was an open ear and believable sympathy but your delivery will still be late with no refund, you’re likely to still feel better than before, and to feel you’ve still received adequate service. That’s how important the “emotional labor” part of customer service is.

I believe I can take valuable lessons from my customer service experience over into my hospice work. Focusing on the needs and desires of someone else and doing something that makes them feel better was indeed a fulfilling thing to do. I actually often enjoyed dealing with the challenges of the “difficult” customers (which are usually those with strong emotions) and was proud if they were once again calm and content when I said goodbye to them after a few minutes. The difference seemed to be that I always acknowledged their feelings as appropriate, right at the beginning of the conversation. And no, I didn’t have to fake that sympathy very often: after all, I’ve been a customer of similar businesses myself and know how frustrating it is when a delivery doesn’t arrive in the specified time, when I’ve received a damaged item, when a refund isn’t issued immediately, etc. (This was definitely made easier by the fact that I usually wasn’t the one who was responsible for the original problems, so I didn’t have to confront them as my own failures.)

[Photo of two old women playing cards and laughing. Text: "Sometimes the best pain medication isn't medication."]

There is one thing, however, that I can’t and shouldn’t take over from customer service into hospice work. As a customer service agent, I was expected to take over responsibility, find a solution, and generally do all the “doing” necessary to fix the problem. As a hospice volunteer, this is the one major thing I’m not supposed to do. Sometimes that’s hard for me to do. After all, I’m a pretty good “fixer” in my everyday life. I still have a job where I’m supposed to solve problems (preferably before they come into existence), and I have a tendency to suggest solutions when someone tells me of a problem they have. (Which is why – when I’m not sure what is

desired – I’ve taken up the habit of asking if the friend in question needs me to just shut up and listen or if they want me to brainstorm potential solutions with them.)

But that’s exactly why I enjoy the challenge to do things differently in my volunteer work so much. I get to grow beyond who I am already. I get to try out and train different sides of me. Here’s one more example. As I described over in the D is for Death post, I’ve already done some hospice-related work last year when I visited people with dementia in a nursing home every week for a few months. This was a context where the skills I’m usually valued for were of very little relevance. It was irrelevant if I was good a expressing things verbally. It was irrelevant if I could argue well, understand academic texts, work with a variety of computer programs, organize events, or read obsessively. What was needed instead were my emotional capabilities – the ones that are otherwise often underestimated, ridiculed, or denied to be existing in the first place. Was I able to feel and express sympathy with someone’s sadness, grief, or anger, even if I didn’t understand why they were feeling that way in the first place, and even if I had no way of “fixing” the problem (the dementia wouldn’t go away, no matter what I did!)? Was I able to empathize with and validate all of the emotions of all of the different family members without taking sides or involving myself with their dynamics in any other way? Surprisingly, I seemed to be rather good at this for the most time, and I often went away from these encounters feeling incredibly blessed for having had them. There were some moments when the people I visited or their family members expressed profound gratitude for what I was doing – which often wasn’t doing much of anything but being there, listening, and accepting whatever came up.

So of course I get something back from this work, even though I initially started it because I felt a strong call to do something that didn’t primarily benefit myself and “people like me and my friends” (unlike my previous volunteer work of 10+ years as an organizer of countless no-budget LGBTQ subcultural events had done). I had a strong feeling that I needed to branch out and do something that wasn’t primarily about me and my interests and my idea of a good time. And yet, of course I still do something that matters to me, something I’m interested in, something that I ultimately enjoy doing. Here are some more of the benefits of this work: I often get to skip the small talk and jump right into what really matters. I get to let go of all the identity labels I usually wear and be a human being who is spending (often very intimate) time with another human being. I get to make something that is a taboo for many a little less scary and a little more accessible (often by the simple fact of telling someone what it is I do). I get to shut up and listen and let someone else call the shots for a while.

[Photo of an old man laughing and half hiding his face behind his arm. Text: "It's okay to cry when someone is dying. It's also okay to laugh."]

I’m also quietly amused by the fact that much of this almost sounds like what other people say about why they like to bottom (= be the “passive”/receptive one) in their BDSM encounters… And indeed, there seem to be some interesting similarities between BDSM service and hospice work. The focus on the needs and desires of someone else and the willingness to fulfill them if possible within the negotiated frame is probably the most obvious one. Certain communication skills (including nonverbal ones), attention to everyone’s boundaries, a heightened awareness of power dynamics, a strong emphasis on issues of consent (and ethics in general), respect for people who are into different things than you are and a generally non-judgmental attitude are other important aspects of hospice work that I’ve also encountered in connection with BDSM.

And then there’s spirituality and the idea of a spiritual service. While I haven’t been called by any particular spiritual being to do a certain kind of work as a service to either them (such as when people dedicate their volunteer work to a specific deity) or my community (such as the “classic” shamans I mentioned earlier) or both, I still see a spiritual component to my hospice work.  I’ve been trying to find words to better describe what I mean by “a spiritual component” but I’m still failing to do so right now. What I can say is that I don’t mean we constantly have deep, meaningful conversations about faith or the afterlife (or the lack thereof) with the people we serve – although the topic does come up occasionally. Maybe it really boils down to the fact that I feel inexplicably called to do this work…

And with that I unceremoniously break off and take note of the fact that I don’t have any “final” words to say on this topic, yet. I expect it will come up again in some way later on.

——-

Here are two further links that seemed to provide some useful information:

Hospice Foundation of America (HFA) Blog – discusses a variety of topics related to hospice work.
Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness – basic information about facing serious illness, about the dying process, and a bunch of related issues

G is for German Heathenry and … gah!

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This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. It’s the first one for the letter G, and it’s late again (I usually post these on Fridays).
Originally, I even wanted to skip this week’s post entirely because I didn’t feel inspired enough about any of my G ideas to actually write something about them (I’m saving
gender for next week because Friday is a public holiday here, which means “time to write all day”). But…

— And here I need to interrupt this entry before it has even really started for the disclaimer that I’m still very new at thinking about this in any systematic way, so I may lack even basic knowledge about established terms and concepts. Please assume that this is a piece of my thoughts in progress, and that I’m happy to learn from you about thoughts and/or articles that are worth examining. —

…as I was browsing pictures of other people’s altars today, I came across one that (according to the information on the original website it came from) seemed to be from some German Heathen group, from roughly the same area where I live. Hmm, interesting…? I followed another link from there and came to a German Asatru website. It looked harmless enough at first, but I got suspicious very quickly. You see, calling almost every single part of a website by a German name is highly unusual over here. I mean, we all know what a “link” is because half of the computer-related terms we use in German are either the same as in English or slightly Germanized versions of English terms anyway. So it stands out if someone explicitly uses a German term. (Maybe I need to also tell you that people who passionately fight to keep the German language free from all the “unnecessary” English words we’ve been adopting tend to lean towards a strange concept of “purity” that comes with all the baggage you can imagine. Sure, sometimes a German term would do just as well (or better) as an English one, but I don’t get the panic about “German dying out” when everybody has gotten used to originally French, Latin, Greek, or Yiddish words just fine in the past and most of us don’t even know they’re not “originally” German… But I digress.)

At any rate, I looked around a bit more on the website to see if my suspicions were justified. And, oh yes, were they ever! I found the most obvious clues on the “humor and satire” section of the website. It had several entries that made fun of the association of Asatru/Heathen groups and racism/extreme right-wing politics as if that was something so absurd that it was only good for satire, not for any serious discussion. As if there weren’t any problematic associations of the two in reality. And that, my dear readers, is something that just doesn’t happen when it’s important to you not to be associated with old or new Nazis and related ideologies. Not in Germany. Not as Heathens/Asatru.

Mind you, I’m not saying that the members of this group are all militant Nazis, but there were enough hints in the wording of their descriptions that made it quite clear that they see a direct connection between one’s ancestry, the land/country (the word is the same for both in German), and the religion one is supposed to follow. And to me that’s basically the same shit in just slightly more “spiritual” packaging than saying outright that “us German(ic)s” and “them members of different ‘races'” are fundamentally different by nature. (Despite typing this heavily quotation-marked for distance it still makes me want to spit out in disgust.) And that is what we call racism in my world.

And don’t anybody start claiming that religion/belief/spirituality doesn’t have anything to do with politics! How can’t it, when both are based on some ethical principles and specific worldviews?!

Well. I went back to the image hosting page and looked at a few more pictures. And it really doesn’t feel good to know there are organized groups of those kinds of Heathens/Asatru out there doing their thing in the same area where I live… Call me naive or ignorant, but it did make a difference to see visual evidence for this instead of just intellectually knowing they probably exist here, too. I immediately felt the wish to spiritually “take back the territory” from them. And I’m not even a Heathen/Asatru/Northern Tradition anything! In fact, I’ve barely just started learning a little bit about these Pagan traditions because, well, I do live in Germany, and I do own a German passport, and I do have plenty of German ancestors. And it’s certainly not like I feel like embracing everything that I’ve learned so far.

But still. This hits home closer than reading about “folkish” Asatru somewhere in America or cissexist rituals by Dianic Wiccans or any other problematic politics happening under the umbrella of “Pagan spirituality.” Maybe it’s just because those people have been to places that are literally less than ten minutes away from the house I live in. Or maybe I’ve started to identify a little bit with Northern Tradition Paganism by now. I’m not sure.

I just know that experiences like this make me want to do two contradictory things at once:

a) Run away and not even touch anything Heathen with a ten-foot pole. Instead, develop a Pagan practice with another cultural background (which would then bring up the problem of cultural appropriation, but that’s another kettle of fish).

b) Become a Heathen/Asatru myself and be as out and loud about my anti-racist and anti-Nazi politics and my constructionist and very queer worldview as possible.

As it is, I don’t think I’ll do any of these just now. But the fact remains that I still can’t shake the impression that Heathens/Asatru with beliefs about the “natural” connection between one’s ancestry and one’s spirituality that can be described as at least incredibly naive/ignorant are actually in the majority here in Germany. No, I don’t have any numbers to prove that impression. I don’t even have any noteworthy connections to Heathen/Asatru people in this country (with the exception of an acquaintance who is most decidedly anti-racist). But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I stumble across this kind of German Asatru/Heathenry practically every time I try to find out more about Northern Tradition Paganism in my native language. I know there are exceptions but they seem few and far between. Mainstream Heathenry (if that’s not a contradiction within itself) over here seems to have way too many ties with racist ideologies of the kind I just described – or at least not enough explicit dissociation from them.

And I can’t pretend that this isn’t majorly influencing my openness to even looking into Heathenry for purposes of information, let alone adopting anything Heathen as my own spiritual worldview and practice. Because I’m really not keen on coming across disgusting stuff like that all the time, especially not when I’m already having to translate everything I read into “queer-speak” to find out if I’m actually included in terms of gender and sexuality or not. (But the latter really is stuff for next week’s post, except for the bit I’ve already written about here.)

To conclude this (for now), I wanted to post a couple of links to websites of people who haven’t just started thinking and writing about this like me. I found them during a very cursory Google search, so they may not be the absolute best material that’s out there, but they looked good enough for a start:
“Racism in Asatru”, and the follow-up article “Responses to Folkish Heathens”, both by Wayland Skallagrimsson.

And here are two links to Heathen/Asatru organizations that are explicitly working against racism, because they do good work and deserve backlinks and support for it:
Heathens Against Hate (in English) and Nornir’s Aett (in German).

B is for Balancing

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This post is a part of the Pagan Blog Project. It is the first of two for the letter B. As you can see, I’m still catching up on the project because the second B post would have been due this Friday. I plan to publish mine later this weekend.

This is not a post about the kind of balance that is once achieved and then kept in perfect beauty. Instead, it’s a post about the kind of balance you might find in a seesaw: dynamic, ever-changing, and not necessarily entirely pleasant.

I used to wonder why I always had such difficulties replying to questions that asked about my “typical role in a group.” That’s because I don’t really have a typical role I assume in whatever kind of group I’m in. I don’t even have a typical role I assume in the same group over even a small period of time.

Instead I’ve found that I often assume any role that is currently lacking in the given group set-up at a particular time.

If everyone agrees all too readily with each other without even having had any kind of discussion/collective thought process, I am the one to bring about questioning and disorder. If everyone is fighting and setting up Us vs. Them dynamics, I am the one to build bridges, translate and find common ground. If everyone is holding back passively and indecisively, I am the one to take the lead, take on responsibility and make decisions. If everyone is blaming/scapegoating someone else, I am the one to defend that someone and try to make others see that person’s view. If everyone is being outwardly friendly to someone who has overstepped the boundaries, I am the one to bring the conflict out into the open. If everyone is calmly rational in a matter (also) that touches on other people’s emotions, I am the one to express these emotions (especially difficult ones like anger or hurt, but sometimes also joy and love). If everyone is being very emotional, I am the one to bring some rational analysis to the dynamic. If everyone is serious and perfectionist, I am the one who introduces play, laughter and the value of “good enough.” If everyone is glossing over imperfections and joking around, I am the one to call for order and earnestness. And so on.

In part that’s probably due to my nearly automatic habit to always assume a “different” position, often simply out of curiosity for what effect that will have. I like not doing what everyone else does. But then I never just start trouble for trouble’s sake, so I figured there must be some other reason why I keep shapeshifting my behavior and even my emotions according to the needs of the group I’m in. Eventually I began to regard this as a “spiritual” role I fulfill: adding what’s missing, providing a necessary counterpart, causing creative tension to achieve some greater good. In fact, I often do so at my own cost, because you don’t exactly win many friends by “always being so difficult, ” by “always making things complicated,” or by “never accepting anything without (initial) objection.”

Admittedly, this may be stretching the definition of “spiritual,” but I believe it is one of my “jobs” in this life to put this talent to the use of a greater good, often without even being conscious of it while it happens. I believe I’m serving the Universe by doing so, consciously or not, even if that doesn’t often result in peace and comfort or in having praise heaped on me in vast amounts. To me at least, that is spiritual – and it is another thought process in progress…