I was talking with a friend this past week and he said, almost apologetically, “I’m not really religious but I guess I’m what you’d call spiritual.” I don’t see being “spiritual” as anything to be uncomfortable about admitting to be, but I know he felt it was somehow below being “religious.”

He is not alone in that feeling or that self-evaluation. A Pew Research study this year found that:

Some people may see the term “spiritual but not religious” as indecisive and devoid of substance. Others embrace it as an accurate way to describe themselves. What is beyond dispute, however, is that the label applies to a growing share of Americans.

About a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious, up 8 percentage points in five years, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between April 25 and June 4 of this year. This growth has been broad-based: It has occurred among men and women; whites, blacks and Hispanics; people of many different ages and education levels; and among Republicans and Democrats. For instance, the share of whites who identify as spiritual but not religious has grown by 8 percentage points in the past five years.

I think the path of spiritual growth is not just stepping away from formal religion, but it is not a clearly defined path. There isn’t even only one path to take toward enlightenment. Even in a structured philosophy such as Buddhism, it can be confusing. The Buddhist tradition gives a variety of descriptions of the Buddhist Path (magga). There are the Seven Purifications, the Three Dharma Gates, the Four Ways of Knowing of Hakuin, the Eight Gates of Zen and probably more that I have not remembered.

For myself, looking back I can see stages that I went through in my own journey. I can’t say that everyone follows this path, but I suspect that anyone who feels they are on a path to spiritual growth goes through similar stages.

The starting place is actually before you step on the path. This is a time when someone has no awareness or connection to any spiritual self. You don’t acknowledge that there is anything other than the material world. Some people live their entire life in this way and may be successful and happy.

If at some point, a person has the sense that there is something more to life than what they see, then they may search for a way to find that unseen something. They may not have a name for it. They may not call it spiritual.

This seeking may be triggered by a crisis or difficult period in our lives. It may come from an experience that we label as “spiritual.” For me, it happened because I came in contact with other people who were already on a spiritual path.

Realizing that there is something more to this life and actually starting out on a path toward it may not happen immediately. You can stand at the edge of the path for years before you take that first step.

 

Some curiosity about spirituality grows and you begin to investigate and seek out knowledge and others. At this stage, some people will embrace an established religion or an organized group. That makes sense because it follows the school model we have grown up following. Why find our own path when others have found a path that works for them and will help you along the way. That can feel safer.

I tried several of those well-established ways, but none took me to the place I felt I needed to go. more and begin to wonder about our existence. This can be a difficult time for some. May people jump into an established religion at this stage. Thought this is right for some, it can also come from a discomfort at the uncertainties of spiritual life.

This is an important stage: finding your spiritual path.  It may be one that has been well-travelled by others before you. It may be one you blaze on your own. Your own path may cross or at times follow others’ paths for a time. This is a stage of exploration and openness and you need to have some comfort with uncertainty when you strike out on your own.

You step onto a path and begin your journey.

If you took a path that others have taken and that is established, there are probably lots of guides, writings and others to help you. If you have decided to find your own way, as I did, that doesn’t mean you can’t read about other ways and talk with those traveling other paths. This eclectic approach was the one I felt most comfortable walking. And I walk slowly.

This is the longest stage of the journey. I love the discovery of this stage. I like some of the ways I have changed as I walked this path.

I have come to accept that my spiritual path is not the only correct one. I am much less dismissive of other paths. I am more comfortable with information that might contradict my beliefs. I believe this shows that I am more secure in my own spiritual nature.

There are times of bliss. There are also still times when I slip back into fear and doubt.

You enter a new stage when you establish a spiritual practice. Whatever composes this practice (meditation, prayer, writing, nature, walking, art, service to others, music etc.) becomes a regular part of your day and as comfortable as sleeping or eating meals.

Some people have a lot of trouble with establishing a practice. part of mine involves my daily writing, some of which I make public and some that is only for myself. Friends often ask me how I have time to write every day. I don’t want to criticize them, but they probably have time every day to watch television or surf the Net or check on social media. You may to give up an hour of one of those other non-spiritual “practices” in order to have a spiritual one.

 

Establishing a practice is like continuing to walk a path. You progress, but that doesn’t mean you still don’t explore other ways or sometimes wander off and need to find your way back.

mountaintop in clouds

Reaching “enlightenment” seems to be the goal, but I don’t think it is a very realistic one. It puzzled me when as a younger person I read spiritual texts and someone would become enlightened and then continue on with their life. I had expected that something transformative would occur. Maybe I thought you floated into Heaven or Nirvana. At one time in my life, I believed you died. Now, I believe you just keep walking the path.

I see the path as one leading up a mountain. Eventually, I will be so high that I will enter the clouds. This is a good place to be, but the way ahead will actually be less clear for a time. I may never reach the top. maybe there is no top where the journey ends.

You can enter a stage when spirituality stops being something you think about very much because it is just a part of your being. This is a very difficult stage for anyone who has a job and responsibilities to a mate or children. Maybe that is why the enlightened ones are always shown as older and living in isolation. It is very hard, perhaps impossible, to reach a spiritual maturity where everything is one and the illusion of separateness can fall away in the world most of us live in.

I am certainly not there, though I am closer than I have ever been before.

And, according to some spiritual quest stories, there will be a very low point on this journey yet to come when everything seems to fall apart. A dark night of the soul before the light or the spiritual maturity or enlightenment.

Where am I on the journey? I think I am in those clouds. I know I am farther along, but I am not sure that there is an endpoint. That sounds frightening, but I am okay with that. I think it may be all journey and no destination.

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bildungsroman shirt

Wear your coming of age proudly

The word bildungsroman showed up in an article I was reading.  It is a German word that you are only likely to encounter in a literature class. It describes a novel of formation, education, or culture. In English, we are more likely to call a novel or film like this a “coming-of-age” story.

Generally, these are stories of youth, but reading it now much later in my life got me wondering about when coming-to-age ends. In some ways even with six decades passed, I still feel like one of those protagonists.

The typical young protagonist is a sensitive, perhaps a bit naïve, person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions. They believe that these experiences will result in the answers. Supposedly, this happens in your twenties, but I don’t know if I have finished this journey yet. I suspect I am not alone in having this unfinished feeling.

Young adult novels certainly deal with this, but so do literary novels whose authors would not want the YA label stamped on their book’s spine. These are good novels to teach. They often focus on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood and character change is very important.

Scanning my bookshelves I see lots of books that fall into this category, from The Telemachy in Homer’s Odyssey from back in 8th century BC, to the Harry Potter series. I would include that early novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding,  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, Lord of the Flies by Aldous Huxley and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

When I taught middle school and high school, teaching The Outsiders, Romeo and Juliet, The Pigman, To Kill a Mockingbird and other bildungsroman works just seemed like the right places to spend time with my students.

In our western society, legal conventions have made certain points in late adolescence or early adulthood (most commonly 18-21) when a person is “officially” given certain rights and responsibilities of an adult. But driving a car, voting, getting married, signing contracts and buying alcohol are not the big themes of bildungsroman novels. Society and religion have even created ceremonies to confirm the coming of age.

I’ve passed all of those milestones, but I still feel like I haven’t arrived.

Charles Dickens wrote in David Copperfield, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” We are all the protagonists of our own lives. But hero…  I’m not so sure.

Since I am still coming of age, I am a sucker for films and television live in that world of transition.  If I was teaching a course on Bildungsroman Cinema, I might include Bambi, American Graffiti,  The Breakfast Club, Stand by Me,  The Motorcycle Diaries, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Boyhood, and Moonlight. I could include many other “teen” films of lesser quality.

On television, series like The Wonder Years, Freaks and Geeks, Malcolm in the Middle, and The Goldbergs are all ones that deal with coming of age. They are also all family sitcoms. Coming-of-age has a lot to do with family. And it can be funny as well as tragic. It’s good materials for books and media because it has all that plus relationships, sex and love. On the visual side, it means physical changes that you can actually see, while the internal growth is often hidden and slow to catch up with physical growth.

I have read plenty of things that contend that adolescence is being prolonged and therefore adulthood and coming-of-age is being delayed. The new Generation Z cohort is supposedly an example of this. I have also read about the Boomerang Generation. This is a very Western and middle class phenomenon and the term is applied to young adults who choose to share a home with their parents after previously living on their own. They boomeranging back to their parents’ residence.

I remember reading about the “Peter Pan syndrome” which was a pop-psychology concept of an adult who is socially immature. It is not a condition you’ll find in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a specific mental disorder.

In Aldous Huxley’s 1962 novel Island, a character refers to men who are “Peter Pans” as “boys who can’t read, won’t learn, don’t get on with anyone, and finally turn to the more violent forms of delinquency.” He uses Adolf Hitler as an archetype of this phenomenon.

Do some people never come of age? How old were you the last time someone told to “grow up” in some way or another?

Huxley’s Peter Pans are a problem, but what about people who are quite mature and adult but still are in search of answers to life’s questions and the experiences that might result in the answers? What’s the name for that syndrome?

At one time, when we were people more connected to the natural world, many people felt particularly connected to certain animals. Nowadays, most of us spend a good portion of our days inside homes, building and cars and disconnected from the natural world and from the animals that live there.

You may feel a special connection to your pets, but that is not what “spirit animals” were all about at one time. Shamans and others in all cultures have found an importance of spirit animals. Sometimes these animals were seen as guides, or, as totems.

They are animal that are part of our souls or that can lead us to further spiritual growth.

I was told that wolves are probably one of the most misunderstood of all wild animals. Many believe and perceive them as cold-blooded killers, but they are described by scientists as friendly, intelligent and with many positive social traits, such as being gregarious. Wolves mate for life. Males are good fathers and quite playful.

I learned about them from a group of Native Americans many years ago. In a ceremony and series of weekend activities, participants attempted to find their spirit animal(s).  For me, that turned out to be the wolf and the rabbit. I had already felt a connection to rabbits, so that made sense. Though I had not felt any connection to wolves, they seemed like a pretty cool animal to have as a spirit guide. Of course, as I was told, those two together are predator and prey and that meant some conflict in myself.

All earth’s creatures from mammal to insect can be spirit animals. Some participants in that weekend were not thrilled to have a mouse or a bat be their spirit guide. One woman was very excited to have a dragonfly as her spirit guide. A buffalo seems like a manly totem animal, but one guy who got the butterfly was not thrilled.

The best way to find a spirit guide is to go outside and encounter your spirit animal, but that is not an experience that is available to most of us. You may feel some connection to a panda or penguin, but I suspect the chances of you meeting one outside of a zoo are pretty slim.

As some websites will tell you, perhaps as a city dweller, a rat or cockroach might be your guide. Neither sounds like a good animal guide, but consider the rat’s tenacity and cleverness. Consider how the cockroach is able to survive under almost any conditions and has adapted to living with people very well – even if people haven’t adapted as well.

Technically, finding your animal totem is not the same as recognizing a spirit guide. The totem animal is much more intuitive and personal. I was told the rabbit was my totem and the wolf was my guide.

Some suggestions for revealing these animals (besides a  spirit walk or journey into nature) involve using dreams and meditation.

It is 2017 and we are not only disconnected from nature, we are connected to technology. The two worlds seem at odds. But I will say that there are websites that claim to be able to help you find your spirit animals. (see below)  That is not the true path, but if it leads you to a better path or aids you in exploring your inner self, all the better.

As with the tarot, runes and other systems, I view all these as ways to examine yourself from another perspective. Nothing magical here. Closer to therapy than new age mysticism.

Some sites to explore:
https://www.trustedtarot.com/spirit-guides/spirit-animals/
http://www.spiritanimal.info
https://whatismyspiritanimal.com – explains my rabbit spirit in this way, and my totem wolf
A shamanistic view of the wolf appears at http://www.shamanicjourney.com/

End of summer and early autumn sometimes trigger regrets for the things we didn’t accomplish over the summer. The very end of the year also has this effect and sometimes leads people into a funk or depression. So, it was with some hesitation that I read an article about “warning signs” that your personal growth has stopped. As the plants and trees and insects and animals die off or go into some hibernation, I think it makes something similar click in our brains too.

The article gives five warning signs:

  1. Feeling stuck in life and as though you are struggling to get the results you want or that you have lost control.
  2. Avoiding responsibilities because solutions can be more difficult than the situation itself.
  3. Feeling confused and not knowing what you are confused about.
  4. Making unstable emotional responses because you feel overwhelmed.
  5. Feeling like you don’t know yourself.

That last one is huge. The article does offer some advice to fix things, but it is pretty much common sense. Plus, solutions are often quite difficult. For example, for #5 “Get to know yourself the way you would another person.”

Hopefully you, dear reader, doesn’t have any of these warning signs, but I suspect all of us have at least one. It’s part of being a human in 2017.

Is today’s Full Moon (which occurred for me at 3:03 AM) the Harvest Moon? That is one of the Full Moon names that varies in the month that it occurs. You might be harvesting in your locale, but the Harvest Moon is traditionally the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. Most years, that is in September, though it can be in October. This year the equinox is on September 22, so the October 5th full moon is closer than the one on September 6. No Harvest Moon just yet.

September and October’s  moon when called Harvest and Hunter both share the idea that these moon’s particularly bright appearance and early rising aided farmers’ harvesting times and offered more light to stalk game.

The September and October Full Moons are sometimes said to be larger and even more orange in color. The warmer color of the moon might be seen shortly after it rises because of an optical illusion. When the moon is low in the sky, you are looking at it through more atmospheric particles and pollution than when the moon is overhead, so the atmosphere scatters the bluish component more than the red end of the light. That’s also conversely why moonlight is often seen and depicted as blue from the reflected white light from the sun.

Are these moons bigger? Well, not because the Moon is closer but because we perceive a low-hanging moon to be larger than one that’s high in the sky. This “Moon Illusion” can be seen with any full moon.

From the Choctaw people, I have selected the Mulberry Moon as the name for this month’s Full Moon. The Choctaw are a Native American people originally occupying what is now Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Mulberries are multiple or collective fruits, formed from a cluster of fruiting flowers. Each flower in this inflorescence produces a fruit, but these mature into a single mass. Botanically the mulberry is not a berry but a collective fruit. It looks like a swollen loganberry.

The small fruits swell, change color from red to a darker color and are fat and full of juice.  The color of the fruit does not identify the mulberry species, and there are white mulberries that produce white, lavender or black sweet fruit. Red mulberry fruits are similar but not quite as sweet as the black mulberry. It is the black mulberry fruits that are large and juicy, with a nice sweet and tart balance that gets them the best reviews. Some compare the tartness to a grapefruit. Mulberries also ripen over an extended period of time, so they don’t have to be picked all at once.

The most commonly used name for this month is the Corn Moon. The Celtic name is the Singing Moon and an English Medieval name was the Barley Moon.

There are many Indian tribal names for the Full Moons and they vary widely as they are centered in signs from nature in their geographic area. Moon When the Plums Are Scarlet is used by the Lakota Sioux, and Moon When the Deer Paw the Earth by the Omaha tribe. The Haida of Alaska would call this the Ice Moon, but the Dakotah Sioux call it the Moon When The Calves Grow Hair. The Cree tribe of Northern Plains Canada call this the Snow Goose Moon.

Ice and snow are thankfully not part of September here in Paradelle.

The full moon of September as seen from the northern hemisphere corresponds to the full moon of March as seen from the southern hemisphere, so you southerners can read my Whispering Wind Moon post today.

Back in the 1930s, Carl  Jung went on at length about his views on the Tarot, noting the late Medieval cards are “really the origin of our pack of cards, in which the red and the black symbolize the opposites, and the division of the four—clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts—also belongs to the individual symbolism.

It is said that Swiss psychologist Carl Jung discovered “the internal Tarot” of the human mind with his notion of archetypes. And it could be also argued that Tarot was already an underlying layer of the collective mind, which is where archetypes are printed —those fundamental images that constitute the psychic constellation of the human being.

The meaning of the tarot cards (like he meaning of rune stones) changes depending on whether the card is seen normally or reversed. There is a lot about opposites in tarot, runes and the I Ching.

There are 78 Tarot cards which are like the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. There are many possibilities in those relationships. This post is not meant to teach the intricacies of using the tarot cards, but you will find that there are many ways they are used. There are many “spreads” of the cards – dream spread, mandala spread, 10 cards, 3 cards.

I was never sure that Jung thought you could use the cards to predict the future. In fact, he said “We can predict the future when we know how the present moment evolved from the past.”  He viewed it, as I view it, as a way to examine your past and present in order to consider (rather than predict) the future.

A Tarot card or a hexagram plays into Jung’s “synchronicity” theories. Mary K. Greer’s tarot blog came up near the top of my tarot search results and she also has discussed Jung and how as psychological images these tarot symbols combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to interpretations that Jung even called “playful.” The Fool, The Tower, The Lovers and the Hanged Man and the others are archetypal ideas.

Before we get too deep into that territory, let me say that we can use this divination as part of what Jung would call “individuation.”

Individuation is the psychic process by which one becomes himself, indivisibly, uniquely, a monad, as an expression of uniqueness and self-sufficiency at microcosmic level. It is, in Jung’s terms, the realization of the Self.

For my previous post, I used the I Ching to answer my question about whether I should continue teaching this year. The hexagram  “answer” was not clear to me. I thought it only fair to ask the tarot cards the same question.

I did a one card pull and got The Fool card.

The Fool is a very powerful card in the Tarot deck, usually representing a new beginning. And a new beginning means an end.

I didn’t do a full spread where the card’s position would tell me what aspect of my life would be subject to change. The Fool portends important decisions ahead. Not always easy ones. Maybe an element of risk. for you. Approach the changes with optimism and care to gain the most positive outcome.

I read the card as telling me that I am entering a new phase of life. Is it good or bad? Not clear. I would need to do a spread with a future position.

 

The Fool can indicate foolishness, but it seems to be more optimistic and is usually interpreted as a “Yes” answer to your question.

Maybe the tarot answer is the answer I wanted. Maybe I willed it to be the card. Maybe it is a coincidence.

Maybe if I did the I Ching again, I would get a better result.

So I did the I Ching again. This time I got TUI. This is known as “joy”. It has the elements of Lake over Lake. It is a good hexagram to get as Tui indicates a period of success and prosperity is entering your life.

Isn’t that the answer I wanted?

I think I will let the summer end and when autumn arrives I will look to the runes and spirit animals and other divinations. I predict that there will be more changes and predictions in my future.

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Before the autumnal equinox Just a big, old spider watching the children play. Love connection ❤️ @njspots @njdotcom Autumn paints like Pollock. Transitional phase Day beds #deer

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