Tag Archives: Personal Power

Deals with personal power and the lack of it

“You’re Pretty”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

Today I was riding to work with my Uber driver. He was an elderly gentlemen with a mild manner and a nice sense of humor. He had joked the day before that it was “destiny” that I was riding in his car again, and somehow I ended up riding in his car today as well. The day before he had asked if I had a boyfriend (Note: he is happily married and was not hitting on me) and I told him no, and he commented that it made sense because I needed to focus on school and work.

Today, though, he brought up the subject again.

Him: “It’s strange that you don’t have a boyfriend.”
Me: “Oh, really?”
Him: “Yes- you’re pretty.”

All I could do was what I usually do, which was laugh and say “thank you” instead of saying how I really felt. Usually, I’m only slightly offended, but today, his words stung, because I think for the first time I saw the hidden implications behind them. The unspoken idea is that if you’re a pretty woman, then you’re desirable, and if you’re desirable, you must be willing to be the object of someone else’s desires. That someone else is almost always assumed to be a man. Men always ask me if I have a boyfriend, and sometimes if I say no, then they do ask if I’m interested in women, or the ever-irritating, “So do you like men?” The implication there is that if I’m not interested in them, it must be because I don’t like men, which is pretty much saying they think they’re the best thing that could ever happen to me (betraying a high level of conceit).

In asking about my sexual preferences either way, they’re showing a pretty marked lack of concern for my privacy. Maybe the fact is that I don’t have a boyfriend could mean that I just don’t want to be involved with anyone, regardless of gender. Or that I’d just rather be alone than be with the wrong person. It is inconceivable to a lot of people- in this world that leans so heavily towards heteroromanticism and amatonormativity- that anyone could simply want to be unattached, but especially a woman. If a man is a bachelor, he’s said to be just “sowing his wild oats” or thought of as unlucky. If a woman- especially one who is considered attractive- is alone then she’s the object of confusion and pity (or she’s thought to be stuck up).

The other implication is that prettiness is valued above other traits- that a woman who is “unattractive” cannot be expected to have a partner. This makes all sorts of assumptions on what is considered beautiful, and the importance of said beauty in the world. It also puts women under obligation to “put out” if they’re thought to be attractive. So it sends two messages: “If you’re not pretty, no one wants you” and “If you are pretty, you should share it with someone”.

Pretty or not, you do not owe anyone anything. You are under no obligation to anyone to be a part of a relationship if that’s not what you truly desire. You also don’t have to do the things that are expected to follow, such as getting married or having children. You can be as involved or uninvolved with other human beings as you like. It’s your life. When strangers probe you about your relationship status, it might seem harmless on the surface, but what they’re really saying is, “You’re not normal. I don’t know you, but here’s what I think you should do to fit in”. Well, I’m here to say that you don’t have to put up with any of it. You do not have to answer questions about your sexuality if you’re not comfortable.

I really didn’t expect to make a post like this, but I’m becoming pretty convinced that asking a woman why she’s not married or doesn’t have a boyfriend should be on a list of “things not to ask women.” It’s even worst if you’re not asking, but you’re actually telling her that she should just magic up a relationship. Even if she does want to be in a relationship for herself, putting pressure on her to do things is not going to help the process. Society at large subtly and overtly sends women the message that we are not our own- that our lives and bodies belong to other people. I’m fighting to take back my autonomy, and not internalizing these mass-marketed, harmful messages is a part of that.

The Colored Glass Lens

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

It can be pretty hard to convey some of the things that I believe in when trying to talk to relatives. Sometimes it feels like we have two completely separate ways of dealing with reality. In my reality, I just want to see Biblical stories of old viewed with the same type of skeptical scrutiny that we give myths and legends of other cultures and religions. If you heard about a talking snake tempting God’s children out of garden paradise anywhere other than the Bible, you probably wouldn’t take it very literally. If time and time again, predictions were made about the return of say a Hindi or Greek savior, and these predictions continually failed to come to pass, you might venture to say that the worshipers were mistaken in their convictions. You might even become frustrated if the worshipers said, “Everyday with God is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” as a reason for their continued devotion.

Last time I visited my older brother, he was telling me about why as Christians we might be tempted to have interfaith, but in the end other faiths were not compatible with Christianity. Of Islam, he said, “You might even think that they [the Muslims] were better off [than the Jews, who don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah] because they believe that Jesus is a prophet but they’re not…I understand that you might want to go [to the Moors] to be polite, but especially with where you are now struggling, they have nothing to offer you.”

I got pretty quiet at that point, but part of me had wanted to say something, because in the end his statements were Islamophobic. He was willing to say that the Christians and Jews worshiped the same God, but not the Muslims, even though Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all Abrahamic religions. He also pretty much stated that Muslims were “worst off” despite their religion being more inclusive of Jesus than even Judaism, without giving a real reason for saying so. More than once he has described Muslims as “dangerous.” If asked about these he would probably say that because Islam appeared to embrace Jesus in some capacity it could be deceptively alluring- and it would be bad because in the end it denied the deity and Sonship of Jesus, and his sacrifice for sin, which are crucial to Christian doctrine.

That again brings me to one of the problems I have with Christianity (especially Western Christianity)- its argument that Christianity = good/pure and non-Christian religions/cultures = bad. There seems to be a complete rejection of the idea that God could be present in multiple religions and cultures. The idea that a God who is supposed to be all love, could not embrace people who were honestly seeking to be devout worshipers, regardless of whether they all saw Him in the same way, is one that has been bothering me for some time. Time and time again I ask myself, if Jesus was really the only way to be saved from sin and secure a comfortable place in the Afterlife, why did God wait so long to send him? Furthermore, if angels really visited shepherds in Jerusalem to announce his birth, why didn’t they also visit the Americas, or Asia, and proclaim this happy news? If God was really concerned about saving the world through his son, why did he seem to keep it so secret?

So-called “Christian morality” preceded Christianity. The ancient Egyptians had their own ten commandments. The Assyrians had the Laws of Hammurabi. Morality is present in various ways across multiple continents and cultures. Fundamental Christianity asserts that people are trapped in a state of depravity until they accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but as I pointed out previously, the Gospel of Matthew presents a Jesus that taught that “doing the will of My Father” consisted of being humble, generous, kind, and respectful. I haven’t decided yet how we can reconcile this with the account of the Gospel of John, or the Epistles, of a Jesus that made bold claims about his own deity and presented himself as a savior for sinners. What I do know, though, is that seeing an entire world as condemned for not believing in an unprovable story about a man’s death and resurrection seems grossly unfair. This is without even addressing why God would require a violent human sacrifice to forgive us at all. Christians accept this fact of a human sacrifice being necessary without thought or question.

I am aware that there are “politically Christian” answers to most of my questions. God waited thousands of years to send Jesus because he wanted us to truly be aware of how depraved we were without him. A human sacrifice is necessary because it was written, “Without shedding of blood there is no remission”– this is simply God’s rule and it is immutable. All humanity is depraved because “all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. It is impossible to disentangle yourself from sin, because “he who sins is a slave of sin.” Only Jesus, who was sinless, could really save people from sin. “He who was without sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.”

These are all acceptable answers if you’re comfortable with accepting things just because they’re written in the Bible, and aren’t willing to think critically and ask yourself why these things have to be this way. People don’t seem to understand that if I don’t think the Bible is inspired, quoting Bible verses doesn’t help their argument. When it comes to my relatives, I’m very hesitant about revealing the depth of my skepticism. I often even become apologetic if I bring science into a discussion. I very tentatively say, “Well I know you don’t believe in it” as if science were subjective in the same way religion is. The scientific method basically states that for something to become an accepted theory it has to be something that can be tested. We mainly can test repeatable phenomenon. Of course, just because something only happened once doesn’t mean that it never happened, but if we’re talking about some miraculous phenomenon like water turning into blood, there’s no precedent for that. In all of our testing and experiments, water has never been able to be turned into blood- we’ve broken down the components of each and it would seem that such a thing is impossible. Also, we’ve found no evidence of a change in the ecosystem of the Nile at that time in history- no huge fossilized remains of dead fish, etc.

When a person reads the Bible they’re expected to take certain things on faith, and I can’t say that’s entirely wrong. Having faith in something that can’t be proven- like an optimism that things will turn out well- can be a very healthy thing. I just don’t think it’s healthy when it blinds you to very real possibilities, and causes you to isolate yourself from other human beings. My childhood was extremely isolating, and I missed out on a lot of things. That’s why, when people tell me about Pascal’s Wager- that you’ve lost nothing if you just act like God is real/the Bible is true, that’s all well and good until it’s taken to extremes. Some women, including my mother, have lost relationships with friends and family members, have lost their freedom, and even in some cases their entire sense of self because of being a part of an oppressive religious sect. If this is the only life we have, then, they’re never going to be rewarded for all of the sacrifices they’ve made. If this is the only life that there is, not living it to the fullest is a tragedy. So no matter how you look at it you could lose your eternity either way- but I would rather do what I want right now, in the life I can feel and see, then to sacrifice this life for a distant possibility.

So what color are the lenses in my glasses today? I’m not really sure about the answer to that question; I just know that they’re different from the ones my family has. I know that we probably won’t see eye to eye ever again. The more I go through the motions of life, and navigate work, school, and relationships, the more I see myself moving away from traditional Christianity. My parents and my older brother are waiting for me to return to “the truth” but their truth is not the one I subscribe to anymore. I don’t believe that Jesus is waiting in heaven for God to give him permission to return to earth and wreak havoc on God’s enemies. I don’t believe that this planet is going to get burned up and magically replaced by a new one. I don’t believe that there’s a hell for all the sinners and a heavenly city for all the “believers.” I don’t believe God specifically punishes wrongdoers and rewards the righteous. I don’t believe that Christians are holy, while “the whole world lies in wickedness.” In fact, I don’t believe that holding religious beliefs- on its own- makes you a better person.

So what does that make me? Not very Christian. I’m starting to accept that that’s okay, though. I’m starting to get over some of the guilt I have for supposedly “letting my family down.” Faith has to be genuine, or it isn’t a real faith at all. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t fake believing if I really didn’t- and even if I could, I would make myself miserable and I have to ask myself it that would really be worth it. In fact, not so long ago, I was laboring under the terrible fear of “what if my parents find out I don’t believe?” Well now they know, and they’re predictably not talking to me, but the sky hasn’t fallen. I’m still going through life.

Also, for someone who is supposed to be under a curse now, I’m actually doing alright. Like I said, I don’t believe that God’s this heavenly judge that gives people exactly what they deserve. Let’s face it- some really horrible people are in powerful positions in this world, and there seems to be little to no resistance against their oppression. In the mean time, earnest men literally work themselves to death in coal mines, just so that their families can have a better life. A God that could do anything should surely protect them from black lung- that’s the least that he could do. We see though, just from casual observation, that this isn’t true. Good people don’t always get protected. Bad people don’t always get their comeuppance. We have songs like “Only the Good Die Young” being hits because often very good people do die young. Doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee you anything- but you should still be good because you care about other people and that’s what you want to do. Also, sometimes, good things do happen because you choose kindness over tyranny.

So I tell you- but myself, mostly- keep being kind. Live your life. Do what you want to do, avoiding hurting others whenever possible, but also not putting yourself in a box because of them. It doesn’t matter what color your glasses are, as long as you’re willing to deal with the consequences of wearing them- whatever those may be. I believe, at least, that you only live once. So make it worth something. Don’t spend your whole life being afraid about what other people are going to think or do.

Wear your glasses with pride.

Now are You the Sons of God

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

Christianity differs from the Moorish tradition, and other traditions, because of how it approaches how you connect to your Creator. Jesus, in the book of John, told Nicodemus that in order to experience the Kingdom of God, that he must be “born again.” He said that unless one is born of “water and the Spirit” he could not inherit the Kingdom of God. He connected this born-again experience to a belief on him.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16

The Apostle John, who is responsible for sharing with us this particular account of Jesus’ life, emphasized this in the opening statements of the Gospel.

“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” -John 1:12-13

This idea that you enter the family of God through belief in Jesus is a recurrent theme throughout the Gospels and the Epistles. The Apostle John in particular emphasized this connection, as can be seen in one of his letters to the churches.

“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:15-16

The main doctrines of Fundamental Christianity are as follows,

-Believe that Jesus is the Son of God

-Believe that he died for your sins, was resurrected, and ascended to be with the Father in Heaven

-Believe that one day he will return and establish his kingdom on the earth

Now I am beginning to understand what C.S. Lewis meant when he said that if we separate Jesus from all of his divine attributes, he can’t simply be accepted as a great moral teacher. He made statements that seem to portray him as a bit self-important: “I am the bread of life” “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and “No one comes to the Father except through me.” He was unabashedly proclaiming himself as the savior of the world, the giver of everlasting life, the carrier of humanity’s sins. He said, “He who rejects the Son has not the Father also”. He placed himself as a bridge between Mankind and God.

He was said to be the “first-begotten Son of God”, the only way that the rest of us would become children of God. In this way, Christianity states that we are not children of God just because we are “made in his image.” This is where Christianity and other religions differ. In Moorish tradition, you don’t “become” a child of God- you already are, it’s just something that you have to grow in and realize. We are all said to have a “seed” that has all of the divine attributes of God inside it, but we are also said to have a “lower self” that we have to deal with.

In Christianity, the “lower self” is called “the flesh” or “the carnal mind.” Again, in order to deal with these fleshly impulses, we are said to need to “mortify (kill) the deeds of the body” and this is said to only be possible through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). The catch is that the only way to get the power of the Spirit to work in you is to believe the facts and statements about Jesus.

“In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” -Ephesians 1:13

Even knowing all that I know about different denominations, and about Bishop John Shelby Spong’s interpretation of Christianity in particular, I do not know if there is a way back to Christianity for me, without me believing what are considered by many to be its fundamental truths. Without believing in a virgin birth, Christ’s deity, his physical death and resurrection, and the promise of his Second Coming, I am not sure if there is much left for me there.

Yes, Jesus was a great moral teacher. When asked what was the “greatest commandment” he said, “The LORD our God is One” and that we should love him with “all of your soul, mind and strength” and also “to love your neighbor as yourself”. I think people of many religions keep these commandments, regardless of the fact that they do not accept Jesus as divine or as the Only Son of God. He also said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone”. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He was generous and kind, but unashamedly ripped into the religious leaders of his day, whom he described as “leaving off mercy and justice.”

That being said, if you ignore everything else that Jesus was recorded as saying, you only have part of the picture. It’s pretty obvious to me that we can’t take literally everything that was said, about how he raised the dead, walked on water, or multiplied food. I think these stories grew out of simply an awe or reverence of the man that he was. It’s similar to how St. Nicholas, the inspiration for “Santa Claus” was said to have resurrected a boy who was cut into pieces with an axe and cured illnesses. As time goes by history becomes stretched into legend.

That being said, just like there was a real St. Nicholas, there was a real man named Jesus. The gospels aren’t even unified about what exactly it was that he taught, but we can know from the way he was said to have been killed that his teachings were controversial. According to the Gospel of John, the Jewish authorities were infuriated- above all else- by his claims to be “the Son of God.” If he was simply trying to expound more on the Jewish law and was just teaching morality, I don’t think that they would’ve found it necessary to kill him. No, he stood for something greater- he stood in direct opposition to their understanding of God, and he openly challenged them. It was too much for them to take.

Today, I don’t believe that I have to believe in all the statements about Jesus in order to be a child of God. I too believe that we are all children of God, just by being human. I don’t believe that “no good thing exists in my flesh” but rather than I am a vessel with a capacity for evil and good. I might not have a Holy Book or religious text to support my beliefs, but I’m not sure that I need one. Even though I share some beliefs with Moors and Yoruba people, I am not eager to convert to a new religion.

I was just telling a friend that my primary mode of devotion is through my studying and writing. I may not fast, build altars, or light candles. I may not find it necessary to bow or kneel when I pray. Prayer to me is an open communication with God; it’s a conversation. Jesus said “The kingdom of God is within you.” I might not feel that I have to enter the kingdom of God in exactly the way that he said, but I can still believe that my body is a temple that houses the presence of God.

Our Adversary, the Devil

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: / Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” -1 Peter 5:8-9

We have an enemy- or at least, that’s what I’m always being told. It is the Devil, or Satan, that “serpent of old” who “deceives the whole world” (Revelations 12:9). He was present back in the garden of Eden, tempting Mankind with the forbidden fruit in an effort to get them to turn away from God. He was said to have accused God’s faithful servant, Job, and convinced God to give him permission to completely wreck Job’s life, ostensibly as an attempt to test Job’s faithfulness.

Paul also talks about him, calling him “the Prince of the Power of the Air” who “now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Jesus said that if someone doesn’t understand the Word of God, then “the devil comes and takes it away from him.” Just as he accused Job, the Devil is said to “accuse the brethren before God day and night.” He is said to be our enemy, our adversary, a threat to the very foundations of our faith and a bane of society.

Revelations tells us that in the end he, and all of his “angels” will be cast into the lake of fire, or, hell. In the mean time, according to many an Evangelical preacher, he is seeking to round up as many of God’s children as possible so that they will be forced to join him there. This is said to be a last ditch effort of his to grieve God’s heart. He cannot get to God directly, so he has to hurt him by going after his children.

Many of these preachers also teach what Bob Larson said in his interview with Nicholas and Zeena Schreck, that all pagan religions are “an attempt of Satan to deter people from the truth.” This is a statement that I have a lot of problems with, for two main reasons. Firstly, Christianity is not the world’s oldest religion. If Christianity is the only true way to get to God, why did God wait so long to have it revealed to the world? Why did he allow the world to sit in darkness for so long? Secondly, there are many principles in Christianity that are shared by other practices such as Confucianism, things like honoring and respecting one’s elders, being humble, and being charitable. Also, in ancient Egypt, there was a set of ten “rules” that was almost identical to the ten commandments that were said to have been given to Moses by God on the mountain. No matter how you look at it, Christianity did not originate what we now think of as “Christian morality.”

So where does the Devil enter into all of this? There are some religions that do not consider him to be an entity with a personality. The Moorish Science Temple of America, for example, considers the Devil to just be your “lower self” and representative of your basal, fleshly urges. Your “higher self” is said to be the part of yourself that wants to connect with Allah. Even the Church of Satan’s official stance on Satan also states that he isn’t a definable entity, but rather representative of Mankind’s carnal nature, which they teach is something that you should embrace instead of fight. I don’t know a lot about polytheistic religions, but from what I understand there is no one character analogous to Satan, but rather some “trickster” types of characters that are usually causing some sort of mischief.

To believe in Evangelical Christianity’s assertions on Satan is to believe something that goes along with it- that we are in a constant battle, fighting to keep God’s “truth” in our minds. This is the main verse used to support this argument.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh. /  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) / Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

And here’s another one for free;

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. /  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” -Ephesians 6:12-13

“Principalities and powers” are said to refer to some of the “lesser demons” that are employed by Satan as part of his deceptive work. If Christians seem like they are on the defensive, maybe it’s because they believe that they are in a war. The implication is that other religions are looked at with fear and suspicion. The world is “the enemy’s territory” waiting to be conquered. Instead of looking for what they have in common with other faiths, they become hyper-focused on the things that separate them. Emphasis is placed on being “in the world, but not of the world”, which “lies in wickedness.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses these groupish mindsets in his book, “Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence”. He emphasizes that whenever we see the world as Us. vs. Them, we are at risk of demonizing the Other. I can hate you, persecute you, and even kill you because you are not like me. He says this behavior can extend to all groups of people, whether they be religious or nonreligious.

So is Satan real? I cannot answer “yes” or “no” definitively, but if he is, I do not see him as being the main influence on secular society. I do not feel like I am in a constant battle with a supernatural being, or that human lives are caught in a tug of war between God and the Adversary. I see far more good, far more “God” in the world’s religions than I see evil. I know that Jesus was recorded as saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life- no one can come to the Father except through me” but how we can interpret that in the modern age is another subject entirely. When he said that did he really mean that all people who didn’t believe in Him were hell-bound, or are we adding something to His words?

Jesus said, “He who commits sin is a slave of sin” and that He came to set slaves free. But when he was asked what was the greatest commandment, he said “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind- for this is the greatest commandment.” Then he went on to say, “The second is like it- love your neighbor as yourself.” These are commands that can be followed by almost any person, regardless of their religious affiliation. I don’t believe that the Devil is behind peoples’ lack of faith, their sin, or their wicked actions. I believe that we all have a capacity for good and evil and we have to make a choice of which to follow.

On Being Present

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

I briefly mentioned the book “Presence” by Amy Cuddy in my last blog post. I know that in that one I focused on the fact that I felt bad for “needing” to read a book like this to feel better about myself, but that wasn’t fair because it overlooked all of the great insights in the book. I learned a lot, and actually enjoyed it so much that I finished it off in less than a week.

In the notes that I wrote after I was finished, I summarized presence as “bringing your authentic self to a a situation”. In the first chapter Cuddy describes the struggles she endured after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, and how afterwards her difficulty with learning undermined her self-confidence. She talks about the times when she was so afraid about presenting her research that she clammed up and wasn’t able to express herself effectively. That is because, she said, that negative emotions like fear and anxiety cause us to become inward focused- we are not longer able to “be present” and really be focused on the ideas or message that we are trying to convey. Instead, we become hyper-focused on our own nervousness and sense of discomfort.

She also shares about how important authenticity is to people who are hiring other people or negotiating various business deals. People who are making decisions on whether to invest in a particular project stated that it was important for them to feel as though the person presenting the project really believed in what they were putting forth. In other words, they needed to show genuine enthusiasm for the idea. They also didn’t like to see people who seemed to be “trying too hard” or were pushy or aggressive. Interestingly enough, they said they didn’t mind if the person was a little nervous because “they’re doing something big, something that matters to them” so it makes sense if they feel a little nervous.

Throughout the rest of the book, Amy Cuddy expresses how we can reclaim our personal power and “bring your boldest self to your biggest challenges”. We can do things like practicing yoga and “power posing”, which is scientifically proven to increase testosterone (the hormone associated with greater risk taking and initiative) and decrease cortisol (the “stress hormone”). Even doing simple things like sitting up straighter and using more open, relaxed posture can increase our sense of confidence and feelings of being grounded. We can also use imagery techniques like picturing ourselves flying or just imagining ourselves performing difficult tasks with pride and enthusiasm before we go out and actually do them.

With this year coming to a close, it is common for people to be considering what kinds of “New Years’ Resolutions” that they will be making. Miss Cuddy explains why this doesn’t actually work too well for us. The goals we set are too lofty and ambitious. For example if we plan to “exercise three days a week” and we aren’t able to fully meet this goal (we only go once or twice) it tends to lead to us abandoning the goal altogether. She says that instead- and she uses herself with running as an example- that we should give ourselves small “nudges”. We should say, “Today, I’ll eat healthy” or “I’ll stretch for 15 minutes”. Those incremental changes can in the end lead to big results, without us feeling like we have resolutions hanging over our heads like a threat.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve been reading the book and trying to implement some of the principles, I’ve been experiencing less depression and more confidence. There’s a chapter in there that’s titled “I Don’t Deserve to Be Here” that goes over “imposter syndrome”. It explains how people in all sorts of careers and fields often have a pervasive feeling that they are “fake”, or that their positions in life have more to do with “luck” than with their own talents. These feelings of “being an imposter” tend to increase- rather than decrease- with every new achievement. I can definitely relate to having these feelings. Even though objectively I’m doing well in school and I’m handling my life well, the sense of “wrongness” persists. I find myself asking myself “what now?” every time that I achieve something good. The better the grade, the more I think that the teacher may have given it to me in error. Knowing that other people are struggling with these emotions- and that they have nothing to do with objective reality- I can reject these feelings and instead begin to celebrate my accomplishments. I can tell myself, “Actually, you do deserve to be here.

No Regrets?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote at the end of my last entry that I “have no regrets” about moving away from Christianity, and I realize that that isn’t totally true. I don’t actually feel like I’ve made the wrong choice, but there are some unfortunate things that have come into my life from making this choice.

#1: Isolation

I’ll be the first to say that the sense of alienation is probably mainly caused by me. My family and Christians in my life who know about my situation haven’t tried to push me away, but I’ve found myself feeling somewhat distant from them. The most typical reactions from my Christian friends who’ve found out about my doubts, is to offer to pray for me or just to imply that this is simply something that I’m “going through” and I will come out on the other side with renewed faith and a better relationship with God. There is no denying that there is a certain dismissiveness- and in some cases condescension- in these statements, but I understand that they do not at all come from a place of malice or judgement.

Anyway, despite everyone being relatively welcoming- and as supportive as they can be- I’ve chosen not to attend any more Christian groups and to limit my attendance at Sunday service. This has been really hard, because church has always been a safe, comfortable environment for me to socialize with people. I’ve tried looking into other groups but I haven’t been able to make a lot of progress with my search so far. Trying to find a new social circle to be involved with is really hard, especially for me as a relatively introverted person who has a lot of anxiety about driving to new places.

#2: Self-doubt/anxiety

Even as a I grow more comfortable in my “state of disbelief”, there are still moments when I wonder if I’m really wrong. I wonder if there’s a loving, all-powerful Creator-God of heaven whose kind embrace I am withholding myself from, or if alternatively, there is an omnipotent tyrant in the sky whose wrath I am inciting by my actions. Often the benevolent and fearful God are described as being one and the same, and at any rate, I feel that I must be displeasing Him. In doing so, I am also displeasing his followers- and that includes close members of my family.

At best I feel like a disappointment- at worst I feel that I may be in peril of “gaining the whole world and losing my soul” as Jesus was said to have said. I have to often remind myself that the idea of being cast into a burning lake of fire for eternity on the basis of mere belief or disbelief, is frankly absurd. If there is an afterlife, surely, our lives would be judged on the basis of our actions, and even if our actions were truly reprehensible they could not merit eternal punishment.

In some religions, being a truly horrible person just means that at some point your soul would be destroyed and you would no longer be reincarnated. Even though this is also a permanent punishment, the one punished does not in effect suffer for all eternity- they simply cease to be. That may be frightening as well, but, in the end, it’s all speculation. No one really knows what happens to us after this life- and that means that any number of things could be true, or none of them. Basing my entire life on any one assumption by itself sounds a lot like putting my eggs into one basket.

That being said, even though I’ve reasoned this all out quite neatly, hearing sermons about “losing this life” or even just offhand comments from Christians about hell and eternity can trigger all sorts of low-key nervous feelings in me. Sometimes, even without hearing these statements, the feelings can be triggered indirectly by random flashbacks to messages that have been drilled into my head for years. Even after separating oneself from the religion, one can still feel lingering feelings of guilt, shame, or “wrongness” that don’t seem to have any specific point of origin.

#3: Feeling lost

I used to pray a lot for strength and guidance, and sometimes, I still do. Now, though, I don’t have a very specific idea of who I’m praying to, and what it all means. In the past, praying to God for help with something also meant “putting it in His hands” which meant willfully choosing not to worry or be concerned with it. It meant quoting scriptures that detailed his “promises”, “meditating on the word” and choosing to praise, worship, and trust Him for the desired result. There was a certain element of “spiritual warfare” which included praying together with other people, and speaking out against any thoughts of doubt that might enter my mind.

If that sounds like a lot of work, in some cases it was. The draw of it all was that I felt that someone was listening- I felt that a Higher power was going to intervene on my behalf. Sometimes I felt literally refreshed and felt a sense of inner peace when praying. Even though I would still experience indecision, I used to believe that God was going to “work everything together for good.”

Now, I still believe in a higher power, but I believe that his/her/its role in human life is somewhat limited. I feel that I can seek guidance from this Force, but in the end a lot of the forward motion in my life is left up to me. This is both empowering and sobering. I now believe that I can’t just pray for things to be better, but I have to be the change that I want to see in the world. I believe that the Divine works through frail human lives to bring about good on this earth. I don’t believe that God has any sort of physical form, but rather is the life-giving force that exists in all of us. So in that sense, he/she/it isn’t really a “person” that we can implore to do this or that.

Another thing I now believe is in my own insignificance. I am not better or more deserving than anyone in this world, and being extremely devout isn’t going to stop bad things from happening to me. I also don’t believe that good or bad events are being orchestrated by some Divine Being. God was silent during the massacres in Sudan and Rwanda, the Holocaust, and havoc that occurred from the “Holy Wars” of the medieval times. There were- and are- times when peoples’ faith/religious convictions implored them to help others. Many Christians helped to hide Jews, but on the other hand, after it was over, the Catholic church was hiding Nazis and aiding in their escape. Religion is neither good nor bad, but good or bad people alike use it to justify their actions. What does that really say about it all?

It’s easy to get lost in this world. It’s easy for me to wonder if anything I do in life really matters. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibility that this life really is the only one that we have- that there’s no do-overs, that there’s no heaven for the righteous, no hell for the sinners, that we all simply get put in the ground and then we’re either remembered or forgotten. When I think about it like that, I have to ask myself if I’m really living the life that I want to live. It’s easy to wonder- “what are they going to say about me after I’ve died?” What legacy am I going to leave?

Not having any idea about any of it, or any romantic paradigm in which to frame things, is really hard. This is my reality, though, and I have to face it. So yes, there have been some regrets- but there’s no turning back now. I feel like I’ve seen a glimpse at the truth, and I don’t want fairy tales anymore. I’ve had some incredible good fortune in my life, and as great as it would be to think that that was due to my personally assigned guardian angel, I don’t know if I can tell myself that I’m that special.

I’m not special. I’m just me.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

My last tumblr post was a kind of collection of my thoughts Anton LaVey’s “Satanic Bible”. At the time of writing the post I was a little less than half way through the book- but now I’ve read everything, except the very end of the book which was dedicated to detailed descriptions of Satanic rituals and spell casting. Earlier in the book, LaVey states that the spells fall into three main categories- “compassionate”, “seductive” and “destructive”. A compassion ritual might be conducted in order to bring good fortune to yourself or someone else or ease suffering in some way. A seduction ritual may be used to try to attract some favorable sexual partner or encounter to yourself. A destruction ritual is reserved for your enemies upon which you want to inflict harm.

I found it very interesting that LaVey, who espouses no belief in gods or demons would have such a strong belief in magic. He says that the laws of magic are basically the laws of nature, and thus tries to detract from the superstitious quality of magic. He actually sort of mocks so-called “intellectuals” who have divorced themselves from a belief in magic, saying that they are therefore making themselves prime victims for its workings. Here is an excerpt, where he discusses how doubt on the part of the victim makes curses more effective;

“The emphatic conscious denial of the potential of the curse is the very ingredient which will create its success, through setting up of accident prone situations. In many instances, the victim will deny any magical significance to his fate, even unto his dying gasp- although the magician is perfectly satisfied, so long as his desired results occur. It must be remembered that it matters not whether anyone attaches any significance to your working, so long as the results of the working are in accordance with your will.”

In this same chapter, “The Three Types of Satanic Ritual”, LaVey uses the example of Christian stigmata (that is the wounds of Christ appearing in a believer) to explain how powerful beliefs can take on a physical manifestation. This makes the assumption that reported cases of stigmata can actually be believed to be true, but we can deal with that at another time.

In the next chapter of the book, LaVey goes on to outline the ingredients to successful spell-casting- desire, timing, imagery, and direction. Desire deals with the setting of one’s will towards the particular purpose that they want to execute. Timing involves the casting of a spell when the target is weakest, such as at certain points in the sleep cycle. Imagery involves the use of objects, pictures, words, and the imagination to “see” what it is that you want to accomplish. Direction is a little less specific, but it seems to deal more with not “dwelling upon” or “complaining” about the possible outcome of the spell. My interpretation is that the parallel would be “not doubting” or “having faith” from the Christian perspective. It requires a certain confidence and assurance in the effect of your ritual.

Of course, the idea that performing certain rituals or reciting certain words can bring about a particular outcome isn’t unique to Satanism- it exists in most of the world’s belief systems. Evangelical Christians believe that by plastering scriptures everywhere, and reciting Bible verses related to healing constantly, “having enough faith”, and invoking the name of Jesus, they can bring about recovery from illness. Many of them have performed these rituals with favorable results, but at the same time there are people whose prayers seem to go unanswered.

In Satanism, if the ritual is said to have failed then blame is ultimately put on the “caster” (or in Christianity, the “prayer warrior” or “believer”) The failure is said to sometimes be the result of someone not being aware of the “balance factor” which basically states that you shouldn’t try to perform a ritual that is beyond your ability. This includes but is not limited to trying to attract great sums of money to yourself when you’re only willing or able to put in a low effort, or having below average looks and trying to attract a gorgeous movie star. Magic, it’s said, won’t solve the problem of mediocrity. “Word of Faith” Christianity similarly states that saying all the right words won’t solve the problem of doubt or “God having a better plan.”

What about the assertion from LaVey that the laws of magic were basically the laws of nature? Many religious/spiritual people espouse a belief in something known as “the law of attraction” and many other similar “spiritual laws”. Apparently, if you doubt yourself, you are likely to fail- but is it some supernatural nature of your doubt that “attracts disaster”, or more the fact that if you don’t believe something will succeed you are less likely to put in your best effort, and therefore are less likely to actually succeed? Or what about the people that didn’t have much confidence that they would be able to overcome adversity, but still did? Or the confident people that were blindsided by pain and misfortune?

The more I study religion, the more I believe that we might give ourselves far too much credit, and maybe place ourselves as being more important in the universe than we are. True, there are things we can actively do to improve our lot in life, and having a positive outlook, utilizing “purpose and intent” (or “direction” as LaVey puts it) are very important. I think, however, that we delude ourselves if we think that we can “deserve” more than anybody else in this world. So many things in life are completely outside of our control. We didn’t decide where we would be born, or how we would be raised. We can’t protect ourselves fully from being affected by wars, food shortages, and natural disasters. Often we are “at the right place at the right time” or at “the wrong place at the wrong time” and want to attribute some cosmic significance to these events.

What I’m saying is, maybe there’s no such thing as “magic” to give us a leg-up over other people. (It’s especially hard to take LaVey’s brand of magic seriously when he talks about the “amount of energy need to levitate a teacup”.) For the practitioners of “white light” religions as LaVey called them, maybe there’s no “script.” Maybe you weren’t “chosen from the foundation of the world”, maybe you weren’t “a king in another life”, maybe there’s nothing waiting for us in the afterlife. Maybe this is the one chance we get. The truth is, we don’t have the answers.

The ancient Jews would say their prayers facing the direction of their temple, because that’s where they believed that God was. Jesus was said to have raised his hands to the heavens when he prayed. Other religious people focus inward, inclining themselves to the “god within.” To me, God isn’t in a particular place or location. I’m not even sure what kind of form or quality that “God” possesses. It would be all too easy for me, to along with rejecting a belief in “magic” reject a belief in all hidden agency. I’m not quite ready to take that step. Science has more or less ruled out the existence of a “God of the heavens”- we’ve been to the heavens and found them silent, and remarkably devoid of anything that could be considered similar to a god figure.

Another thing to notice, is that even though I don’t really believe in the effectiveness of a particular kind of prayer or ritual, I still felt disquieted when reading through the last part of the Satanic Bible. Being raised as an Evangelical Christian has made me wary of anything that could be considered “satanic” or of any “witchcraft” or “false religion.” I keep having this unshakeable feeling that “dabbling in the dark arts” is going to get my house “haunted” even though I know that such “hauntings” have never been scientifically proven. Furthermore, many “devils” of Christian demonology were the benevolent gods and goddesses of ancient religion. It could be that the true “pure” religion was actually the pagan religions of the past, especially considering that they pre-dated Christianity by thousands of years. It’s all about perspective. I’m sure to the Native Americans the God of the murderous white Europeans was considered a devil if there ever was one.

My theory is actually this- polytheistic religions were eventually more-or-less supplanted by monotheism. Atheism has existed somewhat quietly alongside all of the main theistic religions since almost the very beginning, but it has never really taken precedence and so I don’t expect atheism to become the “new” theism. Instead, I think that monotheism in the traditional sense is being replaced by something else- maybe a more undefined spirituality, or a belief in a nebulous “something” that undergirds and upholds the Universe. I believe that as we gain more scientific knowledge of our world, that we may find scientific reasoning behind many of the things that we consider “mysteries” or “miracles” today. That being said, I don’t think we’ll outgrow our widespread “need” for a god- of some sort- very soon.

So, do I believe in magic? Not really, but I don’t fully disbelieve either. I’m still a little superstitious; I would definitely feel creeped out if it was said that someone had placed a curse on me. When I’m in distress, I still find an impulse to pray. I still have a sense of things being either “holy” or “unholy” even with the aforementioned admission that I know that it’s all a matter of who’s talking. I’m confronting my personal biases every day. This isn’t easy work, and I’m very grateful to those of you who’ve decided to take this journey with me.

When Gods Become Demons

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I was using YouTube one morning, when I stumbled upon something interesting in my suggestions. It was an interview conducted by self-proclaimed Christian exorcist, Bob Larson, of Nicholas and Zeena Schreck, who, at the time were higher-ups in the Church of Satan. The interview was more than an hour long, but I sat there spellbound as I watched through the entire thing. Zeena and Nicholas remained incredibly calm and composed in the face of sometimes scathing sarcasm and frequent interruptions from host, Larson.

As the interview progressed, they answered various questions and revealed a number of interesting facts. For one, Nicholas revealed that members of the Church of Satan did not believe in the literal existence of God or Satan. Rather, Satan was a symbolic representation of man’s so-called “carnal nature.” Satanists advocate allowing your natural human instincts to guide you.

The couple also expressed a belief in moral relativism- that there is no such thing as “good” or “evil” but rather these are qualities ascribed to various people and events by people who were in positions of power. Larson was aghast when both Zeena and Nicholas refused to call Hitler “evil” when he asked them about what they thought of him. Nicholas said that his actions weren’t necessarily “evil”- they were actions of a human being performing a human act. Zeena also argued that “there’s always more to the story” at which Larson scoffed.

Anyway, after watching the interview I decided to read The Satanic Bible for myself. It was written by Zeena’s father, Anton LaVey. It begins with the 9 statements of Satanism, which include statements like “Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence” or “Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates”. It moves on into the “Books of Satan” which are some poetic expressions that were reminiscent of maybe Psalms, Proverbs, and the Minor prophets in the Bible- if they had a vastly different message.

“The most dangerous of all enthroned lies is the holy, the sanctified, the privileged lie- the lie everyone believes to be a model of the truth. It is the fruitful mother of all other popular errors and delusions. It is a hydra-headed tree of unreason with a thousand roots. It is a social cancer!” -Book of Satan 2:13

In addition to laying down principles and making various exhortations, there’s also history in the Satanic Bible. There’s a chapter entitled “Hell, the Devil, and How to Sell Your Soul”. Fun fact: it’s not really about how to sell your soul to Satan, because LaVey didn’t believe in that. He even says so- here’s another quote;

“To the Satanist, it is unnecessary to sell your soul to the Devil or make a pact with Satan. This threat was devised by Christianity to terrorize people so they would not stray from the fold…”

The main purpose of the chapter is to reveal how deities of various religions somehow became a part of Christian demonic folklore. LaVey points out that the actual word for devil is actually derived from the Indian word devi which meant “God.” This is not an isolated case. He goes on to say that the “goblin”, “bogey”, and “bugaboo” that were developed to frighten children had their roots in the Slavonic word Bog which also meant “God” (Bhagha from Hindu for “God” is also related).

In fact, according to LaVey even the Greek word “demon” was a word to describe a helpful “spirit guide.” Even the name most often associated with Satan himself, Lucifer was from Latin and meant “bringer of light.” The Greek God Pan who was a part-goat deity of lust and fertility, was eventually adopted into Christian demonology as a demon.

This revelation on how conquering nations often demonized the deities of their subjects revealed how subjective religion really could be. Actually, in the interview, Nicholas Schreck asked why Bob Larson, who was “of European descent” could reject the “beautiful pagan tradition” of his ancestors. Larson responded that “All pagan religions are a deception from Satan to distract people from the truth”. Schreck responded that if that was the truth, why didn’t they know it. Larson quoted Romans 1, which says “the things of creation are clearly seen from the foundation of the world”. It was almost as saddening as it was cringe-worthy, and yet I once avowed these kinds of beliefs.

There’s even more to the Satanic Bible than history, exhortations, and “statements”- there’s relationship advice! There is a long chapter on “Love and Hatred” talking about the importance of sexual freedom. It’s interesting to note that the book was written in 1969, and yet here was LaVey advocating for freedom for “homosexuals, bisexuals, and asexuals”. He was also aware that Satanism was often associated with orgies, but he pointed out that just because you participate in group sex does not mean that you are not sexually repressed. Here are some of his words;

“Satanism does advocate sexual freedom, but only in the true sense of the word. Free love, in the Satanic concept, means exactly that- freedom to either be faithful to one person, or to indulge your sexual desires with as many others as you feel is necessary to satisfy your particular needs.”

He also laid down a foundation that sex should be between consenting adults;

“Aside from the foregoing exceptions (he was talking about BDSM in the earlier paragraph), the Satanist would not intentionally hurt others by violating their sexual rights. If you attempt to impose your sexual desires upon others who do not welcome your advances, you are infringing upon their sexual freedom. Therefore, Satanism does not advocate rape, child molesting, sexual defilement of animals, or any other form of sexual activity which entails the participation of those who are unwilling or whose innocence or naivete would allow them to be intimidated or misguided into doing something against their wishes…”

He also made a lot of other really cool statements about the difference between “spiritual love” and “sexual compatibility” and needing to strike a favorable balance between the two of them. Sometimes, though, he said this isn’t always practical. He even might’ve made a statement in favor of what we now call polyamory when he said this;

“As a matter of fact, often one member of a couple will resort to outside sexual activities because he deeply loves his mate, and wishes to avoid hurting or imposing upon his loved one.”

He was definitely somebody that was way ahead of his time. Also, even though Satanism was widely regarded as a proponent of reckless, hedonistic violence, animal sacrifice, unrestricted self-indulgence, and hatred, if you actually read the Satanic Bible you can see that this is not what LaVey propagated. I’m about a third through my reading of it, but I strongly doubt that he would suddenly turn everything in his initial chapters on its head.

Satanism seems to mostly be about free-thinking, not allowing guilt to rule your life, being selfish to a healthy level, and challenging the so-called “right-hand” or “white light” religions of the world. I would’ve never found any of this out unless I hadn’t been curious and fearless enough to examine the religion for myself.

That being said, I don’t believe that I would join the religion because there are still things that I disagree with. I haven’t gotten to these parts in the book, but Zeena and Nicholas- who by the way, are not a part of the church anymore- stated that they believed in what I’ll term social darwinism– the idea that the strong should take care of themselves and not be overly concerned with the needs of weak people. They seemed to state that the strong were the ones “deserving of love” that were described in the Satanic Bible, and that is isn’t our responsibility to be concerned with refugees or people who are victims of corrupt governments. They also admitted that The Church of Satan was an “elitist organization” open to those who were “worthy” and paid a $100 fee (this was at the time of the 1989 taping of the interview- I have no idea if there’s still a fee to become member of the Church of Satan today). I don’t think I’d make a very “good” Satanist.

Either way, I am so happy and grateful for my newfound freedom to explore different religious concepts, including some “controversial” ones. Expect more posts like this as I continue my religious/spiritual journey.

Talking a Good Game

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I know that when it comes to writing about spiritual growth on here, I “talk a good talk”. “Walking the walk”, however, is actually the bigger component to actual growth and that’s something that I really struggle with.

To this day, when things don’t seem to be going exactly as I’ve planned them, my default reaction is to panic. When things become difficult, my first impulse is to doubt myself and wonder if I’m really qualified to be doing whatever it is that I’m doing. I also tend to have a stronger impression that things in general are going to culminate in the worst possible outcome for me, instead of considering the possibility of them improving or ending favorably.

I think at the root of this behavior, is the false belief that if I picture the worst possible scenarios that it helps me to prepare for these imaginary disasters. I sometimes tell myself that I’m “just being realistic” and that this is actually the best way to approach things. I know that it isn’t true- I’m just giving into pessimistic attitudes that do not serve me. Also, these attitudes do not line up with the evidence that I’ve been presented with. Most of the times, what I’ve feared has never come to pass. So then, what is the point of being afraid?

I still think that the fear gives me power somehow. I believe that if I flinch before receiving the blows that I expect life to rain on me, that I’m somehow able to make them hurt less. When the blows don’t come, I am left with all of the bodily tension and stress of anticipating and preparing for them. This reaction also becomes an ingrained habit that makes it difficult for me to relax even when I am not being threatened.

I told my friend that I think I know what is the root of this desperate need for “control.” My theory is that it comes from living in a very restrictive household as a child. I had little control over my life’s circumstances, so my reaction has been to try to maintain strict control of my life in other ways. Of course, the idea of “control” is an illusion. We are ultimately responsible for how we handle the things that happen to us in life, but there is so much that happens in life that we do not have any influence over. We can choose to be a careful driver, but we don’t have control over a sudden rainstorm that may pass over and causes the truck in front of us to slide out of its lane and hit us. The best thing we can do is just to make sure we are wearing our seatbelts.

“Wearing your seatbelt” does not amount to living life terrified of accidents or misfortune. It’s more like a mental attitude of choosing to just be prepared for bad things that could happen without constantly dwelling on them. After all, how often do you consciously put on your seatbelt with the thought “I could get thrown out of the car today if I’m hit and I don’t wear this”? Some of us only wears seatbelts because the law says to. Most of us, though, just know that it’s safer, so we put it on out of habit. We’re not ruminating on all the grim possibilities. That’s how I eventually want to feel about preparedness in life; I want to come to a balanced state of mind where I am prepared but I am not afraid.

Obviously it isn’t possible to live a life totally free from fear. As I mentioned in another post, fear can be an important warning sign that something is not right with a certain situation. It is crucial in alerting you to danger. The fear that’s harmful for me personally- and I think for lots of other people as well- is the feeling of suspense or being “on edge” that can easily become a part of daily life. This is also probably a good description of certain clinical anxiety disorders (if you think you might need medicine or therapy to help with your anxiety you should definitely try to find a way to get that help).

In summary, I just want to be able to “practice what I preach” on here a little bit more. I wrote a lot about “The Value in the Valley” and I know that a lot of the principles in the book are at work in my life. Purpose and intent are guiding my actions. I am trying to follow the inward voice of my conscience a little better. I think it’s still the courage that I have trouble with- I have trouble maintaining the belief that everything is going to turn out just the way it’s supposed to, and that even if it isn’t the way that I would’ve chosen, that it’s ultimately for my benefit. My trust in the “process of life” is low.

I want to change that.

The Pathology of Happiness

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

As someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I am well aware of the highs and lows that are associated with it. I have been so low and depressed that I wanted to do nothing but stay in bed all day, yet often found myself unable to sleep. I have been so “high” that I thought it was a good idea to spend rent money from my dad on a camera and later drive all the way to another state to see my friends (I used my credit card to pay for everything).

Bipolar disorder has been described as a “disease of feelings.” The problem with this is, that we cannot escape feelings- experiencing them is an essential part of the human experience. Depression is rarely soul-crushing immediately. It starts with a persistent inability to enjoy the things you are doing, and then magnifies as you slowly begin to leave off doing those things. In the same way, mania doesn’t start off with you being 100% impulsive or delusional. It begins with hypomania- and one of the symptoms of hypomania is “unusually elevated mood”. All of the sudden the world around looks a few shades brighter, you experience increased energy and focus and you feel like you can accomplish almost anything.

Managing my mood disorder means being highly aware of my feelings and whether or not they’re getting out of hand, and watching out for mania is one of the main things I practice.

Unfortunately, this sometimes results in being suspicious if out of the blue I wake up and I’m feeling better about things than usual. It means wondering if my excitement and enthusiasm when I’m talking about something new could be described as “pressured speech” or if my extra energy could lead to irritation or an angry outburst. It means wondering if when I splurged on that one thing I was moving into the impulsivity that is characteristic of mania.

In other words, I begin to study and look for the “pathology of happiness”- all of the negative things that can be associated with what just feels like “being happy.” Just like I don’t want to get “too sad” I don’t want to become “too happy”; I don’t want to become manic. This is because the mania is what leads to the poor decisions, the destructive behavior, and ultimately the hospitalizations (in my case). A sense of grandiosity is capable of persisting that can lead to a complete loss of touch from reality.

I do wonder sometimes, though, if my fear of mania is putting a damper on my ability to express happiness and joy. I’ve been hospital-free for almost five years, but I still look back on that dark time in my life and seek to make sure never to return. Even when I know I’m doing all of the right things- getting sleep at night, taking my medication daily, and sticking to a routine- I still feel afraid that my emotions are going to get “out of control.” If I feel under the weather, immediately my mind goes to the worst possible outcome, of me eventually being unable to get out of bed and go to work and therefore getting evicted. Or if I’m happy and having a good time, I wonder if I’m becoming “too excited” and may launch into regrettable behavior.

It is possible that my concerns are being exacerbated because this is traditionally the time of the year that I’ve been hospitalized, but I know that these concerns are always a low-grade hum in my mind at all times. I am always thinking at some lower level of consciousness, “don’t let your feelings get out of hand.”

The good part of this story is that I am not without support. I have my best friend, who, if I did start to launch into something that was abnormal, would notice immediately. I am still under the observation of case workers, even though it’s been years since I’ve had an episode. This was because the frequency and severity of my episodes- the last of which was a schizophrenic one that got my diagnosis changed to schizoaffective (bipolar type). Also, my last hospital stay was three months, which is a pretty long time.

I’m very grateful and happy that I’ve been episode-free for so long. I think I have relaxed from the level of worry I was at early into my recovery, so it’s possible that this low-level vigilance is something that I’ll have to experience for the rest of my life. I feel like I will never be in a position where I will feel fully comfortable, or fully confident that I will never again experience the devastating effects of mental illness. In my case, I don’t believe I will ever be “cured”. Instead, it will be something that I always manage and live with.