Life can be irritating. It’s not always pleasant. Frankly, depending on your mood- simply reading that may be irritating. Let me do it again. Sometimes that irritation can be good. Since this year’s theme is “Feeding our fires in times of need” I think of the image of someone starting a fire with friction- takes work, but if you need the fire, it’s worth it. I prefer the image from my childhood of getting out of the spring-fed lake where we’d stay in the water until our lips were blue and teeth chattering and my mother rubbing us with towels to warm us up. Or think of rubbing your hands together to warm them at an outdoor event. Sometimes the friction is good.
The question I’m asking myself this week is how far the analogy can be pushed? In the old TV show Babylon 5, the overarching conflict was between the Shadows who wanted war because it lead to progress, and the peaceful Vorlons who preferred stability. I think the conclusion we were supposed to come to was that a balance (one less destructive than war) between the two “ideals” was the goal humans should attempt.
Or to refer to an old joke: burning down the hut is the wrong way to cook a pig. We can have the benefits of the heat without an out-of-control conflagration.
Another image from the past is the old idea that to build muscle, you use ‘dynamic tension’- working against resistance creates the muscle. This is a good example of keeping the resistance under control to make it beneficial. Other similar images include the pearl that is created because the oyster was irritated, or the individual who ascribes their achievements to having had to overcome great challenges.
While there’s nothing wrong with learning life lessons or indeed, hard work, I will always recommend finding silver linings- or at least some good to come out of a bad situation, we don’t need to assume that everything extreme is bad, it may simply be how things are. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Learning to adapt to conditions is something humans are very good at. So when you experience friction, it may not always be a bad thing, it might be just what you need.
Need makes us nervous. No one wants to be ‘needy’. But something we may forget is that just because you need something at one point, doesn’t mean you will always need it.
Look at the much-maligned tool: the “crutch”. Why is it that people often wonder whether this valuable tool that allows us to heal, and to continue having a (more) useful life while we do so, is treated with suspicion? No one gripes about the crutch’s buddy the cast. We accept that the cast is there temporarily and allows a broken bone to heal straight, and we’ll stop using it as soon as we can. But somehow we act like people will continue using a crutch when they don’t need to. We even use the term “crutch” to cast the same aspersions on other tools that may help us like medications for physical or emotional pain, or help we get from other people. “It’s a crutch” implies that it’s unnecessary. First of all, that’s rarely true, and second, what’s your problem‽ If something helps you heal and makes your life better, that’s a good thing. Stop criticizing people who get the help they need!
As a culture, we waste a lot of effort trying to make people work for every bit of help they need. You need a special license or hang-tag to park in a handicapped space; permission to park closer to stores allows, for example, a friend of mine who was awaiting a heart-lung transplant and who literally could not walk across a wide parking lot, to run her own errands. Yet if you are not wrestling a wheelchair out of the back of your car, some jerks feel justified to yell at you for using a handicapped parking spot. No one can tell by looking at you what needs you may have, and too many seem to assume that everyone is ‘taking advantage’ of the system. But even worse that embracing nastiness toward others, we yell at ourselves.
Our ‘inner critics’ join the crowds of suspicious people in wondering whether we really need the help we know makes our lives easier. “Others manage without it” we think; or we wonder if we could be making ourselves weaker by not embracing more pain, more inconvenience? We worry if the help we get is depriving someone who needs it more. We share stories about those who have come through horrible challenges and become champions, which should be applauded. But it would be wrong to think those isolated cases mean that champions are made because of, rather than despite, misery. Think in terms of gardening, if you start your seeds in cold frames, and gradually harden them off, you’ll get a good crop of whatever you’re growing. If you just throw the seeds in the garden and let them take their chances, you’ll only get a very few, possibly stunted plants out of it. At very least they wouldn’t have the length growing season they need. It’s true that if you keep breeding the few hardy ones, you will get a hardy strain. But it may sacrifice flavor, color, taste and nutrients for that hardiness. Yes, it’s wonderful when someone overcomes adversity and succeeds anyway, but wouldn’t a better goal be to provide optimum conditions so that most of the people can succeed? (hint: including you!)
When you’re trying to heal, you could push yourself to get back to work as quickly as possible, but this could lead to relapse (which is, at very least, inconvenient and uncomfortable), or even a permanent disability. You also won’t do your normal work as well while sick, and you and those around you will have to deal with that too. So was “pushing it” heroic, or simply foolish? Toughing it out when you have no choice (choosing not to whine about what you can’t fix) is admirable. But refusing available help is counterproductive.
People often say “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” I cry BS on that. What hurts you without finishing you off usually makes it easier for whatever hits you next to take you down. Get real! There’s a huge difference between (for example) giving a controlled amount of a neutralized virus to teach your body to respond effectively to an attacker, and just going out and exposing yourself to everything at once. It’s the difference between taking the stairs and jumping out the window to get down several flights. A bit at a time makes it doable. If you can get help, accept it. There’s nothing wrong with getting help when you need it. It’s efficient. It also helps others feel good about themselves (if you really need the help). Think about how irritating someone is who won’t wear their glasses or hearing aid- don’t be that person!
When you were born, you couldn’t walk, you couldn’t talk, you couldn’t get food or clean yourself. The only thing you could do was to show gratitude to those who did all these things for you. And while caring for a baby certainly prevented them from doing other things they might have done with their time and energy, most parents think that that it’s well worth it.
You no longer need the level of care you once did, because your parents gradually allowed you to take on more by yourself. Like plants in the cold frame, you got “hardened off”. If your parents were also dealing with more problems than they could handle, maybe they didn’t do it as well as they could have done, but as an adult who’s probably had to try to do more than is reasonable, you can probably accept their human limitations and let that go. *
So here’s the point. As afraid as we are to have needs, we do. We need to breathe several times a minute, we need to have our blood keep circulating (inside), we need to drink every day, we need to sleep, and eat enough on a fairly regular basis to stay healthy. We need to not be poisoned or injured beyond our ability to heal. We also need safety, affection, and esteem. Sometimes we are not able to meet these needs without help. Sometimes our needs change forever, other times we only need help temporarily; either way, we must rethink our assumption that needs are “bad”. When we get and give help, it often helps us build the affection, esteem and actualization that are less obvious, but still real, needs. Creating a community of mutual support helps those around us, and makes the world a better, safer, more pleasant place to live. When you are going through a period of need, accept the reality, and try to see the less obvious benefits, and don’t assume that your needs will always be the same.
*Or not- this is the sort of thing that can send us back seeking spirits from other lives repeatedly as we try to work out old issues- good luck with that if that’s you.
The element of fire is known for changing things. At its most basic, it takes the potential energy of the fuel (for example wood, where the tree collected solar energy) and releases it, creating light and heat.
Sometimes we don’t realize how a crisis can result in our finding inner potential of which we were unaware. Like the proverbial parent lifting a car to free a trapped child, many factors combine to allow us to do more in a crisis than we would otherwise expect of ourselves.
How many stories of telepathy are “my loved one was in trouble far away and I felt their fear… or sadness… or heard their voice… at the moment (I found out later) that they were in trouble”? Why at those moments? Strong emotions can fuel psychic talents any time, but often we do not even attempt something we “know is impossible” until there is no other option.
When we feel we have no other options, we sometimes find that “fire within”: the talent, the strength, the ability, we did not know we had; we tap it to get through the crisis. Most people never attempt to use those resources again, returning to the comfortable assumption that such things are impossible. But humans are made of stardust as well as earth, of energy as well as matter, and we have a core of fire, of totally natural psychic abilities, that we can use… if we only think of it.
I may say this too often, but it is the prayer not voiced that is not answered, the spell not cast that never works. By and large I would rather avoid crisis, but when thrust upon me, I try to look for the silver lining. That is so often the moment that forces us to discover how magickal we are.
Sometimes we have a lot fewer options than we’d like to have. Sometimes it’s down to simply survive or not. Other times we just don’t have any options we like, or, as so beautifully depicted in the Eight of Swords Tarot card- we don’t know what our options are, but we’re pretty sure they are all bad, and we aren’t able to do anything anyway.
In a case like this, horrible as it is, our path can become crystal clear: when Houdini was in his water escape tank, I doubt he was worried about how many people were in the audience, or whether he looked good in his costume. His entire focus was on unlocking the locks, and getting out of the trap before he needed to draw a breath.
Some of the situations we get into are powerful “learning opportunities”… that we wish we never had. Looking back, sometimes we are grateful that they happened, or at least grateful for what we learned from them. Certainly, it would be better to have the knowledge and wisdom without the misery. But in the real world, sometimes that’s what it takes to learn the big lessons. Some say only hitting rock bottom makes you decide to do what’s needed to fix your problems.
In this human life, we find ourselves in some pretty bad situations, and have to learn to focus on what we really need, and what we need to do. Assigning blame is pointless, the disaster may be something you set up for yourself when you incarnated, it may be the natural result of some bad decision you made earlier, or it could be that you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and simply have to learn to deal with that. When the same sort of things happens over and over, it seems more likely that this is a “cosmic clue-by-four” trying to teach you something.
I am reminded of when we first meet the character Chaucer in the movie A Knight’s Tale. The down-on-their-luck heroes are surprised to meet someone in worse shape walking along the road, stark naked. They ask him what he’s doing. He responds: “Trudging. You know, To Trudge? The slow, weary, depressing, yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in his life except the impulse to simply soldier on.”
The lesson may not be deep, but simply to survive long enough for the next opportunity to improve the situation. We can be beaten by it, or we can survive, and move on. At least it’s hard for it to get worse at that point. (I know- never say that! The gods sometimes have a weird sense of humor.) We may not have consciously manifested this lesson, we may not enjoy it, it may not be part of our “life’s plan”, but we can learn from it.
If you were literally in the 8 of swords, what would you do? Try to cut your bonds with the sword to which you were tied? Call for help? In times of disaster, sometimes all you can do is try to figure out one thing to change to move out of the situation. It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be tied to a sword, but the images in Tarot convey feelings with which we are all familiar. That’s why we use divination when our brains freeze up and we can’t think of anything else to try. It gives us one more tool to cope. One tiny thing to change. Sometimes asking for help is the thing we really needed to do.
This is part of why we have themes for CTCW, each year it gives us one thing on which we can focus, this year dealing with needs rather than wants, and like so many forms of art, being required to work within those limits often pushes us to discover things we would not have found had we not been forced to work within those limits. We may not like it, but it can be good for us.
We are often afraid of power. A common aphorism is that “Power corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely.” Even when we are not concerned about what it might be doing to our spiritual health, we often wonder just how much power we can control…, and what if it gets away from us?
Our earliest lessons are our parents telling us not to “play with fire”, or “run with scissors” (much less use sharp knives or appliances). We have been raised on the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and science fiction movies about how scientists don’t realize what effects they are creating: Godzilla or giant insects. It’s all too much for humans to control. Now we are looking at Climate Change, and extinction of multiple species, which seem to argue that the dire warnings were correct!
But let’s go back to our childhood lessons: eventually, we are allowed to use the car or the sewing machine, and we’re taught how firearms and medicines work. We are taught the balance between the risks and benefits, because while we could walk or bike everywhere, we’ll probably be able to get a better job if we can drive, and we would rather not be sick or disabled. When you have learned how to use them appropriately, powerful tools are beneficial.
I think most people think that “occult” is a scary word. In the Middle Ages, “malificia” was often used to gloss witch, herbalist, and poisoner. If you had the ability to heal, you had the ability to poison, and the assumption was made that you would do the worst. Having defined women as a “weaker vessel”, it was important not to let them have power, as they’d abuse it. (Similar to the reason it was illegal in the South to teach a negro to read.) A lot of modern Americans fear that if someone is “psychic” that means, not that they get (occasionally) useful flashes of information, but that they can hear what you’re thinking, or know your secrets, and will use that ability to take advantage of them. Since so little is known about psychic abilities, foolish fears find easy environment to grow.
Perhaps a reason behind this fear is that we can all think of times we acted on our worse impulses, and worry what would have happened had we had more power at that moment. Those moments scare us, and stick with us. We tend to forget all the times we had a nasty impulse and decided “that would be wrong/stupid” and discarded it. That’s forgotten (although far more frequent). Reinforce this with times we’ve seen others abuse power, and we can become afraid to embrace power of any sort whether psychic, political, or physical. But it’s as unreasonable to fear our “occult” abilities as it is to fear that if we light a campfire, we will set the forest ablaze. Sadly, the media is far more likely to use examples of things going wrong and getting out of control than mentioning normal daily occurrences. They aren’t “news”; they won’t sell ads. The result is that almost everything we hear about the occult is from horror movies.
There’s another “horror” story many know: Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” where a man caught out in the Yukon alone discovers just how important fire is to man in that environment. The horror comes not from the “unknown” but from that which the protagonist could have known had he been wise enough to learn.
We need to embrace the reality that like any other resource, we will learn how to control the fire, and not abuse it. We can resist our worst impulses. We can use our inner abilities to improve our lives. We do not need to give something up because it has the potential to do damage. The fire that burns also warms us, cooks our food, lights our way. The benefits come with control, from knowledge and practice, not avoidance.