Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pagan Parenting: Presence and Void, and Other Rude Things

courtesy of It'sGreg, via flickrAn interesting topic came up over dinner this evening with the kids, and though at the time my mouth was full of spinach and gala apple salad, and the conversation quickly moved on to hide-and-seek and other things, I wanted to make a note here of some of my own passing thoughts. For I think that in many ways, we still live with the lessons of our own childhoods and, especially for women, these lessons have not always been the healthiest, physically, emotionally or spiritually. There are a great many things that, looking back, I wish someone had told me when I was a young girl, about how the world works and why people do what they do and think the way they think. And one of those things I wish someone would have told me is: sometimes it's okay to avoid a person, even if it's rude.

To remove oneself from unpleasant or unhealthy company is only one of many rude things frowned upon in women (yes, even today), but it's one that vibrates a sympathetic chord deep in the quiet center of my being, and I find myself desperately wanting to explain to my partner's two oldest daughters that it is, in fact, definitely and completely okay to avoid a person, especially if that person is mean, manipulative or expects you to think and behave in certain ways that you do not, in your heart of hearts, agree with or feel to be right. These girls are on the verge of preadolescence, and the thought that they might grow up thinking that women are expected to always be accommodating and easy-going in whatever company, without thought to their own personal boundaries, needs or self-respect... well, it bothers me. This is basic stuff, of the "say no to drugs/peer-pressure/bridge-jumping" variety. And yet, as I've mentioned here before, they have been raised thus far in a decidedly extroverted and in some ways very gender-traditional household (despite their mother being a self-proclaimed witch), which has left them with the impression that to decline social interaction is, especially in females, the height of rudeness. As both a feminist and an introvert, I feel the need to speak up and represent, for the sake of all my fellow kindly recluses.

Of course, it's a complicated matter. While avoiding a person can sometimes be the wisest and healthiest thing to do, it is different from merely avoiding confrontation, which is also something highly prized in women. It's important to understand how these two things differ. Avoiding oneself physically from a conflict can in some cases be the most radical kind of confrontation: the very "presence" of one's absence can provoke and challenge, especially at times when one is expected to be present (or at least go through the motions of presence). There are times when showing up and merely "walking through the part" — this kind of false presence of pretending social niceties — is the real avoidance, and what is sacrificed is not only self-respect and honesty, but the sacredness of real presence, and the meaningfulness of real absence.

courtesy of It'sGreg, via flickrAnd this is where the Pagan spiritual life comes to play an important role for me, though there are echoes of Buddhism here as well. For the Pagan parent embraces both the light and the dark of the natural world, the day and the night, the bright sunshine filtering in and filling every space, and the emptiness of the night's void gaping between the faraway stars. The void is not something to fear or shrink from, but has its own role to play in the dance of harmony and balance. And so too does avoidance, which once meant not just to escape or evade, but to withdraw, clear out or empty oneself. It is this same process of emptying oneself that gives us the precious space of solitude and the sacred capacity for connection, through which we can learn to open to our capacity to imagine, and to relate to others. Through ritual and trance, such as that of the shaman, it gives way to what we call "shapeshifting" and journeying through the Otherworlds. But this ability to seek solitude and empty oneself is also a source of stability and strength that can enable us to be kind and loving towards others as well.

In our solitude, we enter more completely into our own presence, we begin to know it better and experience its fullness and power. And we learn that our presence is something precious that we can choose (or choose not) to share with others. It is not something to be frittered away uncaringly or lived only half-heartedly, it is not something that can be demanded or expected, it is never obligatory or compulsory: it is a gift. When we realize this, not only do we appreciate ourselves more and protect more fiercely that sparkling individuality that gives our presence its uniqueness and meaning, but we also come to see that our being present — fully and truly and whole-heartedly present — can be a gift of loving-kindness and transformative connection that we give to others. We are less inclined to take it for granted, but likewise we are all the more capable of giving it knowingly, even to those who we think might not appreciate it, because we understand the real nature of the giving. But all this rests on our ability to give it freely, to choose to give our presence to others; or, through our absence, to demonstrate the withdrawal of our support for unhealthy conditions or to point to or illustrate an absence that we already feel is lurking beneath the surface of acceptability and politeness.

The Pagan life is chock-full of many rude things. Playing in the mud, laughing during religious ceremonies, going braless or barefoot or unshaven or skyclad, dancing in the firelight to the beating of drums, bragging, boasting, flouting, flirting, fucking, eating and drinking and wandering wild in the woods under waling moonlit winds, so many rude and naughty and socially frowned-upon things. Let us not confuse what is rude with what is cruel, or callous, or stupid, or wrong. Let us be rude to the utmost of our love, and seek silence, and sing, and be joyous and honest and present and free.


  1. Oh My God!!! girl you are fucking awesome. If only I were 20 years younger, I would do everything possible to win your heart and soul. I truly hope your partner is aware of the treasure he (or she doesn't really matter does it?)has and as for your children, they are truly some of the lucky ones. Not only are you gifted with a truly wonderful spirit, you gifted with an ability to communicate your beauty with others through your abilities with words. (a gift I truly wish I had as well) please continue to share your insights if for no on else, do it for me a complete stranger on the internet, who was very moved by what you wrote. if you have many writings of this caliber I suggest you gather some together and send off to some publishers. the world needs more of this kind of thinking.
    Thank you so much.
    Peace & Namaste
    Mike (

  2. I think those are two fortunate young ladies with an opportunity to discover how not to look for easy or simple answers in life whilst operating with both an enquiring mind and a moral compass :-)

    Old Siddhartha had a few things to say on the matter

    How blessed, the sight of accomplished disciples!
    Companionship, ever, with them is delightful.
    If ignorant people one never should see,
    How endlessly pleasant, indeed, would it be!

    A woman will grieve for a very long time
    If she moves in the circle of people unwise;
    For it ever is so, that to live with a fool
    Is as painful as if one should live with a foe.

    But a living acquaintance with people sagacious
    Is happy as if they were cherished relations.

    With men of great learning,
    Insightful, discerning,
    In wisdom excelling,
    Devout, persevering,
    The noble and excellent,
    Ever associate,
    Just as the moon
    With the stars of the zodiac. (verses 206 onwards)

    I take this to mean that one's progress is important to the world and the dharma, and the choice of one's company (at given stages in life and development) is important to one's progress. Which makes sense to me :-)

  3. Michael -- believe me, I wake up astounded every morning that I am sharing my life with this woman. She is absolutely amazing. I consider myself a writer, but in the year I've been with her I've never been able to find the right words to describe her... or thank her.

    This post is an extremely important one for me personally, and hits on things I've been struggling with for... oh, I don't know how long -- maybe MY WHOLE FREAKING LIFE??!! It was my mother who always taught me -- by word and example -- that solitude is precious, and you aren't required to be polite to everyone, and honesty and truth are extremely important. It was my father who taught me -- by word and, sometimes, example -- that politeness was a basic form of respect, and everyone deserves respect. I think I synthesized this into a basic conviction that everyone deserves politeness.

    But I think Ali is right: politeness (and your presence) is a gift, and it's not necessarily a gift that costs nothing to give. And sometimes showing full respect to yourself and others means... being rude.

    I have a lot of work to do on this, I know. I am so grateful that I have Ali to help me. :-)

    Michael, read over this site, if you haven't already. Every post is a gem.

    By the way, Adam, thanks for that link to the Dhammapada. I am ecstatic! :-)

  4. I do agree that you should be starting those pep talks already as some kids tend to be on top of the other, manipulating the weak.

    As politeness is a gift, you tend to choose people to whom you give this gift to.