Monday, December 19, 2011

But I Just Want to Help: The Myths of Being Charitable

Helpful actions
I was reading an article online awhile ago, and something that they said resounded with me. They were talking about ways in which people try to help, but actually make things worse.

I thought to myself, 'self... how many times have we bemoaned the useless "help" that so many try to provide? how many times have we wanted to explain to people that if they would just think a few minutes past the immediate self-congratulatory feeling they were after, they would realize they aren't doing me any favors?'. Of course, myself agreed completely.

Ok, you got 2 second to get your ass across that street...
Then it's pancake time!
It started in college (well, that was the first time I articulated the feeling) when I had to cross three lanes of one-way traffic to get from my dorm to the classes I was taking. Every other day, some idjit with good intentions (road to HELL, remember?) would stop in the middle of the road to allow me to cross. Of course, with only one lane stopped, it didn't help. And the stopped car actually made it worse because the cars behind this well-intentioned dumbass would go around.

Look for the break in traffic... Wait for it... Wait for it...
This meant that a situation that would be resolved by normal traffic flow and periodic stoplights up the road, now had a frickin' beaver dam clogging things up. So, rocks-for-brains would stop, wait about 15-30 seconds (just long enough to create a clogged up traffic situation) and then keep going.

Sometimes I would attempt to wave this stupid-but-nice person along, hoping to avoid the auto flow choke, but half the time they would ignore or insistently gesture me across the street, never realizing that should I do that, I would DIE by the oncoming traffic in the other two lanes. Maybe they weren't trying to be nice. Maybe they were trying to kill me!

Anyways, the point of this is that steady and smooth flow of traffic is much more important than the empty, useless gesture of stopping in the middle of the road.

A good deed in theory...
Oh, and sometimes, if you* stop and look around, you might realize that the "nice" or "polite" gesture that you were making in a moment of superficial altruism, really wasn't at all helpful. And instead of getting pissy because no one is accepting your offer or thanking you for your effort, maybe you should think a little more carefully about your "nice", "polite" gesture - and do something ACTUALLY HELPFUL. Just sayin'.
*This is meant to be "you" the general populace, not "you" the reader necessarily.

And this advice is, by no means, meant to be limited to only traffic situations, or holding doors (which, btw, is almost ALWAYS helpful - I'm talking to YOU, idiot who always drops the door on me when my hands are full). THINK about what you are doing... not just the joy you will feel knowing that someone will "owe you one," or feel "so incredibly grateful" for your Mother-Teresa-like generosity. Because that isn't why you should do nice things anyways.

"Random" doesn't mean "head up butt"
You should do it because you can see how what you do will actually help the person. And if you don't think further than the next few seconds, and look at how your actions will effect others (not just you and the lucky recipient of your gift of niceness), then you aren't actually doing something NICE.

A little forethought is always the best gift to give.
FYI, here are some people who agree:
When Lending a Hand Isn’t Helpful
Helicopter Parenting
The right thing to do
Disadvantages of being nice

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Yuletide Greetings: Pagan-Musings

You can listen to the show here:

Winter King - Damh the Bard
Last Tree Falling - Cernunnos Rising
Winter Solstice - Bill Wren & Frank Ralls
Cold Winter Comin' - Bone Poets Orchestra

The Story of Mistletoe
On Midwinter's Day - Damh the Bard
Shine- Wendy Rule
Holly Lord - Spiral Dance
The Childs' Wonder
Yule Blessings
Throughout the Autumn Light - Robert Linton
Christmas in Scotland - Marc Gunn
Pagan Ways - Damh the Bard
Children’s Story for Yule
Welcome Winter - LA Hussey
Herne - Jenna Greene
Garten Mother's Lullabye - Spiral Dance
Rhymer - ElvenDrums
Blackthorn's Rune - Spiral Dance
Dancing 'Round the Fire: A Pagan Yule Poem
Cosmic Beat - The Gypsy's Ribbon
1-1-1 - ElvenDrums
Spirit of Albion - Damh the Bard

The First Song: A Yule Story for Children
Northern Lights
Solstice Fires (yuletide/Christmas poem)
Yule & Winter Songs & Poetry Page
Yule Legends, chants, stories and family crafts
Helya's Night - The night of the mother 
Symbols of Christmas The Folklore of Holly & Mistletoe
Christmas: History of Santa Claus (Photo Gallery)

Christmas. (2011). The History Channel website

Thursday, December 15, 2011

When the Economy is the Grinch that Stole Yule, Take a Lesson from Whoville

This year, as with the last few years, the holiday season is tainted with the depressing and hard-to-fix problem of economics. There isn't the money to buy the presents. There isn't the money to spring for the trips to see other family. There isn't the money for the holiday feasting. There just isn't the money...

Now my family does not do materialism very well, but we exchange a few gifts. Some people have spending limits this year of just $150-300. We stay around $25-50 no matter what. But this year, even $25 seems to be in short supply.

We scrimp and save. I gave up on a "big" gift from my parents so that Stormie could get the gift he wanted (a gun, to hunt... meat - which will theoretically help us save on buying groceries). My gift ideas for my immediate family has been completely practical - a winter coat for myself, pajamas for Bug, pants for Ladybug.

I shop for deals and cover my eyes before clicking the "order" button, just because I'm not sure we can afford it. I collect Swagbucks to earn gift cards to offset - partially or completely - the cost of shopping. We buy only one or two holiday decorations each year - and pack everything away carefully for the years to come. We are going to make our gingerbread house from scratch rather than buy a kit (that doesn't taste good anyways).

Some of our holiday traditions this year include (or have included): putting up and decorating the Yule tree together, burning a Yule Log candle when we eat our Yuletide feast, discussing our DYGs (Dark of the Year Goals - see my blogs on the Dark of the Year)...

The thing is, and I have discussed this with many people over the past weeks, that the most memorable holiday traditions are often the ones with little or no cost. All kids remember the times they played games all night with their family, the drives around town looking at the lights and decorations, making cookies and crafts together. Kids don't remember what they got for presents six months later. They remember the time they spent together with family. It's all about the togetherness. It's all about the love.

To this end, I've decided to not stress about presents (after all, Gramma & Grampa will certainly buy more than we have room for), not stress about parties (school parties only last an hour anyways), not stress about travel (we'll get there when we get there - why add the pressure of holiday-time travel?), not stress about what anyone, outside of me and Stormie and Bug and Ladybug, thinks of whether we are celebrating "enough" or "appropriately".

Who cares about how much money I spend on the holidays, except the giant corporations with one eye on the bottom line and their hands reaching for my bank account? Oh, and my overly money-conscious brother, but I don't care what he cares about anyways.

Speaking of Who's, I have a holiday playlist (I *LOVE* Christmas songs) that has the song of the Who's. You know, the one they sing on Christmas morning, even after the Grinch stole all the STUFF and thought that would stop the celebration from coming. Then the Who's sing anyways, saying "Christmas day is in our grasp, So long as we have hands to clasp" and "Christmas day will always be, Just so long as we have we". The singing swells the Grinch's heart destroying the grumpiness of that grump and inspiring him to become heroic and generous.

I think the way things are going, the economy's oh-so-slow recovery, the protests over corporate and government corruption, the overt, peer-pressure MATERIALISM of the holiday season, we are all in danger of becoming a Grinch, or of letting the Grinch-economy steal our holiday. But we can embrace the Who's song and declare that this holiday is about celebrating US, celebrating FAMILY, celebrating people, not STUFF.

We have hands of friends and family to hold. We have us and all the happiness that "us" can be. Pull out all the stops this holiday season and concentrate on FUN and FAMILY. The corporate bottom-line will return Christmas once it sees that we don't need the "Who pudding and rare Who roast beast" or the noise-making toys and bleepity-bling.

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit more!"

"And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say - that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day. And then - the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of *ten* Grinches, plus two!"
"Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand."

Lyrics to Welcome Christmas:
Welcome Christmas come this way
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas day
Welcome, welcome fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome dahoo damus
Christmas day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas bring your cheer
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome all Whos far and near
Welcome Christmas, fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas, dahoo damus
Christmas day will always be
Just so long as we have we
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas bring your light
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome Christmas, Christmas day
Welcome Christmas, fahoo ramus
Welcome Christmas, dahoo damus
Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand
Fahoo fores dahoo dores
Welcome welcome Christmas Day...
Welcome, welcome X-mas day....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Dark of the Year: In Praise of Future (Part 3)

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3

During this time of year, the dark of the year, we as Pagans have a fairly unique opportunity within our spiritual wheel of the year. We have the opportunity to grow, spiritually, internally, rather than externally. The Wheel of the Year shows us how to use the energy of Nature to develop in a healthy cycle.

The Dark of the Year is the time of introverts, when humanity as a whole goes from exuberant, exo-energetic creatures to inner-focused beings who welcome the dark and calm of semi-hibernation. We don’t sleep the season away like the bear, but rather we enjoy a certain lethargy of the body, which allows us to grow our mental and emotional selves. We embrace the Yin in the world, the Feminine in ourselves, the dark/cold/wet/gestational parts of Nature.

In animals, a “false” hibernation is often called torpor or languor. I, for one, like “languor,” or “languid.” The word (words are power, remember) calls up in my mind an image of sensuality, of liquid, passive, flowing, small movements. Isn’t that what we crave during the Dark of the Year? Lying in bed, snuggling with family and blankets, lounging around the home with warm, liquid foods and drinks. Celebrating life and survival while death (dark, cold, wet weather) prowls around the periphery.

Death and gestation are two faces of the same coin. They bracket life like not-quite-identical bookends, giving us the time of dark and wet and quiet before we start going, going, going as life demands far too often. The season of winter, the Dark of the Year, allows us to pause in this rat-race of work and family and action, action, action. Winter is a small death that gives us a moment to breath, mentally and emotionally.

So how do we take advantage of this time when we can get back in touch with ourselves and those closest to us during the major holidays of the season of the Holly King?

The last holiday before the return of the light (Imbolc) is Yule, the Birth of the Sun/Oak King. This is the time when the days stop getting shorter, and begin getting longer. The promise of sun and warmth and activity is made as Mother Nature/Goddess births the God-child that will return these to us.

Yule is the time of the Promise of Life. The plants will bloom again, the birds will sing, creatures great and small will make themselves known once more. The Dark will fade into sunlight. It isn’t here yet, but it will come.

Imagine if the days didn’t get longer ever again. Imagine our sorrow if there was no promise of spring to come. If we couldn’t “see the light” of summer on the way. The promise of returning life/spring is just as important to us as the actual return. Even as the weather gets worse in the heart of winter, the sun shines a few minutes longer each day as evidence that we will not be cold forever.

Yule is the perfect time to make our own promises. While this is often done at New Years (a mere ten-day after Yule), this is when we feel the need to plan and affirm the actions we will be taking when the Oak King returns in full power. This is when we chart our course for after the thaw of spring releases our languor into animation.

Take the time to consciously prepare yourself for the coming year. You have taken the time to remember what has passed at Samhain, to celebrate your present at Thanksgiving. Now is the time to create your future at Yule. Use the knowledge of the past and resources of the present to conceive your best future, to invest those resources in the next step of your life. The Oak King will return, and as the flowers bloom, so your chosen course of action may use the energies of spring to bring your life into greater fruition.

Many blessings during your Languor in the Dark of the Year!

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3