Sunday, May 29, 2011

Nothing "Happy" About It

I have never, ever wished anyone a "Happy Memorial Day", and I don't plan on doing so anytime in the future. It's not a "happy" time, like Forth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. There is nothing happy about it at all, if you recall the real reason for the commemoration.

When I was growing up, my Grandfather called it Decoration Day. Now it's Memorial Day, the day we're supposed to honor our war dead, who  made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom.  It is not the first day of the summer season- that's nearly a full month away, in June.There were no three day weekends to go to the beach.  Maybe the family got together to have a picnic, but you did it because you were honoring the sacrifice someone made for you to freely assemble.. after you put fresh flowers and a small American flag on the grave of your Uncle who was killed in the line of duty. I can't for the life of me understand the reasoning behind Memorial Day sales in retail stores  No one died in battle so I could get 30% off on a new swimsuit. It's not honoring the life of a dead soldier when I swing on by the mall for some great deals at JC Penney and then stop off at McDonald's for a Big Mac at the food court. In fact, back in the Stone Age, when I was a kid, not only were the stores closed, everything else was closed, too...and Memorial Day was observed on May 31st...whichever day of the week it fell.

I can fully get behind a Memorial Day parade where all the branches of the military are represented, where veterans, survivors, the VFW and the Boy Scouts march and all the high school marching bands turn out.
I want to see those elderly veterans ( whose numbers are dwindling yearly) riding in cars with the top down so I can wave back and let them know I not only appreciate their service to their country-and me- but that I'm happy to see they made it another year.  I truly appreciate the freedom to be allowed to stand on the curb and wave, because I know somewhere in the world, my contemporary in another country is unable to do so. I want to see a parent with a gold star on his/her collar so I can tell them that the son or daughter s/he lost in battle did not die in vain.

It's a crying shame-an absolutely, unabashedly, literally crying shame- that there are only a handful of citizens who have not served in the military or Scouts who know anything about the proper display of the American flag per the U.S. Flag Code- or that such a law exists. When I was a kid, my retired Army cook Grandfather taught me how to fold an American flag military presentation style, in a tight triangle, and how to quickly run the flag up the pole to the top first, before lowering it to half-staff on Memorial Day.

In elementary school chorus, we learned all the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, America the Beautiful and This Land Is Your Land and by the third grade we could do a decent job of singing each as a group. By the sixth grade we knew what the lyrics really meant and were proud be the ones selected to sing them at the ceremony when the wreath was laid at the veteran's cemetery in  memory of those who lost their lives- many on foreign soil- to preserve the idea of democracy.

Yes, I will sing God Bless America as a Goddess-worshiping  Pagan, because I know that  the sentiment of the song transcends the lyrics and understand what was in Irving Berlin's heart when he wrote it and Kate Smith's patriotic pride when she sang it...and I am unashamed to say that I am old enough to remember seeing Kate Smith sing it live on TV- and thrilled now with the fact  I had that honor.

I remember most of the words to the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, who was a Canadian, by the way- and that Flanders is in Belgium. Poppies grew wild and in perfusion in the area where the war dead of the Ypres battles are buried, and that's why they are the symbol of Remembrance Day, what Memorial Day is called overseas.  ( For those of you interested in pop culture, the song Snoopy's Christmas by the 1960's group The Royal Guardsman, is set during the famous Christmas truce in Ypres, where Charlie Brown's dog imagines he's a WWI flying ace fighting the Red Baron.)

No matter how sappy and corny anyone thinks it is, God Bless The USA by Lee Greenwood is a great tribute song to our military. Because I don't think Lee was much of a feminist or ever imagined there were  women in combat and  when he penned that song, I always change the word 'men' to ' folks" in the line
"...and I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me". I just think it's more appropriate, since so many of my sisters have given their lives for our country's freedom, too, right  along side our brothers.

I live too far away from where my Grandparents are buried to put an American flag on Pop's grave, but I hope a Boy Scout or someone in another public service organization has gone around to check for veteran's markers and sees the tiny US Army emblem I purposely had installed on his side of the bronze plaque. It's the only way Memorial Day would ever be happy for me.

Shhhhh...It's A 'Secret'

The much acclaimed, run away bestseller self-help book ( later an equally successful DVD) The Secret caused a sensation in 2006. It was authored by Rhonda Byrne, a writer and producer for Australian TV,whose most significant prior claim to fame at that point was a documentary spotlighting commercials in her homeland. Byrne takes credit for  'discovering' the Law of Attraction, which she gleefully told Oprah she found in an ancient text (actually it was from "The Science of Getting Rich" written in 1910 by Wallace D. Wattles This ' little known universal law' taught you how to bring every thing you ever wanted and desired to you by simply focusing on it. Her epiphany was also influenced by Occultist and New Thought pioneer William Walker Atkinson, who also wrote under the pseudonyms Theron Q. Dumont and Yogi Ramacharaka. The fact that Atkinson wrote under so varied and assortment of pseudonyms and was  an intensely private person makes him largely forgotten in in the occult community despite his catalog of over 100 books being in print since 1900. He shared his interest in Oriental occultism with many Transcendentalists of his time, most notably the founder of the Theosophical Society, Madam Helen Blavatsky. A biography and extensive listing of his work can be found at

Byrne's  recommendation from The Secret for weight loss is to avoid looking at fat people because doing so makes you fat.

I'm not making this up-This is a direct quote from the book: "If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it." Not only is this statement heavily dripping in silly New Age psychobabble, it's thinly a veiled personal prejudice against a particular segment of the population. What Byrne is implying is that it's not your fault if you're overweight from lousy eating habits, lack of exercise or medical reasons, you've become fat by second intention through mere observation. Basically she's claiming some sort of metaphysical osmosis, or that maleficus fat people cast their curse on you through a version of the evil eye. Okay, I have to stop thinking about this now because I keep spewing coffee out of my nose. Sorry.

The media sensation contains 'knowledge' from roughly two dozen New Thought/New Age wisdom keepers who are referred to in a stroke of marketing genius as "visionaries" and "philosophers". I mean, come on...admit it, who wouldn't love to see the modern day version of  St. Paul or Aristotle expounding their personal wisdom for the camera? It's the next best thing to touching the hem of their garment and being magically healed. 

I remember being riveted to the screen while watching the DVD of The Secret for the first time as I awaited the singular moment when I would be privileged to have The Secret presented to me on a sacred papyrus scroll by heavenly messengers...Not really, but I do admit that the build-up to the slickly packaged presentation impressed even me, and that's saying something. The line-up of sages eager to drop their bomb of enlightenment upon the unwashed rabble was also impressive, if only for their sheer numbers and breath of diverse theology. Yes, my finely honed bullshit detector was being continuously being tripped as the parade of snake oil  salesmen flashed by extolling the virtues of their exclusive take on The Secret, but it was like a metaphysical train wreck and I couldn't take my eyes off it. I could see immediately the appeal of this audio/visual assault of feel goodness because we humans, and Americans in particular are always searching for something to 'fix' us and make us more attractive to our fellow human beings. Exclusive knowledge and elitism always wins us over when the superficiality of physical beauty fails.

The Secret is full to the rim in a Holy Grail kind of way with physically attractive (or at least interesting-looking) people who present themselves as professional, sincere and reasonably intelligent and who only have your best interest at heart. There are enough 'experts' who are vaguely familiar to most of the media savvy public to lend an aura of authenticity and a smidgen of credibility and to the project-like Jack Canfield and Marci Shimoff of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame, the Rev.Michael Beckwith of  Agape International Spiritual Center, Life coach and author of the internationally acclaimed book You Were Born Rich Bob Proctor, Neale Donald Walsh of Conversations With God fame, Psychologist John Gray who dominated Oprah's Book Club with the groundbreaking Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

The second string included meta-physician Joe Vitale, Denis Waitley, a consultant on 'high performance human achievement' for NASA and the Olympic Games and the now much more infamously notable James Arthur Ray, who's currently a defendant on Court TV for his system of human potential training employing a bastardized version of Native American sweat lodges that caused the death of several participants. And let's not forget the fabulously trendy spirit channel JZ Knight, the control of a 25,000 year old entity named Ramtha, the sum of whose teaching is " You are God ". Ramtha has his own School of Enlightenment, coincidentally called Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. ( Before Ramtha jumped on board with the other purveyors of The Secret, we basically hadn't heard from him since the 80's, when  he made headlines by spiritually guiding actresses Linda Evans- the female lead in the TV series Dallas- who was the much older live-in paramour of New Age composer and musician Yanni and the wonderfully entertaining Shirley McLaine, herself a New Age guru of sorts. ( For the record, I find the long pipe-smoking, hoarse-voiced Ramtha a bit creepy, myself.)

All was not positive and harmonious during the making of The Secret, when psychic medium Ester Hick's and her channel entity Abraham bailed from the project due to a snag in marketing philosophies with  Byrne and some of the other members of the cast. It seemed Hicks and Abraham does well enough on her/ his own, and has a rather large following of their own, much to the chagrin of the elite Secret-mongering cabal, which prompted rumors of  plagiarism and jealousy. I have seen both versions of the Secret-the one without Hicks is the most common, but the more rare and nearly obsolete version containing a session with Abraham is far superior and leads me to believe the rumors leading to the split are true

Being Wiccan, I was well acquainted with the Law of Attraction. Marion Weinstein wrote extensively about it in her classic book Positive Magic; specifically in the chapter entitled "Words of Power, The Work of Self Transformation." This is a book about witchcraft that says to ask the Universe for what you want and need, but don't be demanding and unreasonable...and be prepared to work at whatever it takes to get it.

In other words, be prepared to work hard to fulfill your needs and desire.

The Secret nowhere mentions  working toward your goal. Instead, it has a lot of goofy advice from Byrne in the same vein as what she believes about fat people. It says to tell the Universe what you want and sit back for the expected results.  It basically encourages you to ride in on a flurry of expectation, dump off your list of demands , and visualize your hand out waiting for the All Knowing to fill your palm with goodies. That's all there is to it-think it and it will be so, and while you're at it, dream big!

For a reason I'm still trying to fathom, The Secret managed to take hold in the counseling and Mental Health community with the furor of a tornado. Friends and colleagues who are well- known in their respective niches of therapeutic and spiritual practice began recommending The Secret  as a type of panacea. Many were dazzled by the marketing but were genuinely sold on the premise of positive thinking and wanted unabashedly for their clients to reap the benefits of the success it promised. These weren't bad things for someone in the helping profession to want for the people who came to them for help and trusted them to assist them in getting well, but in retrospect, it was reckless and foolhardy. For many clients and their well-meaning counselors, it was delusion and disappointment on a grand scale. Few professionals took a step back and questioned the validity of The Secret and even fewer sought to verify the effectiveness of the methods being touted by a smattering of largely unknown New Age gurus.  I was among the handful of counselors to whom this  was professionally and ethically inconceivable. Not tooting my own horn here about being exceptionally wise or anything else- it just didn't click with my training, experience or what formed my philosophy and theology. 

Initially there were reports of success from the counseling community and The Secret seemed to be the  psychological version of the magic bullet and philosopher's egg rolled into one.  Therapists treating those with clinical depression who enthusiastically recommended The Secret at first noted a positive upturn in their clients' condition, but then  many of those same clients were literally 'crashing and burning', becoming more deeply depressed then before when Byrne & Company's  version of the  Law of Attraction turned into Epic Fail . It seemed too good to be true...and it was.. The wishful thinking of those who were so desperate to find something- anything- to help them get better watched their resolve crumble into dust when the results failed to materialize... no matter how hard they projected their desires into the Universe.

Then the same therapeutics community that had so enthusiastically embraced The Secret earlier were now not only throwing down cautions, they were warning that the advise it gave was damaging. Even some of The Secret's own experts were having second thoughts or back pedaling. "I love 'The Secret' but I also think it's missing a couple things," said Joe Vitale. "If I were producing it, I would have added something more about serving others." Which goes along the same lines as Marion Weinstein's Words of Power in  asking for "just enough" with the intention of not causing hardship for others by your personal gain. " Do you really want a million dollars?" she asks, " Or do you want the happiness you think it will bring you?"

The main problem with the Secret, as I see it, is the very human tendency for self-blame when things don't  work. And frankly, how ever strongly you and I believe in something, and no matter what we ask the Universe or project into it, or crawl on our knees to God, or how many anointed candles we burn or spells we cast...sometimes things simply don't happen like we want them to...and sometimes they don't happen at all. That's a devastating blow to the already fragile self esteem of someone who has bought into the idea of simple wishful thinking to change their situation...sometimes so much so that it ends up being fatal.

So, you're probably wondering why I've put so much energy into flogging the secret behind The Secret: it's because there's a new spawn that's sprung forth from it called The Power. In The Power, Rhonda Byrne shares all the metaphysical knowledge she's learned in the last five years since the release of The Secret. Which she happily asserts, will make The Secret work better for all of us. Not that The Secret no longer works, it just works better combined with The Power... And guess what? You don't have to know about The Secret before using The Power, because it is completely new system unto its self.

I say, watch your step and don't slip and fall in the snake oil.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Loose Ends

Every so often I need to tie up some loose ends-how I feel about things I've written about previously and those I'm currently giving thought to which don't merit devoting an entire blog space to on their own. For me, it works a bit like making a bow on a package, or making sure my show laces are fastened so I can walk without continuing to stumble.

When I was studying Jungian psychology in the 70's  (doesn't that make me sound positively creaky and old?!) I was part of a group called Centerpoint, where we were assigned weekly lesson plans to read and digest, then met to discuss. We would occasionally go back and examine something with new eyes; our coterie leader called it a 'revisit'. I think revisiting things is an excellent idea, because it shows how your original perception has changed over time and you can see how you've grown. You can check your life's course by revisiting various subjects in your journal or diary- today I'm going to do it with my blog, because there are some things that merit further examination or commentary for me.


I address the issue of religious intolerance so often that I feel like I'm stuck in a rut. Just as things seem to die down, something happens to stir the pot and we're back up to a boil in no time. Such is the case with the recent personal attack on fellow blogger Mrs. B. Her blog, Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom is in the running for an award for best faith blog over at Circle of Moms. Kris Bradley writes with integrity and a biting wit and her blog has major readership. The other day she and other Pagan writers were callously attacked by another blog writer nominated for the same award. This particular writer happens to be a funda-
mentalist Christian and referred not only to Mr.s B and company as "evil", but had the audacity to actually say that a " different faith is the wrong faith", then enlisted her cronies to join in a flame fest which included praying for the 'poor children' of the Pagan mothers. When readers of diverse faiths at Circle of Moms complained about the obvious lack of her journalistic integrity, the blogger in question got her sackcloth panties in a twist and  allegedly withdrew her blog on her own citing the reason as "not wanting to compete with her fellow sisters in Christ" and a disjointed ramble about how Christianity was jumbled with Paganism and she was no longer proud to be a part of the contest. I am left wondering if this writer was actually narcissistic enough to think she was that much more superior than her beloved sisters in faith, or if she was threatened by the fact that one of them might actually win the competition. Boo-hoo and pass the sour grapes. I don't care who you are or what spiritual practice you keep, this was just  inexcusably insensitive and hateful coming from a supposed person of faith. 

In another case of wanton disregard of diversity, Huffington Post contributor Thenuis Bates wrote a piece back in February about a new booklet approved by the Vatican that teaches Catholics how to convert witches to their faith. In Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers, Catholics are taught how to evangelize to those in the Craft by engaging them in subjects of interest such as environmental issues with the intent of subtly switching the subject to conversion. The book highlights pointers from a former witch turned crusader for the faith Elizabeth Dodd, who advises: "The use of magic, the practice of witchcraft, offends God because it is rooted in our sinful and fallen nature... It attempts to usurp God."

I need to interject my own take on the two above situations, because I believe they are, oddly enough, related through the curse of intolerance. I am a Pagan who believes in the divinity of Jesus,envisioning his godly empowerment to call all of us beyond our borders. It is abhorrent to me that there is still a belief that exists today  that every baby born in the world is tainted with the stain of original sin and that there are some who expend great energy on the presumed depravity and hopelessness of this world when they could be seeing the Divine in one another and all of God's creation.

Moving along...

Actor Jeff Conaway, who played the character of  lovable wannabe actor/playboy Bobby Wheeler on the TV series Taxi and was featured in the movie version of  Grease, died today after being removed from life-support. Conaway chose the route of alcohol and drugs to help him deal with emotional trauma from his childhood and later physical injury. Singer Richard Marx, former front man for the group Mister Mister wrote a touchingly poignant Facebook Note recalling his association with Conaway over the years and his regret on several occasions that he didn't renew his faded friendship with the troubled actor while there still may have been time to make a difference in his life. I have always thought of Marx as an astonishingly spiritual man who lives out the tenets of  Buddhism with a confident grace. After reading his afterthoughts on Conaway, I now know that my instinct about him was correct and true. I urge you to read his words on his FB page. Regrets are always a day late and many, and we can't always help everyone, but thankfully there are still people like Richard Marx who can see good in the depths of darkness and have faith in the power of goodness. I bow in honor to him.

Maybe Marx was influential in my personal Rock God Muse Rick Springfield taking a 'vacation' from alcohol and moving toward getting his life back together after his recent DUI in Malibu. TMZ, the bane of celebrity existence, reported less than a week after Rick's arrest that he allegedly threatened to kill the deputy sheriff who stopped him because the cop said he was going to have his custom Corvette towed from the scene. The response from Springfield's camp wasn't to deny that the statement was made, but to be righteously indignant that confidential information was leaked from the sheriff's department about the case. The remark, by the way, was not noted by the arresting officer in the official report, so there is no actual proof it was even uttered- other than by the response by Springfield's publicist, which manages to give credence to the story. I'm not going to make any excuses for Rick's behavior that day, but the fact is that even the most mild-mannered of us are prone to make outlandish, stupid remarks while under the influence. Speaking from 25 years of experience in EMS, I can honestly tell you that police officers and paramedics hear stuff like that from intoxicated individuals everyday and ignore it because they know it's the booze talking. Me thinks that if this bit of information even has a scintilla of truth to it than someone at the sheriff's department needs an administrative leave and Rick needs a  new publicist with a bit more tact and professional skill.

Flipping to another page...

I'm not usually in the prediction business, but since I did post a blog about that very thing in January, I want to touch briefly on some of the things that have happened since then that might just be coincidence...or maybe I really was on to something...

In the list I mentioned devastating fires in Australia that would effect the ecosystem and cause wide spread flooding: Australia did indeed experience wildfires and and floods in the Queensland area earlier this year. I also mentioned flooding in the region of middle America, which has certainly happened with the recent overflow of the Mississippi in the past few weeks.  One of the points in my post was that there would be several trail derailments in the Southern US, and there were derailments in Alabama, Virginia and a train headed to North Carolina derailed in Ohio.  Trains derail all the time, but that these were so specifically related to the South has me scratching my head. I'd  added the nearly obligatory "every body does it" celebrity death prediction to the list, and we did loose the fabulous Elizabeth Taylor and Jeff Conaway who was an 80's cultural icon rather unexpectedly.These two were very much beloved each in their own way. The final prediction I'd like to point out was about pharmaceutical companies having to admit that they are closer to curing various cancers due to a leak in their security, and there has been a story circulating in the alternative health news circles about a breakthrough  that was leaked a month or so back.

Coincidences ? I'm not taking any credit, but when something does happen, I dig out the list to check, and some things do make me wonder. As an ending note, I did totally blow predicting the end of the world...which didn't happen. Oh, wait...if you don't predict something that doesn't happen, do the double negatives make you correct? Maybe I wasn't wrong on that one.....

(Oh, one last note...See the little tag that I've been using at the bottom of my posts? That's because some not-so-nice person not only deleted all the comments that you good  folks took the time and effort to make on my blog at one point, but also stole my work and reprinted it on their site pretending to be me. So I've learned to Google myself and not be so trusting. Theft is one of those things the Universe takes care of with bad karma in due time. Until then, I have copyrighted and tag everything I write.)