Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Emptiness- A Reflection

Posted to the Pagan Blog Project 2014, week "E"
We live immersed in the busy-ness of the world. Too often we are swept up in this busy-ness beyond our capacity to cope. This is the beginning of anxiety, which leads to other things later on, like lack of focus, inattention and possibly depression. We become fearful and anxious in all areas of our lives. Coming daily from a place of fear causes us to doubt ourselves and our decisions and abilities; our home life and work begin to suffer. The guilt about our perceived failures causes shame...the negativity just snowballs out of control. We feel as though we've not only let ourselves down, but others who have come to depend on us doing our share for the greater good.

Buddhist teaching labels this as an illusion. It is we who create anxiety from a small kernel of truth and guilt which leads to sorrow within ourselves. We panic and allow the negativity generated from our fears to wash over us and color our thinking with despair. The Buddha teaches that not only is this an illusion, it is a misunderstanding of impermanence and attachments.

Swept up in the busy-ness of the world, we loose sight of the truth that change is inevitable. It is constant. Nothing stays the same in the flow of the Universe, and so we cannot hold tight to persons or situations as they are this minute, hour or day. We cannot hold on to them at all. Try to hold water in one hand for very long...it is impossible, the water runs off.

The only constant in life is that change takes place regularly. Immersed as we are in the chaos around us, we fail to see that we have ceased  to flow with the river and instead are caught in an uncontrollable  vortex which drags us down in a spiral of negativity until we drown.

I have these days,too.  In our current society most of us are afraid to stop being busy, lest it be seen as a negative character flaw. (After all, if we aren't busy, the lack of activity just might mean we are lazy -or worse yet-shirking our duty!) What has worked for me is to empty myself from the attachment of busy-ness. A close examination of the situation usually leads to stopping the behavior which causes me distress, that is, that I step away from the business that is sucking away at what is good and right for me. At times that has meant getting rid of what no longer serves to nourish my soul, so I can focus on the things that do. I stop saying "yes" when I should say "no" to others. I make more time for myself.

Emptying myself makes me feel lighter. I find that disengaging from certain activities-even for just a little while-allows me to feel less weighed down and entangled. I am able to quiet the chatter in my head and allow things to simply flow along like they should just by taking a few minutes a day to sit in silence. Visualization helps; focusing  on a spot on the floor in front of me, the flame of a candle, or gazing into a cracked glass orb. The point is to focus on something outside yourself so your thoughts slow and clarify. Eventually I  feel myself begin to detach from worries and urgency. This is a good way for me to let go of attachments and remind myself that the world is an impermanent place.

This form of meditation is also good for preparing me to do ritual and magick. When I have emptied myself of the things of the mundane, I have a much stronger focus for whatever I wish to accomplish magickally. I believe emptying yourself through meditation is a beneficial form of ritual cleansing.

One of my favorite things to do a few years ago was to drive down to Battery Park,  cup of coffee in hand, just before dawn and watch the sun rise over the Delaware River. The darkness would eventually give way to muted streaks of blues and purples which became increasingly lighter until the orange jewel of the sun popped just above the horizon to flood the sky and water with golden light.
I would stay until the seagulls sleeping on the rail of the pier would awaken and fly off. Focusing on the simple act of watching the sun rise emptied me all of the stress and worry I was going through at the time while being a caregiver for a dying relative. That few moments of emptiness was a precious gift from the Universe, and I reveled in the the daily renewal, so much so that when I moved from the area I missed going to the river's edge to see the sun rise every morning it left me a little sad and feeling incomplete.

Once again applying Buddhist principles, I realized I had not only formed what was a habit-abet a healthy one- but an attachment to the very act which gave me so much relief. The realization that this attachment existed allowed me to let go of it. The resulting emptiness opened my mind for fresh insight and enlightenment to take place: The sun rises everywhere with the same beauty. While that seems like such a silly thing to have to have reminded myself of now, I was also reminded that getting overly  caught up in the business of the world causes us to loose focus on life's simple truths. Occasionally we need the reminder because simple truths are often taken for granted and when they are, they loose their grace. Leaving behind the attachment to place allowed this simple truth to manifest, and for it's grace to open the possibility of peace. Moving beyond the comfortable, the emptying of the familiar made way for limitless possibility. Possibility gives us the hope and a reason to seek authentic fulfillment of the self.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Angels Among Us

from the Angels and Demons website
Posted as week "A" of the Pagan Blog Project 2014

Originally, stories of angels came from ancient Persia and were adopted (and adapted) into Christianity via Judaism. According to the Talmud, all beings-including animals-are assigned a guardian angel.

Angels are immortal beings who live on the spiritual plane and serve as intermediaries between mankind and the Divine. In Latin the word angelus means "messenger". Hebrew scholars describe them as mal'ak elohim ("messenger of G-d"). Other translations describe them as Elohim elohim,"sons of God". Angels in early art are depicted as 'shining ones', attractive abet androgynous beings ( having neither masculine nor feminine features). The earliest renderings of angels ( in the catacomb of Priscilla, mid 3rd century) showed them in the role of messengers without the familiar halo and wings. The earliest known representation of angels with wings come from the time of Theodosius I ( 379-395).  The revered early Church writer John Chrysostom theorizing on the addition of wings to angels in liturgical art says," They manifest a nature's sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature."[ The Figure of the Angel in the Early Christian Civilization, Cecilia Proverbio,2007].

A gathering of angels is known as a legion; and interestingly enough, the term is used for a group of demons as well. Just one more link between the two entities in common usage that insinuate the supernatural power ( and fear) they wield. The definition finds it's legitimacy in a vague association with the numbers of soldiers of  a major unit of the Roman army, and is most likely one foisted into the lexicon by the ancient Church to impress upon the populace the importance of both entities. The peoples of the classical nations of antiquity knew what it was like to be over-run by military assaults, and the Church often repurposed terminology to get its point across.

In Judeo-Christian and Islamic mythology the most notable of all angels are the Archangels, each of which were assigned to a specific area of Heaven: Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, Uriel, Jophiel, Zadkiel and Samael (also known as Lucifer, who would later be identified as Satan in the Bible).  In Islam, Israfil and Azrael are included in the group with Michael and Gabriel; Metatron is recognized in Jewish writing, although his existence is not considered canonical.  The actual number of Archangels varies from source to source-as do the names [http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/Angels/2006/07/One-Archangel-Two-Archangels.aspx]. The only entity agreed upon by the major mainstream Christian religions is Michael, because he is specifically references as such in the Bible. [ Angels: God's Secret Agents, Rev.Dr. Billy Graham, W Pub Group, 1994]. In Kabbalistic teaching, specifically speaking of the Tree of Life, both angels and archangels are associated with each of the branches.

Until the mid 18th century, angels as messengers were common in everyday life, and the vision or sighting of one was a portent to a monumental event (note here, demons were also commonly a part of everyday life as well).  Angels were credited with everything from fortuitous luck to the heralding of plagues and curses on the command of G-d. [ Revelations 15:1,16:2-15, New King James Version (NKJV Bible), Thomas Nelson Publishing]. As the Age of Enlightenment slowly took hold and emphasized reason and logic from a non-religious standpoint, the sighting of angels became less and less common, and they were relegated to the realm of myth and folklore.

The belief that angels were once human is not canonical; it was developed by the Christian mystic Emanuel Sweedenborg during his quest to reform the Christian belief system.[http://www.swedenborg.com/emanuel-swedenborg/explore/spiritual-world/] Sweedenborg- who was also a scientist and philosopher -went through a personal  spiritual revelation in which he was divinely inspired to author The Heavenly Doctrine, where he visited with angels, demons and other spiritual entities.

Theosophist and Occultist Rudolf Steiner developed a complex listing of the angelic order as a result of his own visionary experiences. He theorized that angels were just above humans in spiritual consciousness and that angels fulfilled a multitude of of duties as they rose in through the ranks of importance," Each one has a special agenda...."[http://www.skepdic.com/steiner.html] Fellow Theosophist Geoffrey Hodson transcribed information given to him by his angel/guide into a series of books, the most notable being The Brotherhood of Angels and Men [http://www.katinkahesselink.net/other/hodson-Bill-Keidan-angelic.html]. Hodson is considered an expert on the subject of angels in certain occult circles, and his ideas are worth exploring if you are at all interested in Theosophy or  the New Thought Movement.

Modern Christian theology contents that angels have never been members of the human race. This is empirical thought across  the many variations of Christian doctrine as there is no mention of a human making the leap into the ranks of the angels in the Bible, where they are specifically described as a separate class of being who reside in Heaven as honored servants of G-d. The quaint belief that when humans die they transform into angels and 'earn their wings' is strictly romantic literary license.

With the coming of the New Age Movement, angelic visions have enjoyed an uptick. The form the angel takes has branched out from the one of the robed messenger depicted in commercial art and depends on the religious background and spiritual beliefs of the individual, as does the meaning for the visitation. In this scientifically influenced era, the sighting of an angel is commonly a part of the description of any near death experience (NDE) as related by the work of Dr. Raymond Moody [http://www.lifeafterlife.com/].

A renewal of all things angel-related is evidenced by a brief visit to the local gift shop or metaphysical goods store. They are everywhere-in books, on necklaces, key chains, T shirts and invoked in prayer and ceremonial magick. They are guardians, guides and messengers and a visual gateway to all things spiritual.