It is difficult to accept that the future you thought was coming – a future you wanted – isn’t coming at all.
I know the Myth of Progress is false. That’s the very popular idea that since things have been getting better over the past couple of centuries (technology, life expectancy, human rights, and more) they’ll just keep getting better indefinitely. Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism (or whatever happens to be your version of utopia) is just around the corner.
Limits to growth notwithstanding, history says this never happens. Progress is inevitably followed by regress. Things get better, then things get worse. These cycles can be very long – some people are lucky enough to be born in a place and time where they experience non-stop progress throughout their lives. But sooner or later, what goes up will come down.
It’s one thing to know it – it’s another thing to live it. And we are certainly living it now.
- The Delta Variant, Covid-deniers, and anti-vaxxers.
- Pandemic-related shortages and price increases – especially housing shortages.
- Travel restrictions coming back (the EU recommended banning Americans again last week).
- Wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the East – climate change is here to stay.
- Voter suppression laws in 18 states.
- The refusal of the Democrats to take bold action, and the inability of Congress to do anything.
- The Texas abortion law, and the very real possibility Roe v. Wade will be overturned.
It’s that last one that’s really hit me. I’ve made my thoughts on abortion clear, and I’ve also made it clear that anti-choice politicians aren’t interested in reducing the number of abortions (it can never be eliminated, no matter what laws are passed). They’re interested in claiming that their hands are clean, no matter how much harm they cause in the process. This law effectively bans abortion, and it turns ordinary citizens into Stasi agents to enforce it. And the Supreme Court let it stand, at least for now.
If the far right politicians can do this, what can they not do?
None of these are simple problems. None of them have quick solutions. Some of them may be stopped. All of them won’t be stopped. None of them will be stopped without coordinated and consistent effort on the part of liberals, moderates, and – where they exist – principled and compassionate conservatives.
As a public Pagan, as someone with a platform, it’s my obligation to be the voice of reason. It’s my obligation to provide inspiration, even when it’s just a whisper to be the dark.
But lately I’m haven’t been feeling very inspirational.
Feelings aren’t a choice – actions are
I hate the cliché “everything you feel is a choice.” No, it’s not. That’s toxic positivity and victim blaming. I feel what I feel because the world has been declining for years and it’s on a pretty steep slope downward at the moment. I feel what I feel because I don’t see the bottom, much less a way back up. I feel what I feel because even though I knew the myth of progress is a lie, part of me felt like it might continue for the rest of my life. Hoped it would, anyway.
But eventually, after you’ve cried and screamed until you can’t cry and scream any more, you realize you do have to make a choice. Either you continue to wallow in misery, or you do something about it. We don’t have to like the way things are – we just have to deal with them as they are. And we damn sure better not pretend all this is no big deal.
Regular spiritual practice comes through in an extraordinary way
Last Wednesday night I went outside to pray and make offerings. I’ve said these particular prayers and made these particular offerings every Wednesday night for the past five years. The discipline of regular spiritual practice will keep you going even when you don’t feel like you can take another step. You do it because you always do it and you can’t imagine not doing it.
Most times this practice is rather ordinary. Pray, pour, listen briefly, get confirmation that They heard, say goodbye. The fact that I have ecstatic experiences of the Gods on occasion doesn’t mean I have them all the time – far from it. And it certainly doesn’t mean that any of Them are holding my hand 24/7.
This time was different. This time my prayers were more urgent and my listening was more intense.
All of a sudden I had an impression, an image – more a photograph than a movie. I was a Druid in ancient times, or maybe I was a priest in a different tradition – the specifics weren’t clear, and they weren’t important. What’s important was that I was worshipping my Gods and serving my community, at a time when Bad Things were happening.
Was this a past life memory? A vision of the future? A random bit of history with me inserted into it? I don’t know. What I do know is that it was an answer from the Gods to whom I was praying. This is what I’m supposed to be doing: worshipping my Gods and serving my community, regardless of the circumstances.
More than an answer, this was an assignment – a direct order.
Some things we do in good times and in bad
It’s easy to keep working when you can see progress – when you feel in your gut that no matter how hard today is, tomorrow is going to be better. It’s much more difficult to keep working when you can’t see a bright future ahead of you. But it’s no less necessary.
Our Gods still need to be worshipped. Our communities still need to be served. Our families still need to be cared for. Our passions still need to be stoked, and supported, and indulged.
And so we go about our daily lives, because we must. We do the things we’re called to do, because how can we do anything else? We do the things that bring us pleasure, because we’re Pagans who understand that all acts of love and pleasure are good and holy – and necessary.
And in doing these things, we find the inspiration and motivation and determination to do the things necessary to fight oppression, stay healthy, and deal with an environmental crisis that can no longer be avoided.
I wish it wasn’t like this
It shouldn’t be this way. It didn’t have to be this way. But it is. We don’t have to like it – we just have to deal with it.
I see many of us sharing this quote from The Lord of the Rings:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Our mission is not as straightforward as taking the One Ring to Mordor. It’s not as difficult either. At least, I don’t think it is. My skills at long-range, big-picture divination aren’t that good. But regardless of what the future ends up being, there are things we can do to help us get there successfully.
- Take care of yourself. Eat good food, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. You probably need more sleep right now – adjust your schedule, to the extent you can.
- Take care of your family, your friends, and your community – you need them. And also, let them take care of you – they need you. Ask for what you need.
- Worship your Gods, honor your ancestors, and maintain good relationships with the spirits of the places where you live. You need all the allies you can get right now.
- Keep up with your regular spiritual practice. That’s how you maintain those relationships.
- Take pleasure where you can find it. If pumpkin spice is your thing, have at it. If it’s not, let people enjoy things. I like watching my favorite movies over and over again. You do what makes you feel good.
- Do what you can to make the world a better place. Work within the political system, take direct action, build networks of mutual support.
- Make good art. Write stories and songs, paint and photograph, use all the tools of modern technology to give people hope… and to give us all a vision of a better world.
We can do this
It’s difficult to accept that the future you thought was coming – a future you wanted – isn’t coming at all. You don’t have to like it – I certainly don’t. If you feel the need to mourn, then mourn. I don’t know that I’ve been mourning, but I’ve certainly been in despair.
But despair doesn’t help things get better, and it doesn’t help me deal with it. And it isn’t a pleasant place to be. So it’s time to get moving.
I’m not going to pretend all is well. I’m not going to fake being happy about everything. I’m certainly not going to gaslight myself and say it’s all part of some grand plan that “happens for a reason.”
But I am going to get back to work. If the ancient Druid version of me could do it (assuming that was a past life memory, which I’m going to do for now because it’s a helpful assumption) then the modern Druid version of me can do it too. If my ancestors could make it through difficult times, then I can too.
If Frodo can carry the One Ring to Mordor, then I can do whatever it is that I’m called to do in these times.
And so can you.
Peace, blessings, and power to you as you do what must be done.