Religion & Spirituality
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[00:00:00] Yucca: Welcome back to the Wonder: Science-based Paganism. I'm one of your hosts Yucca
Mark: and I'm the other one, Mark.
Yucca: And this week we are talking about slowing down, centering, paying attention, really valuing that stillness.
Mark: Yes, because if we are, if we, as nature-based pagans are going to build a relationship with the world, we have to be able to see it. We have to pay attention to it so that we're not relating to an idea of the world we're relating to the actual world as it's going on around us.
Yucca: Exactly. And when we say, see, we don't just mean sight, we don't just mean physical sight, but experience the real world
Mark: Yes. Yes.
Yucca: and in a way that allows us to be present with the biosphere, with what's actually going on around us, but also with the symbolic meaning with poetry and art and all of that richness of existence.
Mark: yes. So I'm going to start out today's podcast with a poem, which is actually called invoking a book. But I'm going to call this Invoking a Podcast today,
Bathe with vervain.
Walk naked, counting 13 steps, 13 more,
Cool feet padding to the circle place. Turn three times around,
Place a pinch of dried Oak leaves there on the brazier
Soft plumes of sweet autumn scent and the memory of a forest.
A tiny bead of Dragon's blood for mystery, and just perhaps
frankincense to call what threadbare gods there may be left.
Now the cauldron: odd for such a particular art, no liquid is defined,
Only double and bubble and herbs resembling creature bits, but we know:
wine. Alchemy of soil and rain and sun
Gone stiff and wild in the barrel. Pour it in, brew, fumes rising and stir
saying earth, air, water, fire, burn, and cauldron bubble.
And then add the particular things.
A twig, a button, salt, and oil of Cedar.
Place left hand on your sex. Whisper the wish three times and stir, saying
Earth and sky. Let it be so. Let it be so.
Tomorrow you will pour into cool dark earth saying
it is finished. It is finished. It is magic. It is done
Yucca: so beautiful.
Mark: Thank you. Thank you. I wrote that because creativity requires a jumpstart sometimes. I do a lot of writing and various other creative things. And sometimes the pump is just definitely not primed. You know, you sit there and you confront the blank screen or the blank page, and then there's nothing there.
And so becoming connected. With what's around us becoming present in the moment becomes a process that can lead me to tap my creativity and celebrate those things that I'm feeling in the moment. That's my experience of poetry a lot actually is moments of hyper presence that I then captured with words.
So we've been talking about paying attention and we've alluded to this in the podcast before, but we live in a world wherever everything has been speeded up to unnatural rates: the world of the screen, where you get instantaneous gratification after clicking on a mouse. And of course we want faster and faster internet don't we?
Yucca: And it's not even mouse anymore for most folks. It's the screen in our pockets.
Yucca: Hey, it's your thumb?
Mark: it's just a finger touch. That's all it is. And that can be and that swipe can mean everything from ordering a refrigerator to be delivered to your house. To agreeing to a date, to any of a wide variety of different sorts of things that are now mediated by these screens. And the natural world moves both faster than that and slower than thatt i
At its smallest scales, it moves much more quickly. But at the scale that we live at here in the world, There's a cycle and it's about a year long. And every day is only about 3% of that, that long annual cycle that, that passes around. And so it's really incumbent on us to slow ourselves down and do what's called the phonology, which is paying attention to the phenomena around you.
Yucca: Yeah. And not just reaching at that first moment of slight discomfort,
Yucca: to get to that place where You can really pay attention, you've got to get. Past that initial. Oh, what am I supposed to be doing?
Yucca: to get
Mark: I'm impatient. It's not happening quickly enough. So I'll pick up my phone or go to a screen or something like that. That anxiety of not getting instant gratification is something we have to learn to breathe our way past so that we can notice the trail of ants on the sidewalk. We can notice that the Stellar's jays are back.
We can notice that the flowers on the fruit tree are mostly gone now, but they've been replaced by little, teeny, teeny tiny fruit.
Yucca: The feel of the different pressures of the wind on the different parts of your face, that the wind isn't the same everywhere. It's slightly different from centimeter to centimeter.
Mark: Yes. Yes. And. Learning to develop both the pacing and the sensitivity to be aware of all of those things is a profound in lifelong learning process. In my opinion, is as a pagan, I want to embrace the world as much as I possibly can, even the bad stuff. I want to be, I want to mourn and grieve and be angry about things that deserve mourning and grieving and being angry with the same kind of completeness that I want to embrace.
What's beautiful and joyful and creative and moving. Right.
Yucca: Yes. Yeah.
Mark: So, Learning to slow down and pay attention becomes really important. And this is not a skill that we are taught in our culture at all. There are other cultures where it is taught in cultures that have more meditative kinds of religious practices. You see a lot more emphasis on calming the chatter in your brain and turning your perspective from parsing out all those internal conversations to being present with what's around you in the moment. But here in the west, we are not encouraged to think that way
Yucca: And in fact, we've been moving even farther away from that, as we've been talking about where it used to have more of a presence in our culture and less as we reach more and more for the screens and that instant gratification and the way that we experienced the world is through what we do over and over again, it's a practice we practice and reinforce the screen instead of practicing and reinforcing the patients and the presence.
And we can choose which one. We're feeding, which one are we practicing and doing again and again, what patterns are we strengthening? So this is another example of something where it's not, you learn to do it once, and then you're an expert. Oh, you figured out how to be present and know it's something that you choose every day.
And when you slip up and you fall off that wagon, then you can get back up and get back on.
Mark: Yes. Exactly. One of the things that is very frustrating to me about the Overculture is that it really tends to frame everything in terms of achieving and winning. And that always implies that there's an end to the story. Right. And they lived happily ever after. Well, that's nonsense. It's a lie.
There's always more after the story they lived happily ever after until they had a knock-down drag-out fight, didn't speak to each other for two days and then made up and had fantastic makeup sex, and then life went on and on until death. Right. There's always more.
And what that means is that the journey is really the point.
Right. And experiencing the journey is a function of how much we can pay attention, because I'm here to tell you, you know, in six months I'm going to turn 60 and I can't believe how fast the time has formed. I, where did all that time go? And it's not that I haven't had many wonderful experiences, but honestly, There were years when I was just kind of working and phoning it in and having a routine.
And I feel like I lost that time. I wasn't paying enough attention and I lost that time. So, you know, you have this life, you have this one precious, amazing life. How many discrete, incredible moments can you have in it? I mean, that's. If you want to talk about this, you know, in game terms, the way that we team tend to do a lot right now, that's the game of life.
How many amazing, incredible moments can you have in the time that you're allotted?
Yucca: Yeah. And thinking about your entire life might be a little overwhelming. So you could even just think of the day.
Yucca: this week or this season, we're big on thinking about the seasons of the year and talking about the wheel of the year. So what about now? What about this second spring or this late spring or the entering into summer, or for folks who are in the Southern hemisphere entering into the dark cold side of the year? What are all of those moments? In your own internal mind, but also that's happening around you. That you're part of that subtle shift in what insects are you hearing when you go out at 2:00 AM in the morning?
Mark: are there frogs? If, so what kind of frogs are there where is it? The sunrise in the morning? I say good morning to the sun every morning. And I am noticing that it is now moving steadily further north, as we get closer and closer to the summer solstice. And I have a tree in my backyard that serves as kind of a measuring stick.
So that I can see the movement of the sun across the horizon, but that's a wonderful thing to notice. Yes. Today is different than yesterday. Yes. This is a unique day that the sun rose at that particular position at this particular time. And now I have this basket of minutes to do good in the world to be good to other people, to be creative and effective and to be happy to be joyous.
And all of that requires slowing down and paying attention.
Yucca: Exactly. And it doesn't matter where you are. You don't have to be out in some pristine wilderness, which is a myth anyways. But you don't you where you are is, part of the world. You are part of this world, right? I feel like one of the hobbits on Treebeard's shoulder shouting that when they say it right, we're part of this world too.
So even if you are in a high rise or you spend most of your days working in front of a screen and a basement office or whatever it is, you can still practice that awareness and noticing.
Mark: Yes. You certainly can. So with that, I'm going to read another poem. This one is about. Anger. It's about a very particular kind of woman's experience of anger. Actually. I've always been surprised that this poem arrived for me, but it did.
This is called Mary Magdalene Impenitent.
And so I have become an object lesson to these old dried men,
A cautionary tale.
They know nothing, these friends, these hangers on, they have only their dreams of what was given them. The longed for balm, freedom from their secret lusts that seen in the mirror, he was for each he met
As Pilate did, and I.
What they do not tell you in their book
Fills chests of scrolls in the library of my heart,
will die with me.
His sorrow, his rage, his agony, they embrace, they exalt,
The old men who think the fire in their eyes is his, when it is their own,
but his sweetness, his passion, his humanity,
They choose to forget
Confounded that a whore held his confidences
That we shared what they could not, who would consume him,
Tear him to pieces and eat him to have what he was.
Who will tell that his skin smelled of honey in the sun,
That his mouth was red as berries
Filled with juices and alive on me. How long has fingers were and gentle?
How his back arched, when he spilled into me?
Who will say that he laughed often? and then the little things:
That he snored? Loved figs and pomegranates, but did not care for dates?
Who will remember his fear, his questioning?
I cursed the corrupt old men when they took him from me. I cursed God.
And I repent nothing. Not even this.
Not my mythology, but my response, I guess to much of the Christian mythology and how it's been used by dried old men. Yeah.
Yucca: Well, this is a topic which we might come back to that just because we are non theists and don't believe in any of these things, literally doesn't mean that we can't find meaning in myths and stories and tales of gods and other worldly beings and Heroes.
and things like that, that we recognize that those are, that the telling of such stories is something very human.
Mark: For sure. We I heard some anthropologists once said that arguably the defining characteristic of humanity is that we are the storytelling creatures. We invent stories about the nature of the world. We invent stories about how things work. Science is a storytelling process. It fundamentally assumes that there is such a thing as causality.
And then it tells a story about this causes, this which causes this. And that's what the evidence tells us, right?
Yucca: And it's a collaborative storytelling process,
Mark: is indeed.
Yucca: sort of like tabletop RPGs.
Mark: Very much like tabletop RPGs, which both of us are very fond of. So, yes, I think that would be a great topic for us to explore at some point because myth is very powerful.
There are quite a number of people in the atheopagan non theist pagan community who use the symbols of gods or heroes. In their ritual work, in their, you know, in their they're working with their own consciousness, because the image of a particular deity is a shorthand gestalt of the qualities that they embody, whether it's fierceness or courage or the creation of a safe environment, a safe home.
Yucca: or compassion.
Mark: or compassion or lust or, yes, all these or war or death, these fundamental visceral human experiences given a human face. And there's nothing wrong with, you know, working with those ideas. I just don't do it myself. I kind of prefer my. My qualities, not having human faces, because I don't think of them that way.
But to me, it's very clear that these myths serve a purpose for both believers and for nonbelievers who choose to work with them. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Mark: So where were we? That was a tangent.
Yucca: well, we have been sharing the poems as part of the presence and awareness, the stillness that allows us to be present with both the world around us, but the internal world and poems, I think are often an expression of that internal world and the experience, the internal experience of the external.
Mark: I really agree. The, in the forward to this book that I've been reading from, which is my second book, a book of poems talk about these works as being captured moments, snapshots of expression, of a complex mix of emotions that I'm feeling at a given instant and that. You know, you don't capture those things.
If you aren't paying attention, once again, you need to be you need to find a stillness within yourself in order to write a poem. I find. At least a good one to the degree that I write. Good ones. I like to think I do. The but that's not limited just to poetry. The ability to enjoy paintings, for example I find when I go to [00:20:00] art museums, now, there are these clusters of people with phones in front of their faces.
You know, looking at the painting through the phone or listening to the little podcasts that they have for the walkthrough of the gallery. And they don't seem to be able to just stand in front of a painting and absorb it. Just let the experience of that graphic image kind of tank you into itself.
And to me, that's the joy of art. I, you know, there are still many pieces of art that I find really moving. And in some cases I couldn't exactly tell you why they just are.
Yucca: Yeah, certainly. My experience with a lot of art is I have strong feelings and response, but trying to communicate that feeling, I mean, it's, that's how you commit to communicate the feeling is through the art. That's the only way there's the, we can try, but, you know, we don't have the, we can't just touch a person and transfer that feeling through.
Yucca: So what can we do to express that? And that's what the art is.
Mark: Right, right. And once again, you need to slow down enough and actually look at what you're seeing and in some cases, it's pretty explicit what the artist was trying is trying to communicate. In other cases, it's very obscure. And so you're, it's sort of a, kind of an inkblot test for yourself. You know, what do you see in this image?
What does that mean to you? What what emotions does it stirring you. And that's part of, what's marvelous about art. I love it.
Mark: Music, similarly, you know, the ability to really moved by music involves paying attention. I mean, many of us work with background music. I tend to have music going most of the time when I'm at work.
But it's relatively quiet music and it's the kind of thing that I can sort of tune into and sort of, not maybe a little bit of a beat. So then it kind of keeps me going through the day. But that's not the same thing as when I put on headphones and listen to something really intensely so that I can experience every moment of it.
Yucca: and maybe we should talk a little bit about ways to, to practice to get into that slowing down since it is something that isn't taught and often not valued in our culture of waste, just to, to start to practice it and take this moment to remind folks, if you haven't listened to our episode on the inner critic, that this is the time when the inner critic is likely to start talking to you.
And it's useful to remember what function that critic has and how to ask it.
to step back for a moment while you start learning and practicing this new thing in your life.
Mark: yes. Yes, because what'll happen is, and what I would recommend, just sort of, as a starting exercise is find a place. Hopefully with a view of something natural, a tree, a yard, something, and sit there for five minutes. It is a lot harder than you would think it is because this growing sense of anxiety about I should be doing something, or this is boring, nothing is happening.
So where's my phone. There, there can literally, I mean, this increasing sense of anxiety can build up in you. If you're anything like me about, I should be doing something else. This is stupid. All those critic, voice things, nattering in my ear and the ability to just sort of breathe and let that go and wait for whatever it is because something will come along.
Something will always come along. That is worthy of note. That is interesting. Oh, look a snail.
Oh, look, I never noticed that there's water trickling down that wall.
Yucca: Yeah. Or if you've got soil start looking at that soil because it is full of life, even dry soils, even when you're in an arid environment. We're just looking around so quickly, most of our life that we don't see what's there. And of course we can't see in the majority of it, but [00:25:00] even on the scale that we do see, and just a square meter, you might find hundreds of little creatures moving around, doing their business, and there they are.
Mark: yes. Yes. And that's nature. We talk about ourselves as being a nature, religion, and that doesn't just mean polar bears and Eagles and whales. And you know, the charismatic macrofauna life is this incredibly tightened, woven tapestry of the activity of literal billions of kinds of organisms.
And being aware of that B is being in relationship with it and being in relationship with it, for me as a pagan is very profound, very moving.
Yucca: Yes. Likewise. One of the things that you mentioned suggesting just that sitting for five minutes, finding somewhere sitting, you mentioned breathing. And that breath, that breathing is really key in so much of what we do. So sometimes that's a wonderful place to start is just starting with the breathing.
Now, when we're trying to be present and aware with the world around us, it may help to actually not close your eyes. We're often told, okay, close your eyes, take some deep breaths, you know, go into yourself center. But instead of maybe keep those eyes open, start breathing, calming down, bringing all of that, releasing all of that tension, letting that breathe out of you and start noticing, and maybe just notice one thing at a time like that snail.
Or looking at just that little patch of dirt on the ground. We're noticing how high up in the sky or the clouds, and just be present with that breath, using the breath as the framework, that's keeping you centered, keeping you calm as you're expanding your awareness, the bubble that is you
Mark: that's very well put. Yes, exactly. And of course there are disciplines, traditions, which have gone into how to use contemplating the breath in order to become more present into a very elaborate and codified sort of system. In Buddhism there, this is what they do. But all of us can benefit from learning the simple skills of mindfulness.
So that we can be present in the moment and therefore reap the benefits of having those experiences in the moment. It's I've often said that even though I don't buy into a Buddhist cosmology, I think the tools are incredible. The skill set that you're taught is really marvelous in, in Buddhism.
And I,I know that there are people who practice Buddhism, who are also active in the non theist pagan community. And I think that's great.
Yucca: Yeah. So there's a lot of resources, this with different flavoring and then different costumes. But like you're saying you don't necessarily need to follow one of those. Right. You can just find what is feeling, practice, test it out with yourself, play with it, see what starts to fit for you, what doesn't fit for you.
But I do encourage pushing through a little bit and not giving up just because it doesn't work right at the beginning because it is a skill. It is a practice skill. It's probably been a long time since most folks here learned to ride a bike. But if you gave up the first time you fell over on the bike, you wouldn't be able to, you'd never learned to ride that bike.
Mark: right. Right. Yeah. And you know, to be honest, and this is sort of a tangent, but it does relate one of the things that we are not taught to do certainly in the United States and in the over culture is to be uncomfortable to be willing, just to be uncomfortable for a [00:30:00] while. And if it's uncomfortable for you sitting that five minutes on that bench facing that tree and that little patch of dirt, it's probably good for you to learn how to sit with that.
Right? I mean, one of the things that I was a backpacker for many years, until my back couldn't take it anymore. And one of the things that you learn is that there is almost a joy in discomfort. Under the right circumstances. You know, it's like, oh, I brought the light sleeping bag and the temperature has now dropped to 15 degrees.
And I have to put every item of clothing that I brought with me on in order to get through this night. Right. And you're still cold, but it's an adventure. It's a story. It's a memory. Of that very cold night and even things that are very uncomfortable can make for great stories. You know, for women having babies, they've always got the story and it's, it wasn't a picnic, but it was an adventure, right.
A big moment in their life.
So, you know, just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn't mean you should stop. In fact, it might be a good indicator that you should do more of that. And in any case, what does it cost you? Five minutes, five minutes out of a day is not very much time. So it's really worth taking that five minutes just to look around and say, hello world.
What have you got to show me today?
Yucca: Yeah. And really, it's probably a fraction of what you're doing with doom scrolling or social media or checking the email. 20 times in five hours.
Mark: Right, right.
Yucca: And which is going to feel better at the end of the day to have done.
Mark: Yes. So give it a shot. It's having some pay attention. Time is really. It's really worthwhile and arrive. You can arrive at a state of a sense of tremendous bliss in relation to the world. Just by realizing that it's all going on out there, that it's happening all around us and inside us and that we are part of it.
And it's miraculous.
And I have a poem that is on that note. This is called Dea Gratias.
Open, ever more open
Arms flung wide, let the warm wet wings of your chest be spread
Until barehearted the,re only the longing of the joy of this living is with you: the sweetness of its unfolding generosity.
They are all there, the great and tiny miracles daily given: a breath,
A golden pebble, a scarlet cloud at sunset,
The voice of creation, singing out to cold space,
Even which is life as well out to blackness and beginnings,
All whirling and singing and spinning and changing
The glory of the world in your heart's red petals there
Where first it placed a red kiss in your mother's womb
Yucca: Well, thank you, Mark. This has been a really wonderful conversation.
Mark: I've enjoyed it a lot too. Yeah. Thank you. We'll see you next week.
Yucca: Take care.
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