Falling with Grace into Winter

As a mythologist, I tried to connect this article to the stories of an Algonquin bear hunt that explains why the leaves change colors in the fall or of Persephone’s yearly return to the Underworld that causes the seasons to shift, but I was more inspired from simply watching the animals and trees in our mountain community. The animals are not out as much, but even though I do not see them, they are busy making nests and storing food. Their work is not as obvious as their spring and summer activity, but it is important for their survival. I also noticed that the trees are turning colors and beginning to lose their leaves. Their fruit is a memory of late summer and a distant promise for next year. The animals and trees are focusing resources on the basics and preservation. It became obvious, to me, that I needed to fall back too and reorganize my mindset for the transition of the seasons.

You see, recently, I had been feeling out-of-sorts. I have felt more tired, less productive, and frustrated with myself. Regular seasonal mountain things, like power outages or road closures, felt more challenging and I was losing my patience more quickly than I should. I could not figure out what was wrong with me, but then, I realized – it is fall! Even though I have lived through enough years on the mountain to remember that the seasons are dramatic here, I forgot what those seasonal transitions mean for our day-to-day lives.

I was trying to live my life by summer standards and feeling myself falling short. While I filled my home with fall colors and good-smelling fall foods; I had not prepared myself for the fall. Instead of resisting with frantic attempts to be outwardly productive that is more suitable for summer; I needed to allow myself to do less, to rest, and to embrace the natural, more domestic nature of autumn. We physically retreat inside during the cold, dark days of winter, but we also need to give ourselves time to stop and go inside to ourselves during this time. Fall, and especially winter, are times for restorative stillness, reflection, and planning.

By researching for this article, by quietly watching nature, and reflecting to write – I learned to give myself grace and regain my patience. I learned by watching the trees that it is not only okay to release what does not serve us at this time, but also, that it can be beautiful to observe. The animals showed me that it is proper, not selfish, to focus resources on the home and that activities do not need to be obvious for them to be valuable. I learned to take time to rest, to reflect, and grow the seeds for spring.

Thank you for taking your time to read my ramblings. For more about the Algonquin myth of the bear hunt and the changing of the leaves in fall or the story of Demeter, Persephone, and the reason for the seasons according to Greek mythology, please listen to the links below.

Bear hunt
Persephone

From fishing to bean soup

The time grandpa lost his patience with me

My grandpa was a kind and patient man. He was slow to anger and quick to smile with us kids – but there was a time he lost his patience with me, a time with Jeff, and a time his dad lost it with him that I want to share. These stories have continued to be told in our family as the few examples of times when grandpa’s patience wore thin.

I don’t know when my grandpa started to take me fishing by myself. I must have been about my kids’ ages (7-10) when I became a good fishing buddy. We enjoyed fishing the Santa Ana River in Southern California together.

My kids when they were little, at the Santa Ana

I was a city kid. My dad didn’t take me fishing and my mom and stepdad do not fish. It was grandpa that introduced me to the river, that taught me about the currents, and that showed me where to cast my line so it wouldn’t scare the fish, but flow naturally so they would bite.

Grandpa also shared his love for photography with me, specifically black and white photography. One winter day, grandpa thought it would be fun to take me to the aspens to take black and white pictures in the snow and catch a little fishing on the way home.

Like I said, I was a city kid, wearing city clothes. A long sleeve shirt, light jacket, jeans, and tennis shoes. If you are unaware of how to dress for a day in the snow and at the icy river – it is not jeans and certainly not tennis shoes.

The day started out beautifully. The aspens were the perfect subject for our pictures – especially in the snow. Soon however, my feet started to hurt and I wanted to go back to the warm car, but I was a trooper and I didn’t complain. I don’t think I even had gloves on – I was clueless.

We had time to warm up in the car from the aspens to the river. It was a pleasant drive as grandpa told me stories and we watched the snow covered mountains and trees pass the window.

As we walked out to the river, I hesitated. I knew the further we walked out, the further we had to walk back – and I was still cold. But, grandpa loved fishing, he wasn’t going to let a little ice on the creek stop him (he had full waterproof waders on). His enthusiasm was contagious as we got to the river to fish.

It was cold – but it was also very pretty. Until I slipped on one of the icy rocks in the river. I fell – hard – into ice, cold water. That was it, I had enough and wanted to go NOW! Grandpa was concerned but I was okay and we hadn’t fished long. I was crying and making lots of noise – between my splash and noise, he wasn’t catching any fish anyways and we hurried to his green Ford Explorer and cranked up the heater.

It wasn’t major, but I know my grandpa was irritated with me that day. His tone was different, his actions sharper – he has lost his patience with me. I felt like a fussy baby, not the tough oldest grandkid of Jack Jones. I was wet and cold and at that moment couldn’t even enjoy the beauty of the snow – it was the only time I remember grandpa becoming irritated by me.

The time he lost his patience with Uncle Jeff

Grandpa told me a story about a time he lost his patience with my Uncle Jeff when he was just a boy. They were walking the river, fishing. My uncle, being a small boy was lagging behind, I’m sure, and his arm brushed against a purple thistle. If you’ve never touched a thistle, it stings! The sensation is similar to how I imagine a hundred burning pins. There is an easy way to ease the pain – you either hold the affected area in the cold water or put cold river mud on it. At the time, my grandpa was already annoyed with Jeff.

Maybe grandpa didn’t know how bad a thistle sting could be but after seeing why Jeff was crying, my grandpa did something uncharacteristic – he lost his patience and got angry. He told Jeff that those flowers didn’t hurt that much and grabbed the thistle firmly into his hand.

Purple thistle
Illustration by Ben Levitt

Now, I’ve touched thistles plenty of times, but never grabbed it to were the needles would press into my skin. Grandpa told the story about how his anger made him foolish and the pain made his eyes well up with tears. He told me it was one of the worst pains he ever felt and it was even worse because it was a pain he deserved because it came from anger at his hurt son. He told me the story to teach me not to touch thistles but also to warn me not to let the anger win.

The time grandpa made his dad swear

I never knew my great grandparents except through stories, but my great grandfather was a good, kind, and gentle man. He was a farmer that prayed and often shed a tear when he took an animals’ life for food. My grandpa was raised a Quaker and according to him, his father never cussed or swore but did have two ‘Yankee curse words’ and I want to share a time of when my grandpa made his kind and gentle father so mad – he said them both.

Grandpa as an adult was mischievous and a bit of a trickster so I can only imagine what sort of fun he must have been as a young boy. One time, he and his friend got the idea to trick his dad. They got a bucket, filled it full of water, and balanced it on the wedged door his dad would be coming through and then, hid and waited.

When great grandpa walked through the door, the bucket did not turn over and instead of having a bucket of water spill out on his head, he had a bucket full of water fall directly, with full force onto his head – and then spill on the floor.

My grandpa said he could still remember the sickening sound of the bucket hitting his father’s head and the extreme sudden remorse he felt. He had only meant to play a joke, not seriously injure him.

Little boy grandpa and his friend stayed hidden out of fear as his father’s face grew red from the neck up and tears rolled out of his eyes down to the floor and he very quietly, but with great anger said “Rats … BEAN SOUP!”

And that is the only time my grandpa said he remembered his father cursing.

I found this image when I typed in rats and bean soup. Kind of funny (it was with a story of a soup company that made rat meatballs which isn’t as funny) but I liked it enough to add as a combo of the swear words – rats and bean soup.

The descent of Inanna – Part 2

If you’d rather listen than read

Part 2 – The indignation of Erishkigal

In part one, I explored the myth ‘The Descent of Inanna’ as I studied it for transformation. However, for this posting I want to focus on Inanna’s sister – Erishkigal, the queen of the underworld. In the Inanna myth, I wondered why Erishkigal was so insulted and aggressive toward her sister, so I looked at her side of the story. Erishkigal’s story contains the same events as Inanna’s Descent but with the larger context – it becomes a different story.

It is interesting to me while researching for this piece, I read descriptions of Inanna’s motive for descent as varied as that she descended to try to steal her sister’s power and domain in a time of weakness (Erishkigal was recently widowed and pregnant) to that she was a caring sister, risking her very life to comfort her sister and give respect to her brother-in-law. The second could be why Inanna told herself she descended to the underworld but context shows that Inanna is neither a caring sister or respectful sister-in-law.

The Epic of Gilgamesh and the backstory of Inanna’s descent

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, another Sumerian myth from ancient Mesopotamia, Inanna becomes romantically interested in the hero, Gilgamesh and pursues him.

Gilgamesh refuses Inanna’s advances because he doesn’t want to be her next ex love interest. She was infamous for her love them and leave them ways (and also for being cruel and vindictive).

Inanna does not take the rejection or criticism well and she goes to her dad to seek punishment for Gilgamesh’s unkind words. She wants her father to send the Bull of Heaven (Erishkigal’s husband) to kill Gilgamesh for insulting her. Inanna’s father does not have sympathy for her, but instead agrees with Gilgamesh’s assessment of Inanna’s actions towards her exes and tells her Gilgamesh said nothing but the truth.

Inanna does NOT like it when she doesn’t get her way. Inanna basically throws a tantrum where she threatens her dad with opening the gates of the underworld and unleashing the dead on earth to cause chaos and destroy everything if he doesn’t do what she wants and punish Gilgamesh … so he sends the Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh. By the way, controlling the gates is Erishkigal’s job – not Inanna’s (no respect at all!)

When the Bull arrives on earth, his foot stomps are so great that the first opens the earth and kills 100 men and the second kills 200. He battles Gilgamesh and G’s friend, Enkidu and Enkidu kills the Bull of Heaven (Erishkigal’s husband). When Inanna arrives Enkidu insults Inanna and throws a piece of the bull’s leg at her. She has him punished for the insult through sickness and death (for the insult to her not for killing her brother-in-law).

So what does Inanna do after she has 301 men and her sister’s husband killed? She decides to go to the funeral and descend into the underworld. This gives us perspective now on why Erishkigal is angry at Inanna.

Erishkigal is in mourning for her husband, she is in the later stages of pregnancy, and her sister who is responsible for her husband’s death shows up at her door dressed in all of her finest, most regal and seductive embellishments – now I understand why:

‘When Erishkigal heard this,
She slapped her thigh and bit her lip.
She took the matter into her heart and dwelt on it.’

Erishkigal is indignant – she does not welcome Inanna as a sister because Inanna is the reason for the funeral and has the audacity to not only show her face but pridefully so with a crown, jewelry, and perfumes – not the appearance of remorse.

The rest of the myth is the same, Erishkigal has her sister stripped of her finery, bowed low, and unleashes her judgement on her. Inanna is reduced to a corpse which Erishkigal hangs on a hook and leaves.

Erishkigal does not dwell on Inanna. She punishes her and leaves her and goes about her life. When she goes into labor, the creatures sent by their grandfather to aid Inanna, comfort her and she rewards them. That’s it for Erishkigal’s involvement with Inanna. She is not angry at the creatures’ motives or that Inanna is released. The judges from the underworld do not want to release Inanna. Erishkigal is not mentioned again in the poem until the last two lines.

‘Holy Erishkigal! Great is your renown.

Holy Erishkigal! I sing your praises!’

The poem ends with Inanna placing her husband and sister-in-law into her sisters’ domain to pay for her actions and Erishkigal being praised.

So 300 unknown men, a brave warrior, Inanna’s brother-in-law, lover, and sister-in-law are all dead (or partly so) because Inanna was insulted by Gilgamesh and what does Erishkigal do? Nothing. She has her baby, pays her debt to the creatures, and handles her domain.

She does not pity herself. She does not seek further revenge on her sister or demand her return. She is in control of herself and does not let her sister’s nonsense effect her beyond when she is forced to directly deal with her. It’s not fair that Inanna goes unpunished and gets her way. It’s not fair that Erishkigal is denied her rightful wrath. But Erishkigal is a queen and above that petty trash. She takes care of her sister’s fallout and rules her domain. She knows life isn’t fair but she also knows her own responsibilities and power and lives her best life no matter what Inanna decides do.

Descent of Inanna tablet

C.G. Jung and victim mentality


It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going.  Not consciously, of course – for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further in the distance.  Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world.  And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him”  Carl Jung, “The Shadow” CW 9 ii, par 19.

This quote came up in my reading this morning.  It articulates the victim mentality that is so prevalent in society. Instead of being active and taking responsibility for one’s life – past, present, and future – the victim sees their situation as something that happened to them.  Since the victims do not see that they are the cause of their situation, they also do not see that they are the solution.  In their mind, it is the world that causes their misery so the world must change for the misery to end.  Change needs to come from within.  To take control of one’s life means to also take responsibility.  When a person lives passively they give up control.  They let the circumstance determine their attitude. Attitude determines outcome, not circumstance.  Active living means controlling your attitude regardless of circumstances in order to create the desired outcome.  

This quote also points to what is frustrating in the study (both formal and informal) of psychology – how easy it becomes to recognize the illusions that others create that hinder their personal growth but how difficult it can be to see through our own veils.

Right or Privilege?

Using precise language to clarify a point-

Carlin quote

A little over a week ago, I saw this quote by George Carlin posted on Facebook. As a lover of words and Carlin, this quote struck me and I began turning it over and over in my head. Once I had let it churn in my head, it began to churn in my heart and it became deeply disturbing. What is the difference between a right and a privilege? If Carlin is correct and the ability for something to be denied makes it privilege and not a right; then my rights just became considerably fewer. In fact, it became difficult for me to think of what could actually still be considered a right. Do I have any rights – or do I just have privileges that I think are rights?

In order to understand these words, the best place to start is the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary offered the following definitions:

Right: “Legal, moral, or natural entitlement.”
Entitlement: “A legal right or just claim to do, receive, or possess something.”
Privilege: “A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by an individual, corporation of individuals, etc., beyond the usual rights or advantages of others.”

This helped add clarity – a right is legal (from the law), moral (from the self), or natural (inherent) entitlement. The word entitlement makes it really about law – a person may think something should be a right but if they are denied to any members of our society, they are privilege. There has been a lot of talk about privileges. Looking at this quote, I had to realize that there are many things I had thought to be rights but they are privileges. I had to face the fact that I have given the government power to give or take these privileges because I had not tried to stop the government from denying these “rights” to others. Through apathy, I have given these rights away and made them privilege, I now see the error of my thinking.

Our constitution states that our inherent (natural) rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but these are not really rights legally. Legally, a person can be denied life with the death penalty, liberty with imprisonment, and the right to pursue happiness is only a privilege given to those that pursue happiness in accordance to the values of others. The death penalty and imprisonment are thought of as ways to deter crime. Their effectiveness as a deterrent has not been satisfactorily proven for me to think this is an acceptable reason for me to lose life and liberty as rights. However, there are individuals in our society that commit violent crimes and seek to harm others. Violent individuals are imprisoned to protect the nonviolent members of society. In order to keep individuals that have proven themselves to be unable or unwilling to control their harmful desires away from me and the people I love, I am willing to lose my liberty to harm others.

I agree that were I to cause harm purposefully, I should be imprisoned until I can prove to no longer be a threat to others but what about other, non-violent crimes? A person can lose liberty for the inability to a pay ticket, for using illegal (as opposed to legal) drugs, or for the way they parent their child. This scares me because these are all judgement-based crimes. They are only crimes because other people think they are wrong, not because they are harmful or threatening in any way. I don’t mind relinquishing my liberty if I cause physical harm to others but these things are matters of personal choice. What I put in my body, how I raise my children, and how I spend my money should be my right to choose. So many people are fighting for a woman’s right to choose if she wants to have an abortion, something known to cause harm to mother and child. Where is this passion when it comes to a parent’s right to choose how to raise that child? This seems irrational. These things are moral and natural rights but not legal rights. Prisons are filled with people that exercised these rights but found out they were merely privilege. It is evident that inherent rights, our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not legally guaranteed so they are privilege.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not rights. Until all the people of our country can enjoy these privileges equally, they are not rights. This is scary because these things can be taken away at will. Laws that are created to protect us from ourselves really limit our ability to choose how to live. Even an individual that has not committed a crime can be legally imprisoned if it can be argued that they broke a law. It doesn’t take long to look in the news and see cases of personal choice being cause for imprisonment. Parenting is under attack in this country. It is the responsibility of every parent to raise their child in a way that benefits the child and helps them to become healthy adults. The way each parent does this is different based on cultural norms and the temperament of the child. A parent can be arrested and have their child taken from them if someone else decides they do not think the way you raise your child is appropriate and they can convince the law they are right and you are wrong. It is a natural right and a moral right but not a legal right. I am NOT okay with this being a privilege. There is nothing more important to me in my life than my children. The thought that the government can come and forcibly remove them shakes me to my very core and gives me fear. I am afraid to make waves or in any way call attention to myself because it isn’t even my right to care for my own children. The fact that I can be imprisoned, even the fact that I could be killed do not fill me with fear like the fact that my kids could be taken from me and kept from me.

One recent example of parents unable to express their parental choice is the case of the Florida parents arrested for neglect because their eleven-year-old son was left alone playing basketball in his own back yard for ninety minutes. This is the time between when the boy got home from school and the parents got home from work. A neighbor called the police when he saw the boy home alone and the police detained the boy in the backseat of the car until the parents arrived and were arrested. There are so many things here that I thought were my rights but now I realize they are just my privilege. Liberty and the right to parent your child were stripped from these parents in the name of child safety. Neglect is a serious issue but this is not a case of neglect. The child was in no way harmed or in put in any real danger by being home alone until the parents arrived. The only trauma this boy experienced was the legal intervention. For a young boy, sitting in the back of a police car as neighbors looked on was probably scary and humiliating. On top of that, the boy had to watch his parents be arrested and taken away. This must have been incredibly frightening and confusing for the boy – much more frightening than playing on his own in the backyard. In this case, the right to parent was forcibly taken and the entire family made to suffer based off of someone else’s judgement of their parenting choices. When I was younger, kids were often allowed to be alone for short periods of time – it was so common that the term for such a practice was latch-key kids. I was a latch-key kid and I enjoyed the time between getting home from school and my parents coming home from work. I knew if I needed anything, I could go to my neighbors for help so I never felt neglected. It gave me a sense of independence and helped me learn how to take care of myself. Today, my parents could be arrested for choosing to let me care for myself.

Another nonviolent perceived right is our ability to care for ourselves in a manner we see fit. People are allowed to alter their bodies through surgery, tattoos or piercings but what we put into our bodies is not our personal freedom. Choosing to medicate through the legally acceptable methods using over-the-counter or prescription drugs is legally permitted but using other substances is not. Every illegal drug has its legal counterpart but we are not given the right how we want to medicate our bodies or minds. The privilege to medicate is only given to those individuals with health care and financial ability to legally obtain medicines. Self-medication is becoming more popular with the use of homeopathic medicines and essential oils but this is only acceptable because society has agreed to allow it for now but who is to say that this privilege won’t ever be taken away?

My natural rights are only privileges and my moral rights like parenting my children and how I care for my body are only rights when they are deemed acceptable to others – so they are also privilege. What is left? What are my legal rights? This is debatable because with the right circumstances, even a murderer can be legally allowed freedom. Law is a thing of privilege. Depending on the quality of counsel, the judge, the climate of the courtroom, and any number of other factors, a person can get away with breaking a law or they can be convicted even when they are not legally at fault. For this reason, we have no rights legally because once in a courtroom, those rights can be legally taken away.

I am still struck with whether or not I have any rights left. The only thing I can think I can control is my own is my mind and my relationships. My mind could be poisoned, I could be institutionalized and put on medications to subdue my thoughts, so having control of my mind is not my right, it is a privilege. My relationships, my ability to relate to others is my right. Once a relationship has been established, the people involved gain privilege. If someone else cares for a person then that person becomes less vulnerable to having their privileges taken away. It is because a person is cared for that a government has trouble taking privilege. The loss of privilege is noticed and others come in to help regain those privileges. The only right we have left is our right to care about each other and we throw this right away through fear, apathy, and hate. We can only fight this massive lack of rights through caring. Caring enough to create change, caring enough for each other to protect the things that should be rights, and caring enough to risk our own privileges to make sure others don’t lose theirs. The problem isn’t that we do not have lost our basic rights – it is that we do not care enough to realize that we lost never had them to begin with. We need to care enough to claim these privileges as rights so we do not have to live in fear of government or each other.