Aging and Changing

Chapter 4 of Ram Dass’s Polishing the Mirror was about aging, and while this is a topic that has always seemed so far away — so old — that it was a distant and potentially distinct future. Often for someone else. While we all get older every day, something that is readily forgotten as lost in our daily routines, this is not quite what Dass is talking about. No, not at all.

Indeed, when he said, “Until I was about fifty, I thought of myself as a teenager” (p 61) I stopped cold. You see, I am nearing that threshold and have always thought that about myself. The teenager, that is, the one with nearly unlimited potential and future and energy.

What do I want to do next?

I can do that! Who needs sleep, anyway?

Sure, let’s go. We can fit it in!

Why take a cab, let’s carry the bags of groceries and walk!

Alas, my first tip-off was that my coveted pattern of traveling with a maximum legal size carry-on backpack for any trip of any duration was  increasingly a challenge. While I still travel with one bag and a small personal backpack, I just cannot do it on my back any longer.

To be fair, I can still lift it and carry it all, but it is no longer a comfortable way to travel. I love the freedom of a one-bag backpack, but the downside is not really worth the benefits. Since I do travel for work from time to time, my physical needs are now altering how I travel, and this is related to . . . aging.

“Much of the suffering of aging comes from holding onto those memories of who we used to be” (p. 62). We hold onto a past that no longer exists, right? Comfortable. Familiar. Youthful. Energetic. Or perhaps the glossy-eyed past really did not exist as neatly as we may recall it, and in so thinking about it, I think we have selective memories of the good ol’days. Alas, I know I do, though Dass has a manner of waking us from a reality that exists only within our own eyes, and in many ways invites us to see what some of those implications mean.

With the only real rite of passage (aging) being Medicare (still a while away, but still…), I am thinking about how the Indian traditions that guided much of his life has those of us in the 40-60 age range as time or inclination to study philosophy or engage in spiritual practices, it is no wonder why I, at my age and with already a couple of university degrees under my belt, has chosen to expand this via my studies at Cherry Hill Seminary. Where else would I have had this provocation to read Dass and consider how aging is like the natural cycles in nature, similar to the Wheel of the Year, where we are the wheel?

Yes, aging may be somewhat disorienting or disconcerting, and I choose to see it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. I prefer to reframe things in positive ways rather than dwelling on the negatives or lack of future orientation. To this point, “conscious aging has to do with letting go, which allows you to come into the present moment — into spirit” (p. 72). Perhaps, though the present moment can be grokked by anybody, yet doing it in a way that recognizes limitations and through them opportunities may be a step toward wisdom.

The trick just may be on how to consider my own personal aging while also consider its implications for ministry and spiritual support of others….


This posting is part of my ongoing, shared journaling related to the Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry course I am taking during the summer of 2017 at Cherry Hill Seminary.

You are welcome to join me on this journey!

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Starting to Read: The Five Rings

I am starting another book for my Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry course at Cherry Hill Seminary, this one entitled The Five Rings by Shanddaramon.

This text addresses some of the issues I have been wondering about, namely what is Pagan ministry and to what extent does it meet some of the needs of my former notions of ministry in the Catholic tradition, of which I am more familiar.

The author first defines Paganism, and like many scholars in Pagan Studies, seeks to keep the definition open-ended and simple, though most people involved in Modern Paganism know few things about it are really simple. He then gets to the heart of the book, by addressing his conception of a Pagan Minister (p. 15):

A Pagan Minister, then, works to help fellow Pagans and others who are in need of spiritual, physical, mental, or emotional assistance in their lives. There are many specific ways in which a minister can provide this kind of help. He or she can be a counselor, a listener, an advisor, a spiritual guide, a leader of specialized rituals such as funerals and Handfastings. The Pagan Minister offers blessings and consolations; is a teacher, a mentor, a retreat leader, or a role model. Specifically, a Pagan minister seeks to aid people using an earth-centered theology.

It appears he will develop the five elements of Pagan Ministry–Caring, Sharing, Declaring, Preparing, and Repairing–through the remainder of the text. While the requirements of being a minister involve a calling, personal strength, training, and ordination (all of which are addressed in many ways at Cherry Hill Seminary), it is the notion of calling I find most intriguing.

As a former Catholic, the notion of calling always meant a felt sense of an external deity inviting or nudging one to serve in a ministry (or priesthood, something which is somewhat different from how it can be understood in ministering to others, that and being limited to men, too!!). Pagans and their relations to nature and the sacred and any gods or goddesses are so different from one another, though this is not an issue in Shanddaramon’s perspective, as he means “an inner calling–a deep yearning of the soul that asks you to do more with your life than focus on your own needs” (p. 19), especially in the service of others and community. I like this notion, as it allows for a certain individuality which embraces the experiences of the individual in relation to the wider world.

I think I like the simplicity of this text already, and while I wish it had more references to other sources for some of these ideas (the academic in me), I do find it useful in how it has been articulating its approach.

Polishing the Mirror (Chap 1-2) via Ram Dass

Next on my reading list for Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry is Ram Dass’ Polishing the Mirror. I have heard a lot about Ram Dass over the years, though never got around to reading him. Probably for the best, as I would not have really appreciated his work or approach before.

While 2 chapters into it, he has packed a lot into his book while simultaneously keeping it very simple. To this point, there are two things that have thus far stood out to me that I want to mention as I continue to process it.

Firstly, I thought his comment, ” And at that moment, I realized that people arrive at spiritual understanding through a much wider spectrum of experience than I ever anticipated” (p. 5). No surprise there, but it was in the context of somebody listening to one of his speeches who did not seem to fit in, yet who still profoundly got his message. I can relate to the not seeming to fit in, while still having much more occurring internally that may be externally present.

Secondly, when Dass was speaking about his experience swimming with a dolphin, he held onto one, Rosie, and had a profound experience. He commented, “The wild creature model of who I had thought she was had stopped working” (p. 20). Rosie became a combination of a teacher and a guru at that moment, helping him to experience a higher level of consciousness in a way he did not expect. It is through this image of learning and experiencing in more profound ways than we expect that I really started to appreciate the author, and in that way his message.

Lots more to still process in this text, though it is off to a good start.

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Musings on Spiritual Activism (Chap 1-3 by McIntosh and Carmichael)

As I shared in my last posting, I am starting to wake my blog up from a deep sleep and wanted to share a few initial thoughts related to the first 3 chapters from Alastair McIntosh and Matt Carmichael’s Spiritual Activism: Leadership as Service.

To be fair, I have only read the first 3 chapters, and am NOT planning to write this as a book review . . . far from it. I am using this space to maintain a running notebook of thoughts and ideas related to the readings for a course I am taking.

The first three chapters involve the notion of activism as related to community, spirituality, and transcendent or mystical states of consciousness. There are many personal examples and, woven throughout, are some references to support the authors’ conjectures. However, I am a bit at a loss to appreciate their flow. In our class this past week when we started to talk about our perspectives of the readings, I  characterized the book as one that needs a good editor, as I have trouble seeing how the paragraphs and sections connect to tell a coherent and clear story. In this way, I am not entirely sure if the text is a general musing on spirituality, an attempt to convince or persuade the reader to do or believe something, or something else entirely.

Remember learning about the different types of writing styles–Expository, Persuasive, Descriptive, or Narrative–some time way back in school? While I have not thought of this classification in some time as I never really had the need to, this book makes me wonder about it. The authors give various arguments for or against things they are seeking to demonstrate (such as should we consider mystical states as authentic aspects of human experiences or intellectual assaults on spirituality and how there may be logical reasons why this may not be defensible), yet they do not provide enough evidence to support their claims, many of which people have argued about for centuries without effectively being able to convince or persuade others. If anything, in raising the issues and not providing sufficient exploration into them, they appear a bit unsophisticated and unaware of who their audience may be or what it may know.

I will continue reading the text as it is a course requirement, and hope that my initial thoughts on it are incomplete and missing something. This has happened before, and I hope it may happen again.

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Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry

I am taking a course at Cherry Hill Seminary this summer, Formations for Modern Pagan Ministry. This course is a very new idea for me, as I tend to approach Pagan practices and beliefs as something I personally practice and enjoy studying, rather than something that involves the notion of ministry.

Perhaps this is due to my solitary practice or my previous difficulties in this area as a Catholic, but needless to say this summer will present lots of learning experiences to come.

I just may post a bit more about this journey here…