Last night I went to the best birthday party ever. There were no balloons, no wrapped packages, no popping out of hiding places to scream HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Instead, ten of us gathered to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of the assistants for my astrology class by working her chart. In advance we were assigned at random two planetary placements from her chart and were invited to bring anything- a poem, picture, song or rumination, that spoke to each placement based on it's degree symbol, planetary function or dignity by sign or house.
Starting at the Ascendant we worked our way around, house by house, planet by planet, offering to our friend the gift of holding the whole of her. It just so happens that her Sun degree is many little birds on the limb of a large tree, 28 Leo. She told me a story during a break from the chart work about her 49th birthday, one year ago, when she set the intention to finally find her tribe, those that could support her on the quest and, in turn, be supported by her. If the Sun is the essential core of our Spirit that we are bringing down to Earth slowly yet inexorably over the course of our life, then there was never a moment when she was not going to find her flock all gathered around her to talk and watch the view. Fifty years is a long time to wait, however, so she could be forgiven for thinking at times that she might never get here. And her sense of blessing and thankfulness for finally seeing her flock arrayed around her was beautiful to watch.
During this week leading up to the amazing birthday party I read an abridged version of an amazing commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon college in 2003. The part that moved me most strongly was this passage:
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already -- it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power -- you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart -- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
I think David is right, but I also think that depending on how you conceive of divinity your spiritual practice can eat you alive as well. If you approach the Divine as the great Judge who made and seeks only that which is full of Light, then you will spend your whole life chasing the Light and fearing your own darkness and the darkness of the world around you. But if you can open yourself to the idea of holism, that all of manifest reality is part and parcel of a great Unity, then there is nothing in yourself you have to fear, nothing in the world you need that you do not have, and everything is holy. As Allen Ginsberg so aptly wrote in A Footnote to Howl:
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy!
The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand
and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is
holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman's an
The bum's as holy as the seraphim! the madman is
holy as you my soul are holy!
Tribes are a cultural reality for some and, in that case, largely not consciously chosen. But a tribe can also be chosen based on a "common interest or activity" (according to Webster's). At the party yesterday I realized that my friend is not the only one who feels that she has found her tribe, that in fact that feeling in her would not be possible if we didn't all feel the same way. What draws this tribe (or flock, as the case may be) together is not that we all have the same Sun degree. We each are a unique, complicated manifestation of Spirit- but Spirit calls to Spirit. It is the One that shines in the heart of the many and inspires within each of us in our little tribe a deep desire to hold the whole of life, to see in the mess of the world and each other the manifestation of unified divinity.
As blissed out as we can get on each other we are not unaware or unconcerned about the many horrible, painful, dark things going on in the world today. Nor do I think any of us would give a pass in the name of "One-ness" to those who spread hatred, commit violence or justify injustice. Speaking for myself, I have simply stopped assuming that my goal is to fix the world and eradicate darkness, or that such a thing is even possible. In the whole span of human existence there has never been any one person who could. Instead there have been and are many who do what they can. What I can do is simply try to be present to what is and choose whatever will enhance my connection to Spirit in myself and others. There is nothing to fix, there is no end to suffering, there is simply mindfulness, compassion and love in the face of whatever comes.
I've heard it said that with the end of peak oil, which is upon us whether we acknowledge it or not, we need to re-envision what we think of as success, as the definition of a happy life. No longer will we be able to define happiness as the acquisition of more- more money, more stuff, bigger house, doing "better" than our parents. That ever expanding image of happiness that began with the Industrial Revolution is dead because it is driven by fossil fuels, which are disappearing even as you read this. Instead of only thinking of ourselves as successful if we amass "more" we have to begin to re-orient ourselves to the idea of happiness being, as my best friend so aptly puts it, having "just enough". "Just enough", it seems to me, is having a sound roof over your head, healthy food in your belly and a tribe that can hold the whole of you, enabling you to meet what is with an open heart.
Despite knowing intellectually that I have tremendous privilege, that I have more than enough, I have never felt that way. I have let my worship eat me alive. But David Foster Wallace and my tribe, which includes my astrology folks, Matthew and the girls, and old friends far and wide, have begun to re-orient me and I am awash in feelings of blessing for having just enough.
How lucky am I? And it wasn't even my birthday...
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