Choosing your battles

We often spend so much of our energy needlessly. Disputes, arguments, feuds, grudges, long-held anger and frustration are just some examples. We need to choose our battles wisely, for they are not all worth fighting.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do. When faced with ignorance or denial, we are often facing an impassable wall upon which we can either hurl ourselves time and again, or simply shrug and walk away. It is not our duty to make the ignorant wise, or to force someone into changing their mind. That can only change from within. Our energy is a precious resource that must be used wisely. There are many fights that are worthy of our time, but we don’t have to attend every argument that we are invited to.

Think about the energy used in holding a grudge against someone, for a few days, a few weeks, a few months or a few years. How could that energy have been better spent? How much energy is involved in a family feud, from all sides involved? How much time is wasted arguing on social media, trying to prove your point and making a stranger change their mind? How much energy is spent talking behind people’s backs, trying to get people “on your side”? Is it really worth it?

Even if it’s something you truly believe in, proselytising the issue doesn’t really do much. In fact, it can even have the adverse effect of pushing away those who are either in agreement or disagreement: they’re simply tired of the hearing of your message over and over again. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have opinions, and that we shouldn’t share them, but when we spend so much energy shouting into empty space then maybe it’s time to rethink the situation.

People fall out with each other over the silliest of things sometimes. Letting ego get in the way, they don’t want to listen to anyone’s version of events other than their own. To do so would compromise their reality, the story that they have told of themselves. People often don’t want to change their story, for it may put them in an unflattering light. We have to evaluate the situation and say, “Right. I can offer my version of events, I can try to communicate with compassion, but I will only spend X amount of time of this. I’m not here to change anyone, because I know that true change must come from within. I can walk away at any time, for there are no “winners” or “losers” in this situation, only wasted time”. When we set these parameters, we can work with others without losing our minds.

People are going to behave in any number of ways. We can’t change their behaviour. What we can change is our response to their bad behaviour. We can let them know that we do not approve, and then we can walk away, wishing them well and focusing on the things that really matter in our own lives. Let it go. Walking away is not losing. It is opening up a new path for you to find better things to spend your time on.

I have seen ridiculous grudge matches and people trying to save face on all manner of social media. I have known families who don’t talk to each other for reasons which are entirely inaccurate, the transgression being entirely made up in their own heads. I have seen people treat others very poorly in face to face interactions. We need to find the balance point between standing up for ourselves and learning when we are expending energy needlessly.

Some battles are worth fighting for. We just need to have the right goals in mind when we are fighting. If we are trying to change all our friends’ eating habits to match ours because we are vegan, what really is our agenda here? Instead of spending time arguing or posting social media comments about it, why not spend time volunteering at an animal shelter if your ultimate goal is to help ease the suffering of other animals? If we are spending time trying to undermine someone’s work or persona, what is the real agenda there? Why would we want to do that? Wouldn’t the time be better spent focusing on yourself? Blowing out someone’s candle does not make yours burn any brighter. If we refuse to speak to a family member because they did something wrong in the past, shouldn’t we look to our own lives and remember the ways that we too have failed or wronged someone? These are only a few examples, and some may be rather simplistic. They all have multiple ways of dealing with the issue at hand.  What matters most is our intention.

We don’t have to put up with anyone’s crap, if you’ll pardon my vernacular. But we don’t have to start slinging our own either. Either way, you’ll just end up with a stink in the air.

I’ve walked away from people and situations in order to focus on what really matters. Even when I was totally “right”. It has saved me a lot of time and trouble. I could have spent months trying to change other people’s minds, but instead I worked on what really matters to me. I can say with all honesty that the energy was well spent, and the outcome even more positive than I had dreamt of in terms of benefiting myself and my work/goals/life. I can’t change other people, they’ll do what they will do, with their own demons to fight, their own achievements and successes to encourage them. I have to live my life, not try to please or fit into theirs. I can walk away into better experiences.

Choose your battles wisely. This present moment is what really matters. Live it, instead of losing yourself in a battle that doesn’t or shouldn’t even exist. Life has difficulties enough already. Be kind, be compassionate and be mindful. You may find the battles beginning to lessen, and a peace of mind settling deep within. Enjoy that, for that is what life is all about.

Re-blog: Weaving a Stronger Web

This is a preview of my latest blog post on SageWoman Magazine’s blog channel at Witches and Pagans. To read the full article, please click HERE.

Taking time to become aware of the self is a large part of the modern Pagan movement. In the last twenty years, exploring the psychological aspect in many of the traditions has been as important as the metaphysical and the spiritual work. Many have done this, as part of a training course or in their own deep learning, but perhaps subsequently allowing it to fall by the wayside; once it’s been studied, that’s it, let’s move on. Being aware of your emotions and behaviour is a never-ending quest in self-awareness. In order to live as Pagans it should be a lifelong exercise, in order to ensure that we are living honourably and respectfully within nature and the natural cycle.
Indeed, it is our responsibility to be aware of what we put out into the world, emotionally and physically, as Pagans. We know that we are a part of a greater web, therefore when one strand is tugged, all the others shiver all the way down to the core. We need to be able to see when we have failed to act with honour, in our human relationships, in our relationships with the natural world, in our relationship with the gods and the ancestors. And in doing so, we can work to make amends, to reweave those threads that have been pulled apart…

To read the full article, click HERE.

Heaven, hell and Jeremy Clarkson

We are our deeds. It’s a popular heathen saying, and the title of a well-written heathen book by Eric Wodening. What we say, what we do is a reflection of our own self. How we behave is what defines us.

Our society is full of examples, however, of bad behaviour being rewarded, or being applauded. In Britain, famous television presenter Jeremy Clarkson was fired from the popular television show, Top Gear, because he had punched a producer in the face when he found out that there was no hot food available on set. No charges have been made against Clarkson’s assault, and indeed, he is making light of the whole situation, thereby condoning violence. In a recent spin-off live show in Belfast it opened with a video of him throwing a left-hook, as if it were right to punch a colleague in the face. Everyone cheered. When it was rumoured that comedian Sue Perkins would possibly replace Clarkson on the show, she had to leave Twitter because of all the death threats that she was receiving. Violence breeds violence.

What we think, what we say, what we do defines our self. When we live in a world that no longer seems to care about personal responsibility, about compassion, about just being nice to other people, it is even more important that we take up the reins and provide an example of how to be in the world in good, honourable relationship.

We are blessed with foresight. We can think about the outcomes of our actions. We have memories of the past to consider when making our actions. And yet some people still behave badly, willfully, out of spite and their own demons, or out of ignorance that there is a choice.

This is what it all comes down to: we always have a choice. We can choose to behave badly, remaining stuck in our bad habits, remaining trapped in our attachments, allowing our emotions to run riot over ourselves and others. Or we can choose to take up personal responsibility, to think about things that we have done and things that we are going to do, and how they will affect others. It’s not fun being mean to other people. It makes our hearts small. It tightens and constricts them until we become mere shadows of ourselves. We may hide behind comedy, delusions or the lies that we have told ourselves over and over again to justify our behaviour. Ultimately, however, we know on a deep level when we are doing things that are wrong, and we can choose to continue or not.

Take responsibility for your actions. Shrugging off bad behaviour doesn’t make it right, and you will eventually have to face it at some point in your life. Clarkson knows that what he did was wrong, which is why he’s making fun of it rather than face up to the fact that he was wrong. It’s all about saving face, about personal egos, illusions and delusions. How many other people do you know who are like that?

If nothing at all, these people remind us of who we do not wish to be. We can still have compassion for them, seeing that they suffer from their own demons. However, that does not mean condoning their behaviour. We can speak out against it, and still hope that they find peace in their own lives.

There is a Zen story about a samurai who asks a monk about heaven and hell:

Hakuin, the fiery and intensely dynamic Zen master, was once visited by a samurai warrior.

“I want to know about heaven and hell,” said the samurai. “Do they really exist?” he asked Hakuin.
Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, “Who are you?”

“I am a samurai,” announced the proud warrior.

“Ha!” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can understand such insightful things? You are merely a callous, brutish soldier! Go away and do not waste my time with your foolish questions,” Hakuin said, waving his hand to drive away the samurai.

The enraged samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insults. He drew his sword, readied for the kill, when Hakuin calmly retorted, “This is hell.”

The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.

“And this is heaven,” Hakuin stated, just as calmly.

May all beings find peace.

Love

Many of us have heard the saying “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”. Like all sayings, they can be misinterpreted. Love is one of the most powerful gods. Love is so much more than romance, than warm fuzzy feelings for another. Love can be an unshakeable force, it can inspire us to greatness or tear us apart.

Never having to say sorry with regards to love has been misused by many as an excuse to behave badly, to not care about the feelings of others, to live in a purely self-centred state. It is also often implied that if we really love someone we should always be willing to forgive their behaviour. In Buddhism, it is widely regarded that we are all Buddhas, that we all have the ability for true compassion. However, we are also all human, with all the wonderful implications, limitations and foibles that it entails.

We have all known people whose behaviour has been less than glowing, who are so entrapped in their own worlds and minds that they often create a reality which is completely and utterly different to the one that you may experience. As humans, we have a shared reality and shared human experience, but as beings that are supposedly self-aware we become trapped in this self-awareness to the point of it spilling over into less than glowing behaviour. Love accepts the humanity of everyone. Love accepts reality. Love is compassion.

Compassion, however, doesn’t mean we have to take everyone’s crap. Compassion is understanding, trying to see the bigger picture, to understand why someone behaves the way that they do. In this attempt, we step outside of our “small selves” and out into a greater reality. We open up our perception. We may never truly understand, but at least in the attempt we see that the world is more than just our experience, our perceived reality. We recognise the experience and reality of others.

When that reality hurts us, when people do or say things to undermine us for whatever reason, should we simply forgive and move on? I’m not entirely sure it’s within human capacity to truly forgive, though people like Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh are real-life inspirations for this way of being. We may find that the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. Perhaps we need to focus less on “us” forgiving “them” and simply focus on living our own lives in way that means that we will never have to say “I’m sorry” to another. This, in my opinion, is the real interpretation of the saying “Love means never having to say I’m sorry”.

We may fail, and there is nothing wrong with saying “I’m sorry”, however.

When we come against people we simply cannot be with, we can still try to understand them, to look beyond our self. It can often put us into the bigger picture, allowing more of a peripheral vision of the world that encompasses everything and in doing so, allowing the self to fall away in integrated living. Sometimes we simply have to walk away from that relationship in order to work compassionately with our selves, for we simply suffer too much at that given time to be able to function properly. We can do this with partners we’ve been romantically involved with – when it no longer works, we can bow to each other and walk away with respect, and hopefully a little compassion for both them and ourselves.

What we have to focus on most though is our own life, and our own behaviour. We have to live our lives in a way that means we will hopefully never have to apologise for our behaviour. It’s not an easy path, but it’s one that is worthwhile. In doing so, we will walk lightly upon the earth, loving the earth with every fibre of our being, loving everything on the earth with eyes wide open and a heart filled with compassion. We can love life, the power of the gods moving through us and around us, and live our lives in celebration of this.

As the first snowdrops bloom here in the UK, and the songs of the birds change to love of each other, of the warming sun and the greening of the land, may our hearts too be filled with love.

reverence

When compassion is challenged…

Some people have differing opinions to ours.  That is their entitlement – we all may agree or disagree with each other, have different viewpoints and perspectives.  Only we can see the world through our own eyes, layered with our own experiences, trials and tribulations. Only we know our own story fully and completely.  No other can know us the way we know ourselves, the reasons for our actions and the choices we make.

Everyone is on their own path, fighting their own battles, making their own decisions according to the principles that they live by, the culture and society they grew up in, and their own soul’s calling.  We should never berate another for following their own path. We can certainly disagree, and stand up for what we believe in, whether that is against a political party, a company, an abusive relationship – but we must always remember that belittling someone is never the right thing to do.  People will make bad choices, people will not care about the same things that we do. However, making fun of them does not solve anything. Looking down on someone means that you have placed yourself in a position of authority or power over them – an illusory pedestal.

meat coThe photo here is an example of a meat company who are putting down vegans in order to gain more people to their “side”, using “humour” as a unifier against some perceived threat to their way of life. What we have to realise is that there are no sides in life – only differing choices and opinions.  There is no Us and Them – there is only the human experience.  The entire Us and Them mentality has led to the most atrocious human behaviour possible – war and genocide, murder and rape, crime and racism, just to name a few.

Those who choose to become vegan or vegetarian have their own reasons – health, weight loss, environmentalism, religion.  It is wrong to belittle someone for any of these reasons. In fact, it is wrong to belittle anyone – end of story.  I disagree with people all the time, and I know I’m not perfect, but when I catch myself belittling someone I do my best to stop it, to realise that they are on their own journey, and to have compassion for them.  I do not want to be like the person who wrote this sign. I choose to behave differently.

I chose to become vegetarian twenty years ago, and am currently in the switch to vegan. This is my personal choice, based on research and religious reasons that ring true to my own soul. This may not be the same choice for other people, and I understand that.  However, I do tire of people making fun of my choice – I have had to endure that for over twenty years.  It is inevitable at dinner parties where someone who doesn’t know you very well, and who is a self-confessed “meat lover”, will question your choice at the dinner table, confronting you on your life path when all you want to do is eat with a good conscience and enjoy your meal with your friends or family, in harmony.  The ubiquitous “screaming vegetables” always comes up, and I must explain my reasons for becoming vegetarian or remain silent. Sometimes I choose to, other times I simply let it be. For the sake of peace, I make a decision based on compassion for all those who are sharing the meal with me. I only wish certain others could do the same.

Would it be correct to challenge someone on their religion at the dinner table? I don’t think so.  What about their decision to join Amnesty International, or Greenpeace?  Would it be right to poke fun at someone because they looked different? We must appreciate each other’s diversity, and in that appreciation realise that we are all human beings on our own journeys- that unifying factor within the diversity is what compassion is all about.

looking downThat is why in response to the photo above, I am posting this other photo.  It reflects and is only my opinion, but it matters to me in my spiritual journey.  Zen Buddhism tells us to hold to our opinions lightly, and indeed I see the wisdom in this. Our opinions are always changing – we are always learning and growing.  However, we must do so with compassion and awareness of the journey of others as well, even those who challenge us and our opinions.  I must have compassion for the people who own that meat company, realising that they have their own reasons for writing this sign, however much I disagree with them. I can voice my own opinion against it with this blog, with my words, with respect and as much understanding as my situation allows.  I don’t have to think it is right. I don’t have to agree with them. But I shall not belittle them for their opinion.

Watching Parliament in full swing makes me cringe – I remember the first time I saw a “discussion” which never let the other side finish what they were saying, instead making so much noise as to drown out the current speaker’s voice in a wall of derision.  This was how our country was and is being governed. It saddened and enraged me – this so-called civilised way of government.  How much better could it be if we just took the time to listen to each other without judgement, allowing the other person their say, and respectfully choosing to disagree if it does not ring true to our souls?  If the government cannot govern their behaviour in Parliament, why should the people? I found it so saddening, and still do…

Never be afraid to speak out against what you think is wrong, or for what you believe in. However, do so with compassion, with respect. Otherwise, you are simply acting and reacting to the bad behaviour of others. Remember also that acting with compassion does not necessarily elevate you above these others – you are not “good” for acting compassionately. You are simply acting compassionately – that is all.

Live with honour and dignity. Act with love and compassion. It’s not that hard. Blessings on your journey. X

Beware of Trolls

Can we look for reasons behind why some people behave the way they do?  Psychologists have been attempting to do that for hundreds of years, perhaps priests and other members of the community who wanted to help said before that.  In today’s day and age, we have the internet phenomenon of “trolling”.

According to Wikipedia, trolling is when someone attempts to sow discord on the internet by trying to start arguments and upset people.  They can do this in a variety of ways – posting off-topic messages to detract from the original intention, or posting inflammatory words on groups and online forums in the hopes of kicking things off.  From the wiki site:-

“Early incidents of trolling were considered to be the same as flaming, but this has changed with modern usage by the news media to refer to the creation of any content that targets another person. The Internet dictionary NetLingo suggests there are four grades of trolling: playtime trolling, tactical trolling, strategic trolling, and domination trolling. The relationship between trolling and flaming was observed in open-access forums in California, on a series of modem-linked computers in the 1970s, like CommuniTree which when accessed by high school teenagers became a ground for trashing and abuse. Some psychologists have suggested that flaming would be caused by deindividuation or decreased self-evaluation: the anonymity of online postings would lead to disinhibition amongst individuals Others have suggested that although flaming and trolling is often unpleasant, it may be a form of normative behavior that expresses the social identity of a certain user group  According to Tom Postmes, a professor of social and organisational psychology at the universities of Exeter, England, and Groningen, The Netherlands, and the author of Individuality and the Group, who has studied online behavior for 20 years, “Trolls aspire to violence, to the level of trouble they can cause in an environment. They want it to kick off. They want to promote antipathetic emotions of disgust and outrage, which morbidly gives them a sense of pleasure.” Adams, Tim (24 July 2011). “How the internet created an age of rage”. London: The Guardian (The Observer).

“Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group’s common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they – and the troll – understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll’s enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group. Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling – where the rate of deception is high – many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one’s online reputation. “ (Donath, Judith S. (1999). “Identity and deception in the virtual community”. In Smith, Marc A.; Kollock, Peter. Communities in Cyberspace (illustrated, reprint ed.). Routledge. pp. 29–59. ISBN 978-0-415-19140-1. Retrieved 2009-03-24.)

The term trolling these days can refer to not only those people who have a clear agenda in creating discord or playing identity games, but also those for whom bullying is an enjoyable pastime.  Online bullying tends to fall under the category of trolling, perhaps because it is simply easier to call all those who misbehave on the internet with a single label.

I have been subject to various trolls over my online lifetime – both those who simply wish to sow discord on online forums, those who have a hidden agenda and those who are simply bullies.  The question remains – why on earth would someone want to do such a thing?

In a way, I’m not sure this question can ever be answered, for we cannot get inside someone’s head. We can understand some of their motives, but unless we have access to every single second of their lives which may have influenced their behaviour, we are still making assumptions, which may never be proved.

Some of “my” trolls have sought to change the topic of conversation, for reasons only known to them. I can speculate that they didn’t like my opinion, or that they may be working with those who are on the “other” side of the situation, debate or discussion.  Trying to return back to the subject time and again can be futile, especially when there are several trolls working together. In this case, I have simply walked away from that discussion, forum or group if I feel that the moderators are not doing their job correctly in keeping things going forward on topic, troll-free.

Other trolls have been bullies, such as on this blog where a particular troll was attempting to silence me from any further posting for whatever reason.  Swearing and telling me that I should seek psychiatric help among other things led me to believe that the individual in question was projecting their own fears and anxieties onto me, a faceless person (they may or may not have known me personally).  At any rate, any of my thoughts on this person’s behaviour would simply be speculation.

So, what can we do about it? Are we simply to accept that there are trolls online, and we are to ignore them, as many people have suggested – “Do Not Feed The Trolls”? Or is there something that we can do?

For moderated online communities, I feel the responsibility should like with those who claim to be moderators. Some moderators may have their own agendas, however, and so are perhaps not the ideal people to perform such a task.  If a moderator on an online forum, group or community was part of a company, and a discussion was taking place in where the objectives of that company were in question, they may simply close down the thread or delete it for no apparent reason.  In this instance, freedom of speech is being impinged upon, and there is very little we can do about other than try to work around said moderators, to try and go over their heads to a “higher source” who may or may not listen to our opinions, suggestions or queries.

If it is a “personal” attack, such as on a personal blog, what can we do? Do we delete all the posts that this person has made, and simply ignore it?  I haven’t – I have left these person’s posts in place to show how life is for some people – it is a testament to human interactions, to human behaviour and to society and culture as a whole.  Only when the remarks have become so antagonistic as to resort to swearing and using violent terms have I decided to no longer accept posts from these people.  I am using these trolls as an example to other readers as to how some people behave, either in an online community or, heaven forbid, in real life.

In a way, I have a very real sympathy for these trolls.  This may be totally imagined, and it is only a personal assumption, but I believe these people to have very unsatisfying lives in general.  Why else would someone want to do such a thing?

In our world of ever-increasing virtual interaction, it is my fear that more and more people will not be able to engage with others in a respectful and honourable way. Without that face to face interaction, will we see an ever-growing increase in such bad behaviour, which could also impact upon real-life situations?  Will this bad behaviour, ingrained and learnt from an early age be taken out into the real world, where this will occur more and more in face to face situations? I sincerely hope not – it’s bad enough that it is occurring online.

So, what can we do about it?  We can make people aware of what is occurring, for starters.  We can then deal with each interaction with as much respect and honour as we are able.  We can make points known, and then if the discussion falls into chaos and disrespect due to trolls, we can refuse to engage, simply stating why we are refusing and then walk away.

Sometimes walking away from a bully doesn’t work, however. Sometimes they get their best shot when your back is turned.  All we can do is to remember that, as the heathen saying goes, “We Are Our Deeds”.  Whether these are online opinions or not, I feel that this saying is applicable to everything that we do in our lives.  Sure, not everyone of us is a shining example of humanity, and simply because we have done less than honourable deeds in the past does not mean that we continue in dishonour – we can work to gain that back through everything that we say and do today.

And so, for all the trolls out there who may be reading this – remember this saying. We are our deeds.  It’s not too late.

And for those who are being plagued by trolls, I offer up a previous blog post which may help to overcome any feelings instilled by this abhorrent behaviour:  https://downtheforestpath.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/is-that-so/