Sacred

I had a really good, somewhat difficult, hugely re-energizing and reawakening experience at Burning Man this year. I’m circling closer and closer to whatever I’ve been searching for in my life.

H picked me up from the SF airport and we spent most of the way back talking about his recent DMT trip and, of course, the upcoming festival in the desert. I spent the evening at c’s place of work, getting progressively drunker, until…yeah. I don’t remember the rest. Boo. Apparently I was a little pushy/molesty with c, which bothers me first of all because respecting boundaries is hugely important to me, and secondly because I have no sexual agenda towards her. Anyway when she resisted I apparently said she was giving me mixed signals and then stormed off to lock myself in a spare bedroom, only to jolt awake at six thirty the next morning, wondering how I got there and why the door was locked.

Not the greatest start to the journey, but at least I managed to get my stuff together, help load the car, and get in the back seat before the hangover hit. C and I arranged a rideshare with a wonderful woman from Santa Cruz, and she and c were both very sympathetic to my condition despite its self-imposed nature. We got to Reno pretty quickly, and then we were–hoorah!–on the approach to Gerlach, almost there…

A ridiculous number of hours later, fourteen maybe? we had crawled through the vehicle approach and the five hour wait at Will Call, and c was being escorted through her virgin ritual by an adorable Greeter named Girl Scout. The Playa! We made it! But…what? We’re getting pulled over? No plates showing. Yeah. I had wondered about that. Apparently the camper we were driving needed a separate registration than the truck.

Fortunately they let us off with a warning. We found Hushville and a nice man at the gate got us situated. Exhausted from our travels (and the fact that it was five in the morning) we quickly constructed our tent and dove inside just as hail began to fall. That’s right, hail on the Playa. Also a great deal of rain.

We woke to a world of mud. Heavy, thick mud that accumulated endlessly on our shoes, so that each step became heavier and heavier. Like we were golems trying to rise from clay, the earth pulling us back into it. I was worried that first morning, trudging around among a whole host of muddy, deflated people, that this Burning Man might not be quite like last year’s, but then we saw some people doing mud slip-n-slide, and all of the lovely plastic bag duct tape fashion boots. Then Center Camp reopened (it got hit by lighting and the electrical system failed, so they had to close down for a while) and the roads started to dry and they began to let people in again.

This Burn’s theme, for me, was rediscovering self. Who am I, what do I want, what do I have to give? I think it’s time for me to develop my own sacred tradition. Not one that others should follow–just one that serves me in my pursuit of love. C and I participated in an “Identity Alchemy” workshop and one of the things I identified about myself was my desire to be a holistic person; my reluctance to focus entirely on any one part of myself for improvement. But with nothing to center my efforts, I’ve been feeling more and more aimless, diffuse, and confused. I think some of my false dichotomies have been: real v. unseen, spiritual tradition v. independence, belief v. self-reliance.

There’s a very real hunger in me to connect with something larger than myself. The answer was not a return to the religion of my childhood, but it’s also not to completely ignore that need, or try to find it in the physical world alone. I was paying closer attention this time to the magic of Burning Man vis-a-vis the magic I’ve seen over the past several months, seeking something more in my life in Utah. When I talk about magic I mean a combination of synchronicity, awareness, and the sense (and evidence) of being led in a certain direction. I’ve seen enough to feel strongly that there is a guiding force in this life that we can intentionally align ourselves with. I want to align myself. I want to know more.

 

 

 

Part II

Hey everyone, remember that amazing experience I had last year that inspired this blog and brought several wonderful new people and experiences into my life?

Part II in t minus three days and counting.

Goal for the second burn: rebirth, phoenix-style.

Good is All

I recently had a very intense conversation with a friend who shares most of my beliefs about the world, with one exception: he believes in evil as an objective, malicious force in the universe. I do not.

I believe in good, but not evil.

People do evil things, yes. They intentionally harm others, they intentionally harm themselves, they inject chaos and sadness and pain into the universe. But why?

Many people believe in a devil, in demons, in external forces that prompt us to do things we shouldn’t. In things beyond our control that draw bad things from us against our will.

Why is this a more attractive belief than the simple truth: that we have flaws in our understanding? That we don’t always know what’s good for us? That the mess and confusion of daily life can keep us from seeing simple truths? That we’re still a very immature species, struggling towards the light, making any number of missteps along the way?

It seems that, for the most part, we understand the simple concept that causing harm doesn’t bring true happiness, and yet we often label those who indulge in such activities “self-serving” or “practical,” and begrudgingly admire them and envy them for the things they reap as a result.

Toddlers, too, desire control over their environments. They, too indulge in destructive behaviors as they attempt to get what they want from the world. Do we call them evil? No. Because they don’t understand what they’re doing.

When we attribute the drive to do evil to some malicious, powerful being, we’re giving it far too much credit. We’re personifying a twist of logic, an imbalance, a certain kind of misunderstanding of the universe.

What we mean when we say “good” is that which benefits us. What we mean when we say “evil” is that which harms us. In this universe where we all share space, where we are forced to interact with one another, where we must negotiate for what we want with everything else alive, good is only sustainable through balance, and evil means, quite literally, the unwillingness to negotiate that balance.

It has no overarching agenda. It has no power over good. It is simply the absence of the will and/or intelligence, to good. When we start treating evil-doers as unlearned, as young, as mistaken, as self-harming and clumsy, instead of viewing them as a terrifying thing that we must somehow eradicate, we take a huge step towards a world without evil.

Because trying to eradicate people who haven’t yet learned how to do good is evil in and of itself. The more we try to eradicate evil, the more we become it. We’re trying to put out fire with more fire. Silly humans. Time for a paradigm shift.

More on belief

I latched onto two pieces about Scientology that I find striking in their similarity to the backstory and issues of Mormonism:

L. Ron Hubbard’s Great Grandson

Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology

also this, relating back to one of my earlier posts:

End of Times

I know many Mormons who believe they have healed/been healed by the Priesthood of the church. It’s starting to seem to  me that some of the draws of these sorts of belief systems are the following:

1) When you give yourself over to the dictates of a higher power, listening to an inner voice that is not quite yourself, you feel happier and seem to be guided into things that you might not have discovered otherwise

2) When you believe that you are channeling this higher power (i.e. not acting on your own, but acting on behalf of the higher power) you may experience things that seem supernatural, like healing

This has similarities to an idea called “flow” that artists and athletes experience–when a writer is really in a groove she sometimes experiences the sensation that the words are coming straight through her, rather than from her, and an athlete can feel as though they’re not consciously deciding to move, but somehow being moved (though this is often attributed to training and instinct rather than some outside force.)

Hmm…I wonder…

Trusting the Process

At the very least, this whole experience is helping me to be less dismissive and patronizing towards those who seek solace in religion and God. It’s also helping me to better understand my roots. I’ve still been Mormon longer than not, and I’ve been reading LDS history again with a new eye, and it’s helping me to forgive the Mormon past, my past, and the people who don’t distance themselves from that past by renouncing everything it means today.

I’ve been feeling peaceful. Maybe God isn’t telling me to be Mormon again. Maybe God isn’t talking to me at all. But I’m getting exactly what I need, when I need it, and that speaks to a pattern that is larger than I am, that is happening whether or not I know about it or participate in it, and that in itself is hugely comforting in the face of what I experienced on the 4th of July.

The world is shifting. It’s heading in a fairly clear direction. There is still a lot of violence and hatred but it’s considered less and less inevitable by more and more people. We’re all receiving whatever this thing is that Mormons call revelation or the spirit. It’s the same thing scientists get when they know they’re on to something. It’s the truth-shiver. You don’t need a religion to experience that.

 

Fallibility vs. Faith

How do I reconcile the fallibility of man and the command to obey the prophet? Especially when I can point to specific instances when the prophet has clearly been wrong (and continues to be wrong today, HELLO President Monson with your ‘one, two, three, let’s go shopping’…pretty sure Jesus would be about as happy with that one as he was with the money lenders in the temple).

My new friend tells me the story of Saul in the Bible vs. the story of Abraham.

Saul, a king, was ordered to kill a whole city full of unrighteous men, women, children, plus all of their livestock (wealth). Wow. Pretty harsh. He totally does it, but tries to keep some of the wealth of the city for himself, and makes a bunch of sacrifices to God as though that’s basically the same as killing them all like God said.

He gets booted. No longer king.

Abraham is told to get out of a city because God’s about to destroy it. He begs God not to destroy the city. “There’s gotta be some good people. I’ll go find them. If I can find a hundred of them, will you spare it?” God says sure, go for it. He comes back and says, “Okay, how about fifty?” God says, ok, sure. “How about ten?” etc. Finally God’s like, “Sure, if you can find even one person that seems even remotely down to learn about how to treat other people better, city is spared.” Abraham literally can’t find a single person. He gets out of the way, God destroys the city.

Old testament, super harsh methods. Yeah, it’s hard to believe in a God that would do that to people, alllll of those people, bam, dead. Now we get to another reason the LDS church makes sense to me. They don’t believe that any of those people are going to hell. None of them are going to suffer eternally just because their understanding wasn’t developed enough and their culture wasn’t developed enough to facilitate their personal growth. The church believes that even pretty much the worst sinners are going to a place, like, a billion times better than Earth. There’s no suffering in store, just an eternity of growing from one level of understanding to the next at whatever pace you want, in a setting of complete bliss. It’s possible you get stuck there primarily because it’s hard to want to change when you’re already super happy. But that doesn’t seem so bad.

My friend’s philosophy: When we get a command that seems to go against the principle of love, we’re SUPPOSED to question it. He doesn’t want us to be well-trained lackeys, he wants us to understand and take stewardship of the principles.

I like the idea that the prophet isn’t the most holy person in the church, just the current selected mouthpiece; perhaps simply the one that will benefit most from the lessons of that position. This is how I reconcile the obvious and quite serious flaws of leaders like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (and yes, Thomas S. Monson): they aren’t claiming to be perfect, they aren’t supposed to be perfect already, and most importantly, we’re not supposed to follow directly in their footsteps. We’re supposed to maintain our own communication channel with inspiration, and if something doesn’t sound right, we’re supposed to follow our hearts.

Here’s the part I never could make peace with before: sure, sure. You don’t have to follow to the letter. You’re supposed to listen to your own inspiration. But sometimes when Mormons refuse to lock step, they get punished. Like the leader of Ordain Women, or the September Six, or that professor who got fired from BYU for writing an editorial suggesting it’s not ethical to fight against gay rights. How can a church which punishes dissent possibly claim to be supportive of personal inspiration?

But the thing is, they don’t punish people for following their own hearts and trying to love better; they’re only supposed to discipline those who actively rally people in opposition of the church. And even then they give the person a careful, fair chance to defend what they were doing and why, and if they are driven by conscience and faith, they won’t get punished, only asked to consider the effect their dissent might have on the struggle and growth of others. It’s okay to question; not okay to throw a wrench in the operation. I’m not saying this is how it always works out, perfectly, I’m just saying that this is the goal and the method. The implementation of a philosophy doesn’t reflect on the virtue of the philosophy itself. Even if the LDS church is perfect in design, it won’t run perfectly because the operators are imperfect.

It’s important to me to not only calibrate my actions to follow my beliefs, but to make sure my beliefs are inspiring good actions. I’ve already seen some ways that this could help me smooth my rough edges. Become more humble, helpful, less judgmental, broaden the number of people who I feel loving and generous towards; it’s already improving my outlook on life.

I was looking over some of the arguments for and against the validity of the Book of Mormon, and some things resonated with me. I don’t quite know how to explain why, but facing the void showed me the point of faith, the point of giving over, not my agency, not my conscience, but some of my trust to a higher plan. No, there’s no proof that the Book of Mormon is true, it’s not clear how much is supposed to be straight history and whether any of it is fiction, Joseph Smith did a lot of questionable stuff and it’s quite easy to write it all off if you’re looking for reasons not to believe, but it’s not impossible to believe, given a certain set of assumptions.

So. I’m going to sit with it, try it on for size, see how it affects my life for positive or negative. I’m tired, I’ve got good ideas and philosophies but I need help living them (and even investing in them), and I’m realizing I miss this huge, loving, ready-made community, even with all of its flaws. I’m losing my ability to hold on to sheer hope that everything will work out okay just because, and to be positive in the face of the chance that it won’t. I used to feel a bit patronizing towards people who need religion to get them through, but I’m understanding it more now and I like understanding things, even when it involves eating crow.

The Journey Continues

I was pretty much done with the “should I become Mormon again?” thing, but it wasn’t done with me.

I’m really starting to think that this is my path. First I encountered the outer limits of my knowledge, the ultimate blank despair, and as I reel/try to recover from that, I keep coming across people uniquely positioned to get across to me right now, and to answer my very specific concerns in a satisfying way.

Yesterday, despite my self-reassurance that God is love and all I need to do is follow love, I felt incredibly fearful all morning. This fear drove me to finally face up to something I’ve been carrying around for a long time.

When I was fourteen I was babysitting a seven year old boy (this adorable seven year old who just loved everyone and told me all the time that when he grew up, after he finished his mission, he was going to marry me…despite the age gap). He was sitting in my lap and, horny, repressed little teen that I was, I sort of…masturbated against him. Very subtly. I tried not to let him notice, and I don’t think he did.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as a “sin” and I don’t feel bad for it abstractly. In fact, I fully blame the confusing teachings of the LDS church, which say that masturbation itself is bad and you should repress those feelings until you’re married. If I had felt comfortable with my body and the desires that were so irresistible at the time, I would have taken care of my urges in a much more appropriate way.

My big problem was, I dated a man at one point who was touched inappropriately by a camp counselor, and it messed him up, big time. I know that kids can be confused about what’s their fault and in a puritanical society, they can feel dirty or impure just for being a target of someone else’s sexuality.

I’ve been worried all of these years that this kid noticed and that he internalized it in a negative way. I’ve been trying to get up the courage to talk to him, and I sent him a Facebook message which he never answered, and I thought he had ended his mission early and maybe that was my fault, tracing all the way back to that one time when I babysat him.

So this fear built up and my brain was looking for something to attach it to, and I fixed on this kid. I needed to talk to him ASAP, because what if he committed suicide or something, and then that was hanging over me forever, when I could have done something about it?

I called his mom, pretty terrified of her reaction. You know, mama bear, aforementioned puritanical society, what is she going to say to this. Her reaction? “It is so brave of you to come forward with this after all these years! God bless you! I’m so glad you were able to finally lay that burden down at Jesus’ feet! You know, I’m pretty sure he never knew about it.” She said he was very open with her about everything and she never saw anything that would make her think he was affected. I asked her to think about whether we(/I) should talk to him about it anyway, just in case. He actually did finish his mission, and he’s super happy and coming home soon.

Finally, after all of these years, peace on this matter. Peace I was driven to by fear. Hmm.

So I keep going through my day, feeling better, but still fearful. Still this powerful fear eating me up for no obvious reason. It starts to attach itself to my meeting with a man who could possibly help my career, who I’ve never met before. I start wondering if he’s going to hurt me, maybe. I take some minor precautions, like telling several people who I’m meeting with and texting a friend with our meeting location and time, and he picks me up and we go to dinner.

I like him right away, and the more we talk, the clearer it becomes that our world views are very, very similar, especially in terms of the way we believe in treating other people and why. Our approaches to life are similar, we have similar personalities–although he has a more aggressive streak, and whenever I hear a hint of it, or something that could be a subtle warning, my fear rises in me again. The whole time, I’m trying to figure out—is he going to hurt me, or help me?

We’re talking about our mutual friend who introduced us, and existential crises come up. I laughingly mention how I almost was driven back to Mormonism by this recent crisis, and…turns out he’s Mormon. He doesn’t believe in evangelism, but by now I’m curious to see how this very intelligent and compassionate man reconciles his worldview with an LDS one, because I’m still seeing some important incompatibilities.

Over the course of our discussion, in the way he explains things to me, I’m seeing hints of a patronizing viewpoint towards others that kind of bothers me. An investment in hierarchy, in some people being “more equal” than others. But the more we talk, the more I begin to see a picture emerge, and though he hasn’t quite said it in this way, I can begin to see a valid reason that the LDS church, as a whole, might be a little bit behind the curve instead of leading the way.

Because of course the first question I ask him is, “Why should I even listen to an intermediary? If god is love, why shouldn’t I just follow love? Especially an intermediary that seems to clearly enact love to a lesser degree than I want to, rather than a greater one?”

Some answers I came up with during/after our discussion, a combination of his explanations and my attempt to make sense of them on my own:

One: if there’s a plan for salvation, it’s for everyone, not just me. The church is suited to the society it’s in—it’s supposed to help people in the current society get where they’re supposed to be (just like the old testament form of governance was suited for a more savage time with people who understood things more physically and less symbolically). This might sound patronizing until you realize that the more advanced lesson, the ahead-of-the-curve version of how to love others, was already presented by Jesus completely intact, and people over the centuries have really, really struggled to follow that lesson in a way that remotely resembles what Jesus told them to do. We’re all hindered by our collective endeavor, and we’re all helped by our collective endeavor.

The LDS church puts Jesus’ teachings at the center of its philosophy. They’re actually called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” The advanced lesson was always waiting at the center of the less symbolic, more physical “thou shalt nots” so it has always provided the opportunity to keep pushing to love more, at the same time as creating a safe space for people to move forward according to what they already understand. No one says I have to love exactly in step with the church; I can keep doing my thing, trying to love people more and more. There’s nothing stopping me. I don’t have to vote against gay rights, I can support and pray for women to have the priesthood, I can refuse to avoid people, stories, etc. because they might “negatively influence me,” and I can specify that there are certain things I want my tithing to support and certain things I’m unwilling for it to contribute to (like the mall and other financial ventures that promote our consumerist society and the exploitation of people across the globe.)

I’ve got friends who do things like this, who hold onto Mormonism but resist the things that contradict their perception of love and their rational understanding of what the teachings mean  (I‘d always wondered why they didn’t just up and leave) and there’s nothing stopping me from doing the same. BUT. It’s not enough for me to be able to believe what I believe. I still need a better reason to be Mormon instead of just doing my best on my own.

One reason: I struggle to know which feelings to trust. This man across from me clearly means me good and not ill, this is more and more obvious as the night goes on. And yet here I was, spiking with fear every time he made mention of something that could be interpreted as threatening (like saying things about how resisting the system instead of learning how to work within it will get you squashed—my paranoia re: whether scary folks like the Koch brothers might try and squash me for my ideas about ditching our current structures in favor of a truly representative system, or how our currency ought to be a human hour of labor, if we have one at all, or how our financial systems are all a lie, etc. etc. goes into hyper drive…what if he’s about to kill me or something?)

This man describes himself as having total peace of mind and confidence. And he doesn’t blindly follow, and he doesn’t believe in that. (More on this later.) I need help figuring out which feelings to trust. I need help beating back my fear and knowing what is instinct, what is nurture, what is inspiration. Since our conversation last night, my fear has dissipated.

Another reason: my crisis. I trust myself, but I recognize my own limits. If someone has a better plan than I do for how to make this all come out okay in the end…I really want to get on board with that. Seriously. The ultimate conclusion of my personal way of seeing the world leaves me all alone, throwing myself a giant tea party that means nothing. That’s not cool. That’s pretty much hell, actually. Trusting my own logical conclusions, based on my own understanding of the universe, is just not enough. I need other people.

Last: I have been following my own instincts this whole time. I’m here, and these answers are being handed to me, and they are interlocking perfectly with everything I need to know and need to hear. It could be coincidence, it could be wishful thinking, but the more I zoom out and look at the big picture of my life, the more that picture makes sense. But I’m still listening and looking. There are still some serious conflicts.

More thoughts on Fearlessness

It’s not about forcing a harmony out of a cacophony. It’s about zooming out far enough that the cacophony becomes harmony again.

Just because someone receives revelation, it doesn’t mean their entire worldview is correct. I was asking for, and receiving revelations as a non-Mormon, wasn’t I? So why should I let my dad’s moments of matching truths, or even Joseph Smith’s “spirit is matter,” (he said once, apparently–that’s a big part of what got me on the maybe it is true? kick) convince me that I should follow any God besides Love?

Also, to have a view of paradise which involves stragglers/hierarchy is to admit doubt in the ability of others to rise to their power, to claim their inner voice. Our doubts concerning ourselves are so closely tied to our doubts concerning others. My idea of paradise doesn’t involve forcing anyone to agree; it involves trusting that I’m not a special cool person for following Love, I’ve just caught onto a good meme while in the right mind to hear it. Trusting that it’s inside of them too; that they’ll get it too, when conditions are right.

Like trusting that there’s no-one in their right mind who would choose to violate others if they can get what they want in harmony with others. Trusting that it’s not a matter of personality or disposition, but the nature/nurture combo; a matter of an illness or a wound, not a matter of taste or selection, for people to cause discord.

Like trusting that if I feel this way about the one who got away, he feels this way about me. It’s not something I need to force, or chase after, or worry about.

Have you seen “The Lego Movie”? I just saw it. I really love the message.

That’s all for tonight.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I grew up hearing a lot of prodigal son stories. A lot of reassurances that no matter what, no matter how far behind you leave him, no matter how long you’re gone, God will always welcome you back. I believed the stories. I found them reassuring.

In a lot of those stories, the prodigal would look around at their shambles of a life and decide, yes, I really do need God.

My life isn’t a shambles; in fact, it seems on the brink of several very exciting things.

In some of the stories, people would suddenly become ashamed of their lives, of how tawdry and small. They would feel bad for all of the wicked things they’d done, and come running back in a desperate, last-minute bid for salvation.

I don’t feel too small. Kind of the opposite, actually.

I always hated the saying, “There are no atheists in the foxhole.” I hated how patronizing it seemed, how it invalidated my experience, my personal wisdom, and the experience and wisdom of so many others, smugly insisting that we’d change our minds someday. I don’t expect to ever change mine.

But I’ve been thinking about it pretty seriously over the last few days. It’s been a strange ride. This is a long one, so hold on.

***

When I was a young teenager, frustrated at my inability to perfect myself to the degree I wanted, I desperately told God, in a moment of total fear and sincerity, “Do anything to me, Heavenly Father, anything at all. Whatever it takes to make me faithful to you. Whatever it takes to make me fully your servant.”

When I made my offering, I was scared he might blind me, cripple me, take something from me, take everything from me, like Job. I expected a “that’ll teach you” kind of moment, somewhere in my head.

Now, I have no idea what Job was thinking when God let the devil play that mean little trick on him. But he probably wasn’t thinking “show me your worst!” In fact, I think he was probably thinking something much less selfish or melodramatic, like “I am your servant, lord. Use me according to thy plan.”

I didn’t get the Job treatment. Instead my worst fear at the time came true: I stopped believing. I left the church and set out to discover the world on my own.

I was told things about this endeavor, too. I was told that those who leave the church depart from the Lord’s presence. I was told they experience the only true hell there is: Outer Darkness, where the lord’s presence doesn’t reach.

That’s not what I felt, at first. And by “at first” I mean every year for the last ten years. Mostly what I got was an exhilarating feeling of freedom. I got confidence, knowledge, self-actualization, and joy. But then, last weekend, I got a little glimpse of what “Outer Darkness” might look like.

***

When I was very small, so small I still tried to will Narnia into being with my brain, tried to take off flying after I’d run very hard, when I was so small the hard limits of this world seemed a little more permeable, and I believed I could make something true just by wanting it hard enough, I began to feel very disappointed with this world.

So prosaic. So plain. So boring. So painful.

Why couldn’t there be fantastical creatures? Why couldn’t there be magic? Why did there have to be science and physics and math instead? Why hours of church and uncomfortable clothes? Why discipline, why lessons? Why broken wrists and not having enough money to go on field trips and the dentist not using enough anesthetic?

I even had a dream that confirmed to me how boring my own personal adventure was to be, my own personal timeline: I dreamed that Aslan the lion took me in his mouth and showed me people at a bar. A bar! He said “Save them.”

That’s it? The kids in the books got to fight battles and fly in the air and interpret runes and have tea with fauns. And I was supposed to be a freaking missionary?

I recently read the book “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman, which takes that exact concept—that burning, aching desire to go to Narnia, to have real adventures instead of these crappy fake ones, here—and deconstructs it, the same way I’ve deconstructed my entire world in the time since that dream.

In his Narnia, Aslan is instead two rams, who end up being rather sad, small creatures, no more wise or powerful than anyone else (or why couldn’t they save “Narnia” themselves?) They’re the rams behind the curtain, so to speak.

This was ultimately an unsatisfying unveiling, though. Because of course, the draw of Narnia is that there are things you can’t understand, and a consistently kind and good and invulnerable leader you can follow who won’t hand you everything on a platter, but who is always there the minute you figure it out for yourself. Grossman’s rams were weak and pathetic because he wrote them that way, not because the character of Aslan cannot possibly exist.

***

My parents already know about my polyamorous relationship. For almost exactly a year (or more like seven months, depending on how you do the math) I dated both a man and a woman at the same time as they dated each other. A triangular relationship. A triad.

It was wonderful. I learned so much about patience, about love, about trust, about myself in a relationship, about the ways that others are different from me. It was truly a fantasy, fantastical at times. At others, I came to understand the cost of divided attention.

They continue to teach me marvelous things. We continue to support one another. I love them immensely and I don’t regret it at all.

Most of my friends knew about this, too, and our closest friends were extremely supportive of the relationship, saw it in some ways as a shining example of all that love could be. I will forever be grateful for that support, and for their ability, and desire, to allow us to be happy in our own way.

Most of my friends also know about my drug usage. My parents don’t. Reading this may or may not be their first inkling that I’ve ever dabbled in the world of illegal drugs. In the past year I’ve tried: marijuana, MDMA, cocaine, mushrooms, Adderall, and possibly some other things that I’m forgetting.

Not such a fan of cocaine or molly. They just made me feel amped and sort of nervous. Helped me stay awake. I liked Adderall—honestly, I could probably use it in my life, as a prescription to help me when my focus is shot.

I love weed. It’s like wearing a giant pillow as you go through life. Things still hit you, but not as hard. Also it helps with: migraines, hangovers, depression; pretty much everything that’s not respiratory. I was a stoner for three solid years.

I love mushrooms. Every time I’ve done them, I’ve had this amazing, euphoric, sparkly lifeline to the very center of the universe and all it means. I’ve done mushrooms probably a dozen times. I lost count somewhere. The last time I did them, I figured out that my responsibility to myself is the same as my responsibility to the Other, a careful balance of the two, a mediation of the things I want and need vs. the things others want and need. I also stopped being afraid of death. I decided that when I die, I am free from desire and fear and float in the Great Awareness.

I literally thought I’d found the ultimate key to life, the universe, and everything.

The first time I did a full trip on acid, I loved it. It was like my brain opened Photoshop and let me paint over the whole world. I could funhouse mirror people’s heads without even trying. The colors were so perfect…I was on a roll, saying extremely witty things nonstop…I felt like I was seeing through the matrix…

And then I did it again on Independence Day, and I felt like I’d collapsed my whole world in on itself.

***

My greatest fear when I was sixteen was that I would stop believing in Mormonism. It came true; I survived. More than survived, really; I thrived. For ten years, I came to know myself better and better, came to feel more at home in every setting, learned more and more how to love my neighbor as myself. After that, my greatest fear (which I was too afraid to look in the face) was meaninglessness.

Before my July fourth nightmare, I had already stared the possibility of meaningless in the face once before. Walking down the road after a fight with my sister, in which my every deficiency had been laid bare, my every flaw used as ammunition against me, I was feeling sort of hopeless about the idea of selfless love. Familial love. It seemed such a crock all of a sudden, and it was short work to chalk it all up to instinct, to the simple polarity of nature, the mother instinct designed to keep the child alive translating into our entire idea of love, nothing more, after all, than the hungry push—forward, more, forward, more.

I was all set to kill myself that night, but the more I unpacked the idea, the more I wanted to write it down and see if anyone else had thought of it before. And then, as I was distracted with this, I looked up at the neighborhood around me and felt a little fearful for my own safety. Which, if everything is meaningless, why would it matter whether I talked to anyone about it? Why would it matter if someone committed violence against me? Didn’t I want to die anyway?

That time, the very fact of my powerful survival instinct pushed me forward. I think at that point, my greatest fear became fear. The idea that my fears would stop me from getting the things I wanted. From being the person I wanted to be. I was working on a book at the time, and I wanted this book to be my big breakthrough, the book that would make me, at last, unequivocally successful and capable of survival in this world and Safe.

I still haven’t finished it yet. I measure its completion in fractions. Three-fifths of the way through, almost. If I keep finishing just a fraction of it, according to the laws of physics, I will never be finished, and I will never have to find out whether or not my greatest hope is enough to make me a success.

***

The book is not my greatest hope, though. I feel reasonably confident it will inspire at least some people, and whether or not it does, I’ll be glad I wrote it, if only for my own sake. My greatest hope centers around a man I finally learned to love unconditionally a little bit too late.

I think, therefore I am. Descartes’ great line was the beginning of one of my deepest held beliefs to this day: that we are all the same awareness, looking out through different forms and eyes and observing itself. To what end is our personal internal experience, if it is not part of the Great Awareness itself? Where else and how else could it be recorded? And if it’s not recorded somewhere, somehow, why should it ever exist in the first place? How should the illusion of time exist?

In any case, I was already firmly convinced that the same awareness which observes this human woman, Me, as she struggles through her thoughts about the world, as she negotiates her fears and desires, is the awareness that flows through everything else that is, i.e. God. I already believed myself to be God. In the tradition of the transcendentalists, of Ginsberg and Emerson, of philosophers and poets and scientists aplenty, I thought of myself as, somewhere deep inside of me, at least, all powerful and all knowing. I Am that I Am.

But what is the logical conclusion of this thought? Where do you land when you follow it all the way? I found out, as the acid that night took me deeper and deeper into my own head, into my own understanding of the universe. What good is it to be all powerful if you can’t manifest the things you want? I wondered. How do I take advantage of this power? Where do I go from here?

There were several things I concluded as I searched myself. One: the entire universe folds in on itself constantly. Every line of thought I chased came out again on the other side, saying the opposite of what it started out saying. Every time I thought I found a Truth, I kept going and saw my own tail still trundling after my front half. I did a series of M.C. Escher thought puzzles, and by the end of it, exhausted and certain I’d solved the mysteries of the universe again, to an even greater degree this time, I suddenly felt convinced that I was just a vast and lonely power, putting on an enormous puppet show for itself.

If the things I wanted were to manifest, it would be more obvious than ever that I was in charge of the whole show all along. I couldn’t maintain my investment in my personal storyline, and deliver to myself all of the things I wanted, at the same time. The minute things got too easy, the minute my dreams started coming true, wouldn’t that just convince me of the unreality of everything that is? Wouldn’t the game be up?

No. I realized that the only way to convince myself that I wasn’t all alone in the great vastness was to face challenges, to not get everything I wanted—for some things to remain unreachable. In this instance, the man that I love. For some reason I became powerfully convinced that I had reached my Event Horizon. That I was at the perfect intersection of my power and powerlessness; the perfect line between a convincing world and a world in which dreams come true. I decided that if I couldn’t make, or coax, or seduce this man to come and visit me in the next few hours, he would never come back to me.

The heart of another—designed to be the one thing impossible to “positive think” our way into getting. The one thing I wanted, the one thing I could never attain through believing in, or persuading, since he’s done listening to my arguments.

***

The more time dragged on (and it seemed to move interminably slowly) the more I tried, simultaneously, to reason myself out of the dilemma, and reason him into my world. One of my first thoughts was that if the world was indeed my personal illusion (a conviction I had somehow survived, though it seemed it should have imploded due to my certainty alone), that perhaps it was time for the next level of experience. Perhaps it was time to train myself as a god.

I focused on objects around me, trying to get them to move, to lift, to disappear. No luck. Was it because I wasn’t really a god, or because I couldn’t do such things without undoing the reality of my world and waking myself from the delusion? It seemed that my reality and my fantasies had turned into railroad tracks stretching to the horizon, seeming to meet somewhere in the distance, at some glorious realization, but never actually joining.

The idea that I would never have anything I wanted, ever again, became so overpowering that I nearly wanted to disappear into the ether. Or rather, the idea that either he would never love me, or if he did, it was just me loving myself; somewhere in between these two thoughts, I felt mad and hopeless.

He’s the perfect example of something that you increasingly lose the more you do to try and earn it. Having asked for silence, he forbade me from pursuit. And yet, the longer I wait and he does not return to me, the more certain I am he will go away forever if I don’t do something drastic to show him what he means to me.

And so I push and push and know that I’m pushing him away, but fear that he’s forgotten me entirely when I keep silent. So I think, I should forget him and move on, but the more I manage to forget him, the less worthy of his love I feel, the less I trust that our love will be alive when I return. The more I try to let go and focus on other things, the less I want to. The more I focus on this watched pot, the more certain I am it will never boil.

***

Grossman’s point was less, “Aslan doesn’t exist,” and more, “the more you understand magic, the less it seems like Real Magic and the more it’s just work, like the mundane world was.” It was sort of about being our own gods, and sort of depressing.

As I listened to my dad talk, I was drawn to the idea that there is, indeed, an Aslan out there, one with a battle plan that involves all of our happiness, one in whom we can place our trust and be reassured that yes, indeed, everything will turn out all right in the end.

I was ready to trade my agency, my search for truth, the great lessons the world has been teaching me my whole life—that hierarchy is insidious; that group mentality is problematic; that we need to trust ourselves, trust each other, trust our own doubt, and let the world reveal itself just a little at a time; that you can’t make something true just by wanting it hard enough—I was frightened enough by my own experience, looking at myself in the LSD mirror, that I wanted to put on a mask, hide myself from myself, hide myself from others. I felt like Narcissus looking into the mirror. I can’t worship myself. I’m not worth worshipping. But it’s a false dichotomy—either me, or the Mormon God. I think I was on the right path worshipping Love itself.

Why would I let this frightening dream convince me that I needed to delude myself in order to survive annihilation? Obviously there is more, or I wouldn’t still be here. Obviously I am not the only one, not some great lonely oaf—how can something begin that has no beginning? How can it end? My fear is the product of a human mind encountering a dimension it cannot comprehend without the grounding, euphoric love that mushrooms offer. My fear is the inferiority of the inferiority/superiority complex. I fell off the balance beam for a moment. I was tired of walking the razor’s edge. But there is no other choice.

And yet there is still a tiny part of me convinced that I have already died, or already encountered the peak of what I am capable of on my own, of the happiness I can achieve without giving myself over to something larger than I am. The one person I was able to love more than myself, I was able to love so much partly because I didn’t love or trust myself very much to begin with. What if I can never love again?

The one person with the potential to wake me from this nightmare. How long should I wait for him? How long before I am convinced that, yes, this is purgatory, and my only way out is to pray to god in heaven?

***

I don’t want to make a decision driven by fear, and fear is what I’m hearing, so I’m going to take another tack for a moment, just so I don’t lose my train of thought. Here are the indicators that some higher power is driving me here: I’ve been driven by the idea that I need to return to Utah, though I have no idea why. Counterpoint: I feel more at home when I’m in Salt Lake City, the place where I found myself after Mormonism, than I do in Provo, the place where I was raised to be one of the faithful.

There was a girl waiting outside in the car when one of our friends came down to visit, on the night we tripped. Her name was Patience. I never saw her. I do not think this is a coincidence.

On the morning after I nearly self-annihilated, on the morning I was grappling with the twin monsters of my complete power in the universe, and my complete inability to wield it to satisfaction, I saw him. The one I pine over, the one who drives me mad with the possibility/impossibility of reunion.

Each time I see him, he seems more perfect to me, and less accessible. Example: this time, he had a dog with him. It is possible the dog belongs to his brother. It was about the same color and dimensions, if I recall correctly. But it seemed like his.

I’ve been having little moments that I would certainly call revelation. One, when I was trying to keep up hope that I would see him again, and I had been tossing the word “kairos” around in my head as a new word for love, and just when I needed it, I saw it again, as I passed a building while on the train to work.

Surely it was in my head because I’d already seen it one of the previous days, passing it. But it provided the reassurance I needed and it felt like a message just for me. Why am I so afraid of waiting?

It is possible I am still trying to get what I want by force, under the guise of “humility.” Trying to manufacture an emergency so great that he would have to come save me. One of my thoughts was to call him and say: please, this is serious. I’m on my way to becoming Mormon again, and I need your help. The truth is, I would do anything to get him back, including change my entire ontology, but I can’t expect that to get him back, especially as he shows no signs of becoming Mormon again.

Then again, I didn’t know he was moving back to Utah, either.

***

Okay. Why did I start feeling like I was being told to become Mormon again? S told me not to make the decision while I’m feeling vulnerable. He said that’s how missionaries get people. And it makes sense that an idea illness would be able to best take hold when you’re at your weakest.

But it also makes sense that you’d have to feel humble before being willing to follow a higher power again.

Here are some things that convinced me as I was talking to my father. First: the literal gathering of Israel, and the restoration of the ten tribes, that Zion, the new Jerusalem will be built upon the American continent. That Christ will reign personally upon the Earth, and that the Earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

What he was reading to me from Hugh Nibley matched perfectly with my ideas about how we shouldn’t be waiting around for God to come and renew the Earth; that we’re called upon to increase our stewardship now, and to make it now into the paradise we hope to see Jesus reign over. Nibley talked about sustainability, and about the incompatibility of God and Mammon, something I see a certain amount of hypocrisy over in the church.

I started talking to him about “One, two, three, let’s go shopping,” and we got into a chat about the fallibility of man vs. the mouthpiece of God: why should you follow the so-called mouthpiece of God when you can see clear evidence, right in front of you, that he is just as fallible as you? Why not, then, trust yourself?

Answer: because you already know you don’t have all of the answers. Because if you never trust someone else, nothing gets done. Because we have to align our visions in order for any one of them to come true.

He described a choir, the intense training and self discipline that goes into singing really perfectly together. That sure, you don’t have to sing in the choir, but why would you choose a noisy, hellish cacophony over a glorious harmony?

All of this made sense to me. It made sense to me that there are always going to be some people who cannot be convinced, who will not want to participate. That these will exist in their non-choir singing states, not suffering, just listening, staying just outside the reach of knowledge.

Mormons don’t believe in hell. They believe everyone will be basically happy where they’re at, and if that changes, they will be allowed to move up to the next level.

Is it fear of being left out, or a desire for harmony driving me back to the church? Is it the fear that I will wait and wait and nothing will come of it, that endless bleak purgatory of everything-but-my-heart’s-desire? Or the willingness for there to be a force in the universe that knows better than I do what’s best for me? Am I driven by love or fear? Is it fear that my own song is not glorious enough? That the music I’m following already is an illusion?

Fear that I will never be able to convince anyone to sing the same song as me? That I will never find a more beautiful song? When I search my heart for the love that is driving me back to Mormonism, I can’t find it.

Am I driven by love or fear back to him? What if he loves me but can’t find that love, the way I can’t find my love for Mormonism? What if this is how we find each other again: by singing the same song, the song we grew up singing?

Here’s where I think I’ll leave it for now: in the tension between the possibility that I should humble myself, and the possibility that it is my insecurity that tells me to do this.

My dad said that inspiration most often comes as a call to repentance, which is the hardest thing to listen to. That once we follow this, more inspiration can come.

My overwhelming sense is that I need to practice patience. That my greatest flaw is my inability to wait and trust. After all, that’s what lost me my love the last time around. My impatience, my inability to see his need past my own, my inability to trust perfectly in the love that has driven me for all this time. If it is real, and true, I need to trust he feels it as well. If I’m going to trust anything, why pick an intermediary? Why designate a god? Why not trust this love that pushes me, pushes me, ever back to him?

I will wait. I will watch. I will trust in love…

Life

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated. The triad is no longer a triad but three individuals again. We still have a lot of love for one another, but I have moved back to the state where I grew up, a place where many people are still fundamentalists instead of structuralists. It’s strange but good to be home. Because yes, this is my home. I feel a real sense of belonging here, a sense that I am loved by this place. Also, that I can do real good here.

It’s nice to feel a more pointed sense of purpose. I feel less adrift. I want to write a manifesto. This stuff about Detroit is mad. The world is mad. I had a long talk with two twenty year olds on acid, they kept telling me in all earnestness that they felt the continued existence of poverty, starvation, homeless, preventable diseases, was a tradeoff they were willing to make in order to be able to theoretically have as much as they want of everything they want. What??? One of them literally told me, “but if there were no starving children, how could there be wealth?” In other words, they weren’t ignorant to the fact that people starve, not because of lack, but because of allocation of food…and they just didn’t care. They really, really didn’t.

I was pretty taken aback. I kept saying, “You don’t know what you’re saying. You can only say that because you don’t know what you’re talking about.” They are really sweet, hospitable guys, very kind to me, shirt-off-their-backs kind of kids, but WHAT???

Adulthood, I feel, is the moment when you realize the world really does not revolve around you, the moment when you stop letting all of your actions be dictated by your own fears and desires, and start measuring your needs against the needs of others, and letting the greater need win (nine times out of ten, at the very least). So basically, our whole world is run by people who have never reached adulthood. It’s run by a bunch of greedy adolescents who have somehow convinced the masses that their secret machinations behind closed doors are more valuable to the world than our labors to make the world cleaner, safer, to built the things we all use and  their selfish ends more visionary and noble than our collective desires we would have to negotiate without their leadership, their power more real than our power.

What a huge lie. What a huge, silly, lie that we all live by, and support with our complicity.

Are we so afraid of examining our structures that we refuse to seize our collective resources from them, even as they allow great swaths of us to starve and suffer? Are we really willing to let them sit atop their spoils, knowing as we do the murder, the thievery, the lies, the coercion that formed the current arrangement?

What a strange world. Aren’t we ready to heal yet? To trust each other? To stop kowtowing to a bunch of silly, self-important boys? To end the inferiority/superiority complex this world is caught in?