Farting Rainbows and Riding Unicorns

One of the most important lessons I have ever learned is in understanding the inter-connectedness of everything. Everything is connected throughout our environs, small connected circles growing into larger circles which are much more far-reaching. And whatever is done in one of the smaller environs ripples into others.

unicorn_farting_a_rainbowOver this past weekend, I was contemplating how this works within our current news media. Seemingly, we are bombarded with news of war, crime, suicides, violence, protests, and killings on what feels like an hourly basis. Occasionally, more positive news comes to the forefront, but is nearly swamped by all the other negative news that gets reported. In a way, this becomes very disheartening to read/listen/watch. Add to that, the constant berating and criticizing of government officials over their actions and choices – all based on whatever political affiliation they have at the end of their name and title. Is it any wonder why we see the world in such dark and dismal tones??

Even in areas where we choose to relax, we are bombarded with such imagery. For instance, while I completely adore the multi-layered thematics contained within the Matrix movies – the immediate layer depicts a dark, oppressive society in which the characters live within. I realize that a part of the appeal of the Matrix is social commentary, as are movies such as “V for Vendetta” and others – but it certainly was food for thought when looking at how much negativity is handed to us on a daily basis.

Right about now, I’m quite sure some of you reading this are thinking I am wanting a world where we all fart rainbows and ride our unicorns to work. The truth is actually far from that. I just would like to see some balance in all of this – particularly in the news environment. However, I am also a realist. I know that violence, bloodshed, and dramatics are what sells within the news environment. The old adage of “if it bleeds, it leads” has held true for so long. – and continues to do so.

But just to consider for a moment – the Internet has changed a lot of this for us. In a way, a wonderful communications method has not only brought our world closer together with easier manners of communicating, but has also brought about instant news coverage of events that we would normally have paid little attention to. Fox News is notorious for playing video of car chases on their national coverage. Prior to our ever-connected news cycle, most of those car chases would barely have received a mention on our nightly news cycle.

Our society spends a large amount of time in front of a screen of some sort. As I sit here and type this, I am looking into the big screen of my iMac. Elsewhere in my home are a laptop screen, and a television screen. At some point during the day – I will watch what occurs on one of these other screens. But I will also spend several hours outdoors, away from these screens. But it is increasingly obvious that our society is glued to these screens for far more time than I am. Obesity rates are up. Literacy rates are down. I am not saying there is a direct correlation between those points, but I am certain there is something that can be pointed to in some of the cases in our societies.

Look around the Internet – you will find people angry about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. You will find people angry about the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. You will find people angry about this or that politician holding an elected position. Where are the people who are finding happiness in the course of their everyday lives? I post a Facebook (and now Google-Plus) status about watching my morning sunrise. It’s a moment of beauty that reminds me of how small I am in the world around me, but also how a single moment can have a positive effect on so many people.

Perhaps I am looking for everyone to fart Rainbows and get their Unicorns out of the backyard for the ride to work. But damnit, I like the idea of farting Rainbows…and my Unicorn has been watching far too much TV instead of exercising….

Home Again…and Glad to Be…

It has been one really whirlwind weekend. Thursday and Friday, I drove a box-truck from Dallas to West Lafayette, Indiana via Memphis, Tennessee. Saturday and Sunday were spent driving back home from there – after spending nearly seven hours helping the former roomie assemble some Ikea furniture so he would have a place to sleep. I don’t mind helping people move…but I seriously am hurting this morning. At least home will be a far less stressful environment.

I have a few posts percolating in my brain at the moment…but those will have to wait a bit more until I get the cobwebs out of my head. The second part of the drive home was a marathon 18-hours on the road…and I know there are going to be some moments of sleep coming. In the meantime, I will tease you a bit with this picture of the Stonehenge replica at Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, Missouri.

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Because the Name is Different

Every morning, I greet the Sun as it rises. Whether I am indoors or outdoors, I take the moment of sunrise to stop and try to empty my mind. Its not the easiest task in the world, after all – I have a billion thoughts roaming around in there at any given time. The goal is to relax for a few moments, and start the day fresh with a new focus and a cup of coffee in my hand.

My evenings tend to wind up the same. I wait for the sun to settle below the horizon, and as I watch the ebbing tide of light disappear, I do a reverse of the morning moment. I spend a few moments taking inventory of how the day went, what I managed to accomplish, and what still needs a few moments of my time.

I have never been big on ritual. If you have read me enough here, you are aware of that. But I really need to establish that a little more. I’m not a huge fan of formalized ritual. I don’t see a need for formalized movements and recited words and prayers. Instead, I seek conversations – with myself, with my backyard trees, with the birds that are flitting from branch to branch in the evening, with the Kami, whose presence I feel in the nearby area.

Ok, I get it. I understand the wide-eyed, “you’re so strange” look you are giving me right now. But before you call out the guys with the butterfly nets, and tell them I need a new sweater that ties in the back – let me push this out in return. Why is that when a person – let’s use the generic concept of a “Christian” as an example – why is that when that person prays out loud to God or Jesus, their prayers are not consider to be a point of mental confusion? Its the same thing – you know.

When I hold conversations with the trees, the birds, and the Kami – its the same concept of prayer. Except that I am not asking them for anything. I’m not wanting anything from them. Except a moment of their time. I’m not asking them to intercede on my behalf. I’m quite capable of fixing my own fuck-ups, thank you very much. All I am seeking is a momentary interaction – on a personal and private level. Sometimes I get answers, sometimes I get responses. Most of the time, I don’t. But I still want to take the time, just incase I might get some form of a response.

I would suppose the same can be said to be true of the Christian that prays – out loud or silent. They pray to God or Jesus, not necessarily expecting much of a response, but they do so – just in case there may be a response of some sort. And yet, despite the similarity, I’m the one that gets labeled as mental head-job. I’m the one that is told that I am living in a Fantasy World. But the conversation would be flipped to a positive if it were God and/or Jesus.

I’m not saying this to tear-down what a Christian may have in the way of a personal, private interaction with God or Jesus. In fact, I would applaud anyone who has managed to cultivate that relationship. I have a similar relationship with Crow. I don’t always get told what to do, or how to feel – sometimes its just a “checking in” thing. But because Crow is not Jesus, because Crow is not the Christian God — I’m the one that gets the label of “mentally not there” — even despite the similarities. All because the name is different. And to be perfectly honest, I find that to be very sad.

RIP Robin Williams

morkI started this blog post out on another topic. Fifteen minutes ago, that all changed. I popped over to Facebook to check a few messages, and discovered that Robin Williams had died…of an apparent suicide.

March 19th, 1982. September 27th, 1986. August 9th, 1995. July 28th, 2014. August 11th, 2014. For those that are not aware: Randy Rhoads, Cliff Burton, Jerry Garcia, Margot Adler, and Robin Williams. Each had a profound effect on my life. Rhoads and Burton introduced me to a style of music that I have never set down. Garcia showed me a world of poetry, and helped me understand how expanding one’s vision can help broaden one’s experiences. Adler was my introduction to the world of Paganism. Robin Williams was all the stuff in between – the little bits of glue that provided funny moments, encased in brilliant social commentary.

And I sit here, watching my blinking cursor, as I try to find something – ANYTHING – to say. In a way, its a similar feeling to when I found out that Jerry had died. I remember that day – and the subsequent night very well. The total numbness I felt, and the evening sitting in a local park near downtown Dallas – holding a candle and signing song after song from the Grateful Dead catalog with complete strangers. We all were bonded by the poetry, and the music.

And as I sit here, listening to some Grateful Dead while I write this – the lyric “We well get by, we will survive” echoes through my speakers. And even going on past this day – into an uncertain future…one filled with news article after news article of violence, bloodshed, angry rhetoric, hateful politics — his comedic genius and timing, his biting commentary on social matters, and the heart-felt love he portrayed in his on-stage shows…. All of that will continue. He had shown a light of laughter, joy and fun into a world that increasingly is clouded into darkness through the actions, angry and hatred of others.

And while it is sad that he has passed – and that there may be even more tragedy behind the “why” of his death — his legacy is one of smiles, laughter, and enjoyment. I remember the soaring riffs of Randy and Cliff, the poetic stylings of Jerry, and the manner in which Margot injected her thoughtful commentary into the information she provided to us. I will remember Robin’s laughter, his antics, his comedic brilliance, his ability to turn a moment from something somber into one of hysterical laughter — he was the consummate improvisational comedian. He will definitely be missed…but he most assuredly will be remembered.

Conversations v. Debates – My Opinion

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time away from the computer. Some of that was not by design – some of it was quite intentional. What I am looking to address is the intentional part of that. Many of you who read my blog, or have listened to my podcast, know that my mundane career has been focused in the area of technology. So, for me to say that I have been intentionally stepping away from my computer – a location I have been quite comfortable with over the last twenty-five years of my life – is an odd statement indeed. There’s a lot behind that though….

Slowly, over a LOT of time, I have noticed that people are becoming far more adept at using attacking language in their interactions with others – specifically in the online format. As the Internet allows for a large degree of anonymity, its only natural for people to use that anonymity as a shield against the repercussions that would be typical of hurtful and hateful language within discourse. After all, let’s be somewhat clear – I use the moniker “Tommy Elf” rather than my real name of “Thomas Van Hook”. Why? Because I like the nickname, its been with me for a large portion of my life, and honestly I am far better known by it than my own real name. I could easily use my moniker as a means to launch hateful tirade after tirade against whatever political platform I disagreed with, or against specific individuals. I don’t. But I definitely could.

And to be blunt – many others definitely do just that. And it spills into every social media platform out there. I have an acquaintance that constantly re-tweets pro-Israeli statements from others every single day. To the tune of eight to ten re-tweets a day. Who he believes he is getting to change their opinion of the Israel-Hamas issue…I have no idea. And his example is a far subtle one compared to that of many others. And it happens on Facebook, Google-Plus, blog postings, directed Emails, and on and on.

To be fair, I don’t have a problem with people voicing their opinions on issues. I do have a problem with the manner in which it is done. President Obama is a filthy Muslim. Hillary Clinton is a shrill bitch. Former President George W. Bush Jr. is a moron. LGBTQ people are an abomination and an affront to God. Libtards are a joke. Re-puke-litans are a bigger joke. …and the list goes on and on, as well as getting far more hateful in tone.

Back in the mid 1990s, I used to listen to AM radio to hear a variety of viewpoints on the topics of the day. Gradually, the shared aspect of viewpoints disappeared – to be replaced by one-view statements made by the program hosts, along with extremely hateful interaction with those who braved the moment to make a contrary perspective. Suddenly, the airwaves went from providing a spectrum of perspectives, to becoming the audio version of the Gods-awful television program: The Morton Downey Jr. Show. One viewpoint, disparaging and degrading all other viewpoints that provided a different perspective. And now I see this within the social media aspect of the Internet.

There are several people on my friends-list that enjoy debating and arguing over this or that little aspect of some topic. They seemingly enjoy scoring some invisible aspect of “points” over others. As if there were an invisible scoreboard that an audience may consult to see which side is winning. Perhaps, I am from a different planet…my preference is to have a discussion to not only find common ground with another person, but to also find out our differences – including the distance between us on those differences. That will provide me with an understanding for better communicating with that person in the future – utilizing a frame of reference to effectively communicate a point or topic with them. Instead, it seems that the primary preference is to approach conversation from the perspective of professional wrestling: loud, arrogant and fake.

So why I have I stepped away from a lot of Internet communications? The same reason I will get up and walk away from a discussion that turns into a debate. When the terrain turns into something I find to be unhelpful to a conversation, I step back and find other productive uses for my time. I have no desire to endless debate over the rightness or wrongness of issues that are barely relevant to the topic at hand. I’m quite sure it works for others – I have watched them do so. I’d honestly rather watch a good movie than be subjected to the poor acting skills that passes for professional wrestling. The same holds true for a conversation over a debate.

Looking for Balance

Feeling out of sorts. I know the feeling quite well. When I roll out of bed, slip on my house-shoes, and make it down the stairs to the living room. And the feeling hits that nothing is “right” in the world – I need to get back up the stairs, and go back to bed. And yet, when I seek that momentary explanation in my head – when I reach of for the reasoning of ‘why’ — my closed hand comes up with nothing. And the hardest part, is that this typically happens when I have to be in my classroom within an hour of that moment – to lecture on some topical point of Business administration or some salient point on how computer technology helps bolster a business’s practices towards the successful movement of their chosen product. In other words, I need my head on straight, and I need to be able to make cogent points. Or to put it in more practical terms – I need to not be speaking like I write here in the blog. :)

For me, its a matter of finding where I am out of balance. Easy enough to say as a simple sentence, even more difficult to describe in-depth. I usually revert to other initial step descriptors when I am at this point – I need to find a comfortable sitting point in the saddle, I need to regain my focus, I need to become grounded and centered on my daily path. All nice statements to make – and if anyone else has been in the same position – an easy way to get your point across. But, if you are trying to explain this to someone who has no understanding of these statements, it can increase the misunderstanding of what you are saying/doing – and place further conversation trying to explain the lack of balance to the neophyte individual seeking answers towards a new way of complicating that lack of balance. I have been at that particular moment many times during my time on this Path.

One of the best descriptions I have managed in trying to explain being out of balance comes from trying to get the querent to put themselves into your moccasins, so to speak. Have you ever leaned back on a four-legged chair, so that you were balancing on the back two legs? You find that position where your weight perfectly balances the chair in the impossible position of being on just the two legs and not falling forward or backward. And then, you make a tiny shift of weight, and the chair begins to fall backward – and you manage to arrest your momentum at a point where you felt where you were going to fall. Remember that feeling? That is how being out of balance feels for me. Except that it doesn’t dissipate after I catch myself – it lingers. That’s being out of balance is for me – feeling like my momentum is going to carry me forward to where the chair comes to rest in its normal four-point stance – or knowing that the chair is going to fall completely backwards and land on the ground, where I may bump my head on a hard surface (trust me – many people say that such a thing would likely not hurt me).

For me, solving this takes about ten to fifteen minutes of time for me – ten to fifteen minutes of undisturbed time. That’s even more difficult to obtain these days, particularly when I have an 8am morning class. Where I am in a rush to make it to campus, get the door opened, and get the class settled for a lecture, presentation, lab, or test. So, I try and get at least some aspect of being partially balanced. When I reach campus, I spend a few moments in the car, practicing my breathing exercises. One long breath in, two shorter breaths to expel the air. All the while, I push any thoughts out of my mind for the moment. It doesn’t always work, so sometimes I think of erecting a tall, fence around me with those thoughts just on the outside. And once I achieve that moment – I come back to remember who I am, why I am, and hardest of all what I am. I don’t need full answers – just a little reminder that my foundation is not about to crack, and that I can get this done until I can spend more time in a stronger point of meditation and reflection.

Yes, its a band-aid method. Its a short-term fix, not a long-term solution. That comes later, after I am done teaching classes, after I have finished all other commitments, and can close the door to my office, turn out the light, and turn off my phone. When that happens, I can turn my focus towards doing my full meditation and ground and centering. To be honest, I do prefer to do this outside, where my bare feet can touch the ground, but that’s not always something that can happen. When I first learned the meditation of grounding and centering, it was sitting in the classic Lotus position, which tends to bring pain to my knees very quickly. I shifted eventually to sitting on my legs with my lower legs tucked directly underneath me. However, this also started to bring me pain. Then one day, I stumbled across this video on YouTube, while searching for other videos on the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD).

Its this style of meditation that I use to focus and ground myself – in essence, bring myself back to balance. This is where I remind myself of who I am (TommyElf), what I am (Professor, Teacher, Priest, Pagan, Friend, and whatever other hat that seems appropriate at the moment), and why I am (to help others when asked, to be an example for some to follow, to be respectful of all including those who do not respect me). And once those reminders are back in place, back in primary focus…I feel balanced and “right” with my surrounding environment.

I know there’s a lot of other ways to go about doing this type of balancing method. This is the one that works best for me…and answers the question of a couple of viewers who had thought to ask.

–Tommy /|\

Stick With Your Kind

I sat there for a moment, completely stunned at the comment. I had never really noticed before it was mentioned. And I had never thought about any of the ramifications concerning it. And yet, here I was…wondering how much of a difference that particular ripple had made in my life. After all, I’m always exploring the points of patterns and relationships.

The comment? One of my friends made the point that in the circle of friends we had, I was the only Pagan. I honestly had never noticed before – I always viewed people as people, not the little labels that get tied on to them by others. My friends, to me, are simply who they are: Eric, Donna, Stefanie, Terrance, (the other) Thomas, and a few others. I never considered classifying them by what belief system they held to, or by their skin color – they just are. Certainly, I have Pagan friends, but they either run in other social circles from myself, or are too far away for me to socialize with – other than via the Internet.

Among all of us, we rarely talk politics or world issues. Those topics come up every now and then, but all of us have grown bored discussing what would or should happen in the Ukraine or on the Gaza Strip in the Middle East. Instead, we discuss other “fun” topics, such as how to handle statistical anomalies within bell curve notation for grading metrics of students, or our favorite topic – exploring the intricacies related to our own distinct beliefs. We have sat and had prolonged discussions on such things as reincarnation, what constitutes God/Gods, how our beliefs help shape our moral compasses in life. We all have different perspectives, and its always nice to hear the similarities along with the differences. Very rarely does anything dip into the realm of debate, where one person is trying to “win points” or “prove their superiority” in the conversation.

We all came from different religious backgrounds, but for the large majority – we are all college professors of one stripe or another. Perhaps its the fact that we have that particular shared stake in our background that keeps us from devolving into shouting matches and contested battles of words and statements. Whatever it is – its a refreshing part of conversation for us.

But it begs the point, as the only Pagan, should I be looking for another social circle to be in? Should I be trying to “mix with my own kind”? Does my lack of socialization with other Pagans place my own beliefs of Paganism in some form of jeopardy? I am less Pagan for not socializing with other Pagans more often??

I already know my answers to this…and anyone who has ever spent time with me should likewise know the answer as well. However, I thought that this might be a good point to turn those questions on you. Perhaps, your answers may come easily…perhaps those answers don’t. But as I tell my students, anyone can make a statement – its the manner in which you back up your points that makes the difference.