No-Self Versus Selfless

(This post is not about something I know. It’s about something I’m chewing on. The words end up contradicting each other in some ways. But somewhere in those contradictions is an important truth. Warning: this is rambly and probably not always understandable. I’m also sure there are nuances that didn’t make it on the page. It’s a mess. Welcome to my mess.)

There’s this thing I’m learning in Tai Chi. It’s about concealing my physical center. Once my opponent finds my center, they can manipulate it. They can use it to force me to move where they want. They can drive into it with force and cause damage. So I practice concealing it. I know it is well hidden when I can’t feel it myself. Then I feel like I have no center. I feel like a ghost. That’s the word my Sifu used too last time I went to Push-hands class. He said I was a ghost. No-self. Good luck trying to push the wind. Before you arrive I have already gone. Everywhere you look, I am already gone. It comes and goes. It’s hard to keep it going more than a few seconds. I’ll get better with practice.

To attain this loss of self, you need to know exactly where your self is. Otherwise you’re like a child who hides by covering their own eyes. It doesn’t work at all. You have to find it before you can lose it. Where is it? What is its shape? What does it feel like when it’s discovered? You let it interact with things. You feel it bump into stuff and you say “There it is!”  Then you learn how to avoid bumping into stuff. When you no longer feel the bumps, then it feels like it’s missing. You have entered the flow. “Go with the flow” seems like a simple piece of advice, but it’s so hard to achieve in practice.

It is kind of a mystical subject, because you don’t really feel at peace when you’re always bumping into things. On the other hand, it can be scary to not bump into things because every time you do, there’s that feedback, “Here I am!” Without that confirmation are you still here? Are you still you? We label the feedback. Some of it is positive and some is negative. We try to bump into good stuff and avoid the bad stuff. We bump back, harder.

So, last Friday I was on the treadmill. I was learning to conceal my center while walking. Is my gait smooth? Or is it catching? If someone pushed me would they be able to link up the connections? I found more than one center. Sure there was the main one, but there were other smaller ones, also vulnerable to being pushed. I attempted to conceal those too.

Then I noticed Khunm observing me practice. We got into a conversation about how this relates to Names. In Kemeticism, we know that Names have power, and it’s good to keep yours concealed so that others do not have power over you. I pointed out that when my center is concealed, it reminds me of the Nun, of not having a Name. The Nun and the Nameless do not have a great affect on the world. Your Name also gives you power to act upon the world. That’s why it’s good to have one, even if it can be used against you. It’s leverage. It is good to know the shape of that Name and how it interacts with the world. When used properly, using it is as effortless as a well-fitted key turning a lock. It’s good to fade into the flow, but you also need to know when and how to use your gods’ given Name within the world.

We had talked earlier about how getting stuck causes damage. You tense up to avoid bumping into the bad thing. You grab and fight to hold on to the good thing. In both cases, your center is revealed and open to the incoming force. That which doesn’t bend will break. Resistance meets power equals heat, which can burn. He told me this as he examined the cracks and burns in my own shell. I need to pick my battles more wisely. I need to stop bumping into quite so many things. I need to use my Name for its intended purpose instead of using it like a dull rock to blindly bash into stuff. (Especially if I’m bashing myself!) Bashing into things is sometimes effective, but it’s also self-destructive. Planning a better angle of attack is usually more effective. In other words, it’s a sword, not a hammer, dipshit.

We hear about non-attachment and no-self and selflessness in context with spiritual things. Most of the time, I don’t think we really understand what those things mean. Selflessness has a connotation that you have given yourself away to someone else, maybe to your god, maybe to the people around you. I tried that with Ra. It didn’t work out very well. His Name then eclipsed mine, but my Name isn’t Ra. Something was lost in that exchange. My Name has value. Every Name has value. It is a thing created in the world that the world has need of. I might not understand that need, but who am I to judge? I don’t think that giving away the self to someone else, even a god, and thereby negating your Name is the real point here.

Non-attachment sounds like not caring about anything. It sounds like apathy. I don’t think that’s it either. My Name contains the ideas of love and hate within it. But do I have to own the things I love? Am I obligated to the things I hate? If someone loves or hates me, do they get to determine my reactions? All they have to do is say the magic words to steer me from my path or send me into a rage. Are my buttons that easy to push? Taking control of my own reactions doesn’t mean I don’t care. I will let my fear/love/hate/sadness pass through me. I don’t deny it exists. I just try not to get stuck. (People hate it when you don’t jump the way they expect when they try to push your buttons.) But no, it’s not apathy. I tried that before too. It was a mistake. You spend so long trying not to show emotion, and then you realize you’ve stopped feeling them too. Feel and release. That is non-attachment.

None of these things are easy. This is not just “think happy thoughts.” For some reason we respect physical effort and the development of physical skills, but we think that mental skills come automatically.  I have no idea where we got the idea that our minds are obedient little slaves that roll over whenever we read a new book or hear a new piece of advice. When has that ever worked??? Who started spreading that myth? Once the myth is debunked we go the other way and think, well my brain just does whatever it wants, so there’s no point in trying. These things I’m talking about here are skills. Skills are learned. Skills are practiced. Skills require time and effort. Practice does not make perfect. It makes small incremental improvements with a staggering series of backsliding. Also, your practice and your improvement aren’t going to look like everyone else’s. When it comes to sports, I don’t have to explain practice and differing ability and the relationship thereof. Those concepts don’t go out the window when we’re talking about the mind.


I lit the candle, which heated the incense. I put half a beer and a chocolate chip cookie on the shrine. I said my Hotep Netjer*, and started up the music. I’m back doing shrine, but it’s nothing fancy.

I sat down and soon got the impression of Heru-sa-Aset sitting across from me. He wasn’t doing anything fancy either. He appeared in my mind’s eye as a young skinny guy wearing a white kilt and the double crown. Basically just enough for identification purposes. For those who have been curious about deity communications, this really wasn’t much different from having a conversation with an “imaginary” friend. How do I know that it was really Him? How do I know I wasn’t just talking to myself? I don’t really. I just roll with it. If the info is good, I go with it. If it’s unclear or obviously wrong, then I brush it off.

First we talked about the issue some have with the power balance between gods and humans and the “work with” debate. He pointed out that it doesn’t really matter if he’s bigger than me or not. What really counts is that I’m the only one who can handle my boat. My boat belongs to me. The gods can’t steer it for me. They might help smooth my way or point me in a better direction, but ultimately, it’s up to me. Our relationship is not equal. I’m the captain of my own ship, as small as it may be. I could stick my fingers in my ears and not listen to him at all if I wished, but experience has shown that I’m generally better off when I work with my gods than against them. No doubt, they do have more influence over the weather and sailing conditions than I do. It’s still my boat though. It’s my journey, not theirs.

After that, we talked about my fear of greatness. I could have been a professional concert musician. My tutor, who was a professional musician, said so. Right now, I have access to some of the best Tai Chi instructors in the country. I do have talent, and that’s not an idle brag. So, why am I not doing anything with it of note? Why do I turn away just when it starts to get good?

I sat there in the candle light and gazed at the empty space supposedly occupied by a god. He waited patiently for an answer, a real one. “I don’t want them to own me,” I finally told him. How many times have I heard “if I had your talent, brains, etc…I would…” Well you’re not me, so kindly fuck off. I wasn’t interested in the same things they were.

“So what were you seeking?” he asked.

What was it about immersing myself in music and finding a pure tone that meshed with the music of my friends, my band? What was it about feeling the smooth transitions of weight and form, discovering the inner secrets of this body? What was I looking for? Why do I study the world around me and try to understand everything? Why am I here? What sustains me?

“Divinity,” I told him.

Greatness has never been my goal. Divinity can lead to greatness, but greatness by itself does not lead to divinity. It can become an obstacle if followed for its own sake. I saw how I’d been mislead. How discounting my own feelings had left me stagnant. I forgot what brought me to those things in the first place.

I said I wanted to be a mystic, a monk. I tried to find the definitions of these things and what I read didn’t make much sense. Are you a monk if you seclude yourself from society and practice aestheticism? Are you a mystic if you go on astral journeys and talk to god? No, not really. It’s not the outer practices that make the difference. They’re just tools to be used as needed. The real thing is something you cannot see. It doesn’t matter where you search. It’s everywhere.

Divinity is light and love and fellowship. It is also darkness and pain and anger. As a polytheist, I see all of these things reflected in my gods. You find divinity by saying “It is here!” You don’t find it when you say “It is not there!” You find it in every creature, every thing. You find it in yourself. You find it in your love and in your hate. You find it in those whom you love and also in those whom you hate. You find that it remains, at the core, unchanged by love or hate.

“We are a way for the Universe to know itself.” -Carl Sagan

But it’s still your boat.


* Hotep Netjer em shabu en imenet her iabyt. “May Netjer be satisfied with the repast to the right and to the left.” -The Ancient Egyptian Prayerbook, Tamara L. Siuda, p.84

Out of the Shallows

He called me shallow. Instead of rolling my eyes and ignoring him, I’ve tried to understand what he means. Among other things, I think it means that the work I need to do is going to be more below the surface. It means that my normal cleverness and logic will not be of much use.

It’s one of those things where we both know what it takes to get better, but there’s a large gap between knowing and doing. It’s like trying to float down a river, but your hull keeps getting stuck on things you can’t see. How do you solve that? Get down in the water and guide the boat while taking a chance with the river’s inhabitants? Dredge the river? Watch the water intently and try to decipher the subtle language of ripples and currents? Some of all three probably.  However it happens, you have to resign yourself to the idea that progress will not be as fast or as easy as it looks from above.

I’ve done shadow work before. I have a pretty good idea of what’s hiding in this particular river. I’m even pretty good at swimming. I’m used to the unnerving screech of submerged branches against the hull. I cringe, reposition my weight, and keep going, while hoping that the scratches weren’t too bad this time. All in a day’s work, right?

Every obstacle we get past is one less in the way. With that attitude I can almost look forward to them. That doesn’t mean that getting over one sand bar means sandbars are defeated forever. I guarantee there will be more. But that one, on that day, is over.

But there is more to this than defeating the negatives. The more water there is, the easier it is to navigate. We’re less likely to get stuck on every little thing. We pray for rain. We try to keep the boat in good shape. We practice and build up our skills. We look at the map and take note of what progress has been made. We learn to appreciate the river itself.

He told me to cut my hair short. I used to associate putting my hair up with getting things done. Now it’s always up. He told me to build virtual homes and landscapes. I always put gardens in. I don’t think it matters what it looks like or who sees it. Embedding the concept of building in my subconscious is what he’s after. Life, beauty, light and shadow. What do I create? What do I want? What do I need? How do I start over again? (We seem to be going for the benevolent mad wizard aesthetic.)

I managed to get Clifford off the cliff and into the boat. I have a feeling that if I can get him to reestablish his place in the Duat it will end up being both freaky and fun. Expect gardens, and fire, and water, and probably some bending of the laws of  physics.

The Dance

Don’t invite anyone in unless you know for sure you can trust them, obviously.

I go to my room and shut the door. I turn the music on and take my place. My eyes are closed. I listen to the music beat. I hear the notes call, but I don’t move.

I remain still. I wait for him to understand my patience.

I feel his breath within me, small and quiet. I listen.

Slowly, my hands move. Slowly, he listens to the music’s call.

Everything is small, as listening turns to understanding. The music begs me to move, but we do not rush. We wait, for hands to float, for hips to sway. We ride upon the music together.

Then we dance.

His body talks about the burning sun and sand. I see the adobe houses. He does not take No for an ending. I feel him call for the black earth to grow underneath them. He dances for the people. He dances for their arts and livelihood.

The music changes. I see feathers on his arms. He flows with white fire. He hears her call. He listens and responds with life and hope.

Now it moves faster. The fire grows hot and the hunt begins.

My muscles shaking and trembling I collapse on the bed. I drink water. Then I return to the floor.

The music has changed again. “This one is yours, Lunatic. Show me.”

I trade the tightly controlled movements that made my legs shake for something freer. I move around swiftly with no real reason or care. I dance about my frustrations, uncertainties, and doubts. I dance out my love and my worries, and can I ever make it right? I want to make him understand what it’s like on this side.

Then it’s over. I lay on the bed and stare at the ceiling. I know my muscles will be sore. That will be my offering, as if the entire thing wasn’t already an offering. As if my every day of living wasn’t an offering. I feel him wrap his wings around me. Until next time.

Chop Vegetables, Build with Water

I’ve been spending time with Clifford lately. Clifford is not his real name, but I needed something to call him. Clifford is the big one. He’s my life’s work, or maybe I am his. He was the first Heru I ever met, Heru-on-the-cliff. He is a branch off of Heru-sa-Aset, who became Horus, who became that broken mess of a god who watched it all fall down and drown under tons of blowing sand. What good is a king when the country is gone? The Apocalypse has already happened as far as he’s concerned. Of all the great and mighty gods out there, how did I end up with this one? That’s a stupid question. Remember the post about shards? Mine came from Clifford. If I was in it for the ego boost, I really should have “chosen” someone else.

What am I going to do with Clifford? What is he going to do with me? I invited him into my house (More like kidnapped and dragged back, but he let me do it.) awhile back, and I remember seeing him there, dressed in casual jeans and a button down shirt with his dark curly hair, chopping vegetables at the counter. He seemed quiet and interested in grounding himself in mundane tasks. What was he thinking?

I jumped inside his head recently. The clothes, the vegetables, they were just empty gestures, but he wanted to appear “normal.” His mind was deep and quiet, and not very human. (It was this same inaction and passivity that allowed me to drag him away from his cliff. He didn’t lift a finger to stop me.) He saw me desperately flailing around, trying to fix things while having no idea what the hell I was doing. He thought I was a lunatic, but that wasn’t necessarily meant as an insult. I caught on to his word game. Lunatic came from “moon sick,” being affected by the phases of the moon. Heru’s wounded, and healed, left eye is also the moon. I see what you did there.

He also said that my thoughts and ambitions were too shallow. Too shallow how? He saw me as this chaotic flash of colors near the surface, while he sat below the ground like the giant magma chamber under Yellowstone. Up here on the surface, all we’re able to see is the occasional plume of steam. (To think that I “dragged” him anywhere! Ha!)

So answer me this, if the gods were there the whole time, biding their time underground, then what’s with the whole depression act, Clifford? Obviously I’m still missing something.

We’ve been dealing with themes of destruction of home and rebuilding. He can’t go back to his wasteland because I planted trees there and told him not to go back. He remodeled my apartment, and I’ve been having trouble getting back there. Fair is fair I guess, but there’s more to it than that. He wants me to explore these lessons further. I started playing Landmark again, which is a building game like Minecraft, but with better graphics. I had been working on an ocean resort, but then he told me to delete it and start again somewhere else. He wants me to practice this. Build, destroy and build again. Another place, another cliff, this time with a waterfall. More green, more gardens. Playing with light and shadow. Why destroy? He doesn’t want me to get attached to the wrong things. The right things will come back in the next build. What is worth rebuilding and what isn’t? We’ll study this together.


Don’t Be A Dick

This is the official unofficial Kemetic motto. We should embroider it on doilies and carve it in stone. If nothing else, write it on a note with a marker and stick it on the edge of your computer monitor. Go ahead and draw a dick on it to go along with the message. You know you want to.

“Don’t be a dick” is a modern interpretation of the idea of living in ma’at. There are many interpretations of what exactly ma’at entails, but I see it as the balance that holds the world, as we know it, together. It keeps us alive and healthy. It keeps our communities strong. It makes for a well-tuned ecosystem, among other things. We rarely achieve perfect balance, because the world isn’t perfect, but as long as we live, we can keep working on improvement.

One of the central images of Kemeticism is the image of the deities, most often Set, but sometimes others are shown, fighting against a giant snake Apep. We strike out its name because we never want to add to its power. It is an embodiment of isfet, the force that goes against ma’at. If the snake wins, the sun is devoured and we can kiss our rear ends goodbye. Ma’at nourishes our gods, while isfet, makes the snake stronger. We REALLY don’t want it to win, not even once.

So, live in ma’at, or else. What is the or else? The gods will punish you? Maybe, depending on how badly you’ve screwed up. But no, the “or else” is that when you don’t, you are picking at the threads that hold the world together. (You know that place where you live where you keep all your stuff?) It doesn’t take a belief in gods to get behind that reasoning.

Let’s bring it back to “Don’t Be a Dick.” There is a lot more to ma’at than whether or not you’re a jerk to others, but it’s a good place to start. It’s simple. The “or else” here might not mean the end of the world, but when you act like a dick, especially in public, either outside or online, you are picking at the threads that hold your community together. You know, that place where you like to hang out? That second family? The place where you post your stuff?

Try to speak within ma’at. Tell the truth, as you understand it, but don’t use it as a weapon to cut others. You win nothing by “winning” arguments on the internet. Building a community is a win. Helping others is a win. Making people feel welcome and safe is a win. Teaching those who want to learn is a win. Listening and learning are huge wins.

And if someone tries your patience so badly that you’re just not feeling the ma’at, then execrate them as we execrate the snake. That’s what the block/delete/ignore button is for. Don’t let anyone drag you down to their level. You don’t owe them anything.

Why Believe?

At my core is this feeling that I need the gods and spirits around me to feel whole. I discovered this when the Lady of the Mountain told me she was going away and I panicked. It was confirmed while traveling and finding a place where no spirits answered my greetings. It made me want to curl up and hide. I could blame it on the chunk of Heru I’ve got inside me, but those memories aren’t mine. I know why he feels that way, but why do I feel that way?

It is my belief that humans need gods and spirits. We’ve been interacting with the unseen from the earliest times. Evidence of spiritual thinking is practically a marker for the development of human consciousness. The scientist in me might suggest that it’s directly tied to our capacity for abstract thought. A lot of modern scientists might argue that we’ve grown past that and have no more need for “imaginary friends,” but I disagree, obviously.

Like most modern Kemetics, I wasn’t born into the religion. I’m a convert. Like many other converts, I still have baggage from my previous belief system to contend with. I don’t believe that I’m going to hell when I die, because I’m not sure that there even is a hell, or a heaven, or a duat. Is it all in my head? Is it just a random firing of nerves and a mixing of chemicals? The comfort is, that if the atheists are right, I won’t have any time to worry over it when I’m gone. So I might as well live the kind of life that feels right to me now.

If the atheists are right, then that means that my worst nightmare is already true. That still doesn’t explain why I see it as my worst nightmare. Ok, second worst nightmare, the first would be the end of the world and everyone in it, but I wouldn’t have much time to mourn that one either. My gut reaction is that the world would be a much emptier place without them.

On a personal level, they sort of fill in the gaps. They’re around when I’m tired or depressed or lonely. They’re like a second family. They’re not just for my comfort, however. They challenge me to see other perspectives. They push me to be a better person. They remind me to care. I tell my skeptical brain that those are all very good effects whether their existence is literally true or not.

Atheists like to harp on the evils of belief, as if that is what has caused all the problems in the world. (Belief is often the excuse, but rarely the cause.) They don’t like to recognize the good that it does. I have this construct in my head that makes me act like a better person. It’s a sounding board for developing ideas and organizing priorities. Sure, I don’t have to call it a god. I could call it a mental exercise, but honestly, it wouldn’t be as effective if I did that. If I didn’t believe in this inner counselor, then why would I bother listening to it? There are plenty of psychological exercises that do something similar, role playing, visualization, dream interpretation. But if your visions have no life breathed into them, they’re not going to be as powerful. I’m more likely to follow through if a living, loving, god tells me to do something than if my own mental construct says to do so. Yes, I do sometimes tell the god to eff off, but I always listen first.

I hear arguments about the virtue of objective truth, but to me, they are self-defeating. If death simply means Game Over, then why should I care about the virtuousness of objectivity? There are no cookies in it for me. If my subjectivity offers me advantages, then there’s no reason not to use it. So, that is basically how I tell the skeptical side of my brain to shut the hell up. This is how a rational, intelligent person can believe in gods. I haven’t even gotten into my arguments about symbolic and metaphorical truths that help explain the human condition. I’ve got a bunch of those too. In short, it works, so I use it. Experience has shown that I am not better off without it. I’ve tried.

It is my belief that belief itself is a basic human need. When people want to control others, they hijack their belief systems and hold them hostage. The wealthy and the powerful demonize those aspects of spirituality that are accessible to all in order to put their priests in charge. Why do people not simply abandon belief itself? I don’t think it is that easy. Every culture that I know of has had some kind of spiritual belief system. (The Soviet Union was an experiment that didn’t actually work so well, and there were plenty of people still practicing their beliefs underground.) That indicates to me that it does fill a need of some kind. It is a thing of value. Why else would the wealthy hijack it? Why else does it actually work when that happens? Not every person believes, but within a population, it persists. It’s built in, much like our capacity for mathematics or language. And it is the hijacking of belief that everyone points to when things go wrong. Belief isn’t the enemy. Taking it away from the people in order to control them is.

And that begs the question. How do we do it right this time? Is it even possible to prevent it from being screwed up? Screwing up also seems to be a built in part of human nature.