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.

Defending My Space (At Home)

March was one of those months where my life was full of one disruption after another. No single event was very big, but as soon as I tried to relax, something else would come up. I ended up sick with a lingering cough that still hasn’t completely gone away. My mother, who is a saint, booked me for three nights at a cabin in a small mountain town. While I was there, in addition to soaking up the quiet like a sponge, I appropriately read a book entitled “Quiet” by Susan Cain. (If you are an introvert, especially if you are wondering how the heck to maintain any sort of professional life without losing yourself, I highly recommend it.)

The book contrasted the way extroverts and introverts get along in the world, and the ways that introverts are pressured to be more outgoing. Sometimes it is necessary to suck it up to get your message out there for the sake of serving your passions, but once that is done, you really do absolutely NEED to stop and recharge. I’ve been neglecting the recharge part, and my living room is very similar to the much maligned open office plan that she talked about in the book. All our family computers are together in an open space. I did this deliberately, otherwise we might never see each other. It also helps us keep one eye on what the kid is doing online. The downside is that I am open to distraction nearly all day every day.

The result has been near constant fatigue and brain fog. If my mind works best as a still pond, then what happens when people keep throwing rocks in it, even if they are small rocks? What happens when the wind blows? The image distorts and it takes awhile to clear again. My level of stress also influences how long it takes for the ripples to clear. Stress can keep the disruption going much longer than it should. I’ve often joked that kids give their parents ADD. I have noticed that the number of books I’ve read after having a child has gone down dramatically, because I get interrupted so often. I also joke about how…and there it goes, right then….how as soon as I put my headphones on people start talking to me. Right now the kid is doing math, so I’m required to be available to help. What this means is that I will need to take time all to myself later in the day. That time is a requirement, not a luxury, if I don’t want to be a grouchy half-functional zombie.

That sounds pretty simple. I just need an hour of two of down time. In theory, that doesn’t seem so hard, but those hours that are mine and mine alone mean I have to tell my family that no, I’m not available at that time. My family is my job. It can be hard to say no without feeling bad about it. No, I don’t want to watch TV right now. No, I don’t want to go out. No, I’m not going to run to the grocery right now. No, I’m not going to go over there to look at the funny video/cat picture/movie trailer on your screen right now. No, it’s not my turn to let the dog out, or to go find out what trouble the animals are getting in to in the kitchen. It doesn’t help that my father was also an introvert, who needed alone time, and that my mother resented him for it.

I need to do it anyway. There are no more mountain getaways lined up in the foreseeable future. I can’t afford it by myself. I need to make sure that I don’t get to the point of needing one again. There are things I’ve wanted to do, but I haven’t had the brainspace to do them. I want to read more books. I want to make things with clay. I want to get at least one blog post out a week. I want to follow my inspiration, which means that I have to give it room to grow without stifling it.

I know, this is a Kemetic blog, and this seems to have nothing to do with Kemeticism. You could file it under living in ma’at, finding a balance. Actually this same theme has been playing out in my relationship with Ra, so I will put that in part two of this post.

Separation of Heaven and Earth

That sounds like a chi gong. It probably is one. I have chi gong on the brain because I just came back from a review of the workshop I went to last month, but I left early. I did the chi gong, but I left before the push-hands. My childhood asthma decided to visit me this morning. Trying to focus chi enough to move another person is difficult when chi is disrupted from lack of breath, and when focus is shot by albuterol induced jitters. I wasn’t sure if I would even go to the review, but I went, and it was worth it even if I didn’t stay. I have a stack of DvDs now to review on my own time.

So, what do I mean by separation of heaven and earth? Well, my spirit side has interests and priorities, but so does my human side. Those are often compatible, but not always the same. I had been treating them as one thing. This became a problem when it seemed like I’d want something one day and then lose interest the next as one side or the other gained prominence.

This morning, spirit-me was ambivalent about going to the review. Who cares in the long run anyway? The body just wanted to rest. But then there was that other part that has put in a lot of work and who thinks that proper chi gong practice can help pull the rest of me together, not to mention seeing some old acquaintances again. So I went. I’m glad I took a moment to ask all sides. Maybe I’m getting some first hand experience with the Kemetic idea of the various parts of the self. I’m not completely confident in assigning the terminology to it. I might be wrong about how I’m interpreting them. Was this a case of ba(soul), versus ha(physical body), versus ib(heart/mind)? When we got to the push-hands, ka(energy/unseen body) was all “You want me to do what? You’re funny. Go home now.” I think that the concepts of chi and ka are closely related. Regular practice of the chi gong would probably improve the condition of my ka.

Remembering to ask the various parts before making a decision seems like a good idea. Mob rule doesn’t work out all that well in practice. If I had just gone with the majority, I would have stayed home, and my ib would have been unhappy about it. Hearing each voice, determining priorities, and negotiating if necessary is a better way.

Shen Yi and Chi

Last weekend, I attended a tai chi workshop lead by John Fung. Unlike our previous visiting teacher, John is quite happy with having us share our knowledge. Knowledge not shared will be knowledge lost. I learned a lot about shen, yi, and chi. I wanted to share some of what I learned, but I wasn’t sure what to write or how to focus my thoughts on the subject. Maybe forcing them onto the page will help get them into some kind of order.

Here’s a disclaimer before I begin. There are no simple definitions for these words. The experts who use and experience them can spend eternity arguing and speculating over what they mean. The ones who act certain are usually those who have no idea what they’re talking about. The important thing is that if you do certain things, you get certain results. You must be trained to get those results, but the training follows a definite path. Chi works, and hell if we know exactly why or how. When we’re talking about martial arts, lives may depend upon the effectiveness of the practice. When we’re talking about the Imperial Guard, the Emperor’s life once depended upon the practice. This ain’t your hippie grandma’s tai chi.

Shen

Shen is usually defined as spirit. That is the simplest and most basic translation, and it tells you pretty much nothing. Shen is usually associated with the head region, the third eye, and the base of the skull. For years I’ve been told not to mess with it. “Don’t send chi to the head! Don’t let the chi get trapped in the head!” They always told me that without giving much explanation about why, except that it will make you crazy. It will make you a space cadet who can’t string words together. It will make you talk like a stoned hippie. So all this time, it has been something I’m not supposed to play with at all. Avoid the head.

That’s not exactly right though. The shen has a purpose. John described the shen as being a general who surveys the field and determines the overall plan of attack. It determines what results are wanted, or needed, and outlines a basic plan. But the planner is pretty helpless without the next two (three actually) who do the work of fine tuning and putting the plan into action.

You know how they talk about enlightenment being the end to all desire? If you have no desire, there’s no need to make a plan. I’m not sure enlightenment means what some people think it means. I never see the Dalai Lama talk like a stoned hippie. He appears to have a healthy shen that helps him to decide what to do. He just doesn’t throw a hissy fit when things don’t go according to plan. He makes a new plan and moves on. Nonattachment doesn’t mean “don’t make plans,” it means “don’t get trapped by your plans.”

Yi

Yi is simplistically defined as intent. It is located roughly in the heart region, though you can use it anywhere. Yi is like the commander. It takes the general’s orders and refines them into specifics. The general sees the big picture. The commander handles the details. It is the yi that shapes the chi. When you visualize a ball of chi, it is the yi that forms the ball.

I’m starting to think the problem I had years ago might be described as a yi burnout. Kundalini burnout goes up the spine and lands in the head, and that seems more related to shen. Mine was focused more in the chest. For some time afterward, having chi wasn’t the problem, but I did have trouble focusing it. I use a lot of channeled energy in my magic, but even if the energy is channeled, you still have to use your own effort to tell it what to do.

That would be what a lack of yi looks like, on the other end, I’ve been told that too much yi will make you see things that aren’t there. To me that makes sense if your chi shaping abilities get out of hand. It becomes all too easy to give shape and substance to your inner demons.

Chi

Chi is the one most people have heard about. It is simply described as energy. In our system, chi is housed in the lower abdomen, a couple inches below the belly button, but of course you can put your chi anywhere you want, like in your hand, or even into other objects, like a sword, or other living beings, like your opponent. They say that chi is the flag bearer. Chi is the guy who runs into battle, going where the commander ordered, and the soldiers follow the flag. In this case the soldier is your body. Chi leads and draws the body in like a magnet. Whenever possible, it’s best to let your opponent’s chi do the work, because using chi all the time is tiring.

Just from my own experience, too much chi can make you feel manic or anxious. Not enough chi and you can feel like a walking zombie. It can drive a burnout if it gets too hot and sticks in one area or another. Or it can get sluggish and cause a block, which psychosomatically can cause muscles to tighten up and form knots. The entire practice of acupuncture is designed to get chi to flow more smoothly. Balance is important in all things. New people learning about energy always want more and more. That is a mistake. Use only what you need to get the job done.

Bringing it Together

When all three work together in a balanced way, they can accomplish amazing things seemingly without effort. That doesn’t mean you can skip ahead to the effortless part. All great artists make their work appear effortless. What you don’t see are the many hours they spent training. You must cultivate the chi so that it is balanced and healthy. You must train the yi to respond as you want. That takes practice to the point of boredom. The shen, the spirit, needs to be pure and unconflicted in what it wants so that it can send clear signals to the yi.

Measuring Spoons

I have a chronic spoon shortage. In netland, spoons have become a measure of energy, the ability to get stuff done. Compound a low spoon count with a few discernment issues, and I constantly feel like I can’t accomplish much. I would like to, I really would. I have a long list of things I want to do, if only.

I have a huge respect, and a little jealousy, for those who have it all together, or at least, those who look like they do.

When I’m sitting at my desk and my entire body is telling me over and over how very tired I am, then what do I do? Doing anything other than taking a nap or browsing the web requires a force of will. The problem is that willpower and spoons seem to travel together. If you lack one, it’s harder to get the other one in gear. Inertia is a bitch. It’s easy to get up once and psych myself into doing something on my lengthy list. Then the next day comes around, and the momentum has stalled out. Willpower is a finite resource. It is a muscle that must be used and exercised. It can also become fatigued. It also requires rest and restoration.

That’s where the discernment comes in. When I push myself, does that count as exercise, which over a period of time will enable me to hang on to more of my spoons? Or am I pushing too hard and headed for a slump? Before you answer that, check in with your latest New Year’s Resolutions.

A good portion of my spirituality is focused on transformation, a.k.a. changing myself. If there’s a problem, I assume it is usually caused by that person in the mirror. The trick is to also be compassionate about that same poor sod who has to put up with me everyday.

I’m getting to know a new me lately. Our integration isn’t exactly smooth, but there are some good points to be found here. You might call it a shard in the shamanic soul retrieval sense of the word. This other me is both familiar and different at the same time. This one appears to have some attributes relating to service. He actually enjoys calm, seemingly unimportant, tasks that makes life just a little bit easier. Saturday, I cleaned the kitchen. Yesterday, I swept the back porch. This morning, I practiced tai chi on the clean porch. It didn’t take many spoons, because he found the tasks to be peaceful. I could get used to this. I’m still tired, and I don’t plan on keeping this up all day, but at least now there is a little more peace in the house.

White Sands

By Jennifer Willbur (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Picture by Jennifer Wilbur, via Wikimedia Commons (The sands are good at ruining cameras so I didn’t take very many pictures this time.)

Yesterday, we took a trip to White Sands National Monument. The sands are made of gypsum, not your usual silica. That’s why they’re white instead of tan. My daughter joked about how if it snowed there, no one would be able to tell the difference. Yes, we do sometimes get snow in the desert, but it rarely lasts the whole day at ground level. It can stick to the mountains though.

First, we went to the visitor’s center where we learned about the local geology and wildlife. Then we went out to the dunes and studied the fastest way to slide our butts down a steep sandy incline on a saucer sled.

Climbing up a twenty foot wall of sand made my heart pound. White Sands has an elevation of roughly 4000ft, which doesn’t sound like much until you try to do something like that. My first run down the hill was fast enough that I had to close my eyes to protect them from the sand that I was kicking up. I ended up about ten feet into the hard packed parking area. The other runs after that were less impressive.

Most of the time, I sat at the top of the dune with my toes buried in the cool sand and watched my daughter play with the other kids and run and slide around. It was like going to the beach, but without the ocean. They slid down the hill, dug holes and made sand castles. The sand is moist if you dig down far enough.

The weather was perfect, slightly cool, not windy, and a layer of clouds cut down on the usual glare. Don’t go there in the summer unless you enjoy baking and being sunburned from above and below.