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Off The Grid: Challenges Of Living Pagan

Author: Yeshe Rabbit
Posted: January 22nd. 2006
Times Viewed: 5,630

When did you realize there was something more? When did you commit to becoming the more you could see and feel, but had never accessed before? It's both exhilarating and painful to realize that one's goals for belief, family, and work/vocation are largely the product of social conditioning. Exhilarating in the sense of, "Wow, how cool. I don't have to do any of that and I can still have a very fulfilling life." Painful in the sense of, "But if I'm not a traditional Christian whitepicketfence person, what does that leave?" That second question comes loaded with a steamer trunk full of social mores and cultural expectations and all the attendant anxiety over not subscribing.

Think about the first time you ever branched out in any way. I remember, for my own part, that I was 12 years old and I decided that I was a Witch. It was the first time in my life that I ever felt like there was a possibility for me to CREATE who I wanted to be, rather than simply fall into the prescribed role of small-town-girl who goes to church, hangs out at the mall, gets pregnant and settles down. I saw possibility there for something so much bigger than what I was doing. It was not easy to try to be a teen Witch in 1980's upstate NY, and particularly with my parents being strict and Catholic. Eventually, I stopped talking about it, but I never changed my self-identification. I was still a Witch inside. But when we only live our truth in the deepest places in our hearts, the disconnect between the life we're living and the life we dream of ultimately drives us into one self-defeating situation after another. Our deep inner true self will always seek to sabotage the false life we're living. Relationships fail, jobs are unbearable or unsatisfying, family ties weaken. And the more we try to hide our true nature, the more persistent it gets in its project of destroying our inauthenticities. My love matches with both men and women were unsatisfying, my relationship with my family grew terribly strained, and my overall energy was just low.

In college, I was able to live my truth to some degree through theatre (which is really just the ancient practice of public ritual), though I didn't really "get" that part till we did Euripedes' The Bacchae. Yet I still struggled. Now, at 31, I am finally allowing myself to be the Witch I always dreamed of being. And it makes all the difference! It doesn't mean the circumstances of my life are easier, because they're not. I still struggle to pay my bills, I still have heartaches and disappointments and bad hair days. But my spirit is calmer and I feel more fulfilled, which makes difficulty easier to bear for sure. Authenticity has become my way of life, and I am relieved to put down the weight of living up to others' expectations.

And of course, some measure of inauthenticity is to be expected when one is young and developing, as we "try on" different personae to see which ones will fit. This is why we see so many young people dyeing their hair green and piercing things, etc. (Of course, all of those things have been co-opted by corporations who, I'm sure, are seeking even now to patent the term "punk" - but that's another topic for another generation. We didn't really have to worry about that when we were younger.) But the interesting and tragic part of our personality fashion show when we are young is that we often operate from a place of "I'll just do this for now cuz it feels good, but later I'll settle down." That is a real set-up for adult inauthenticity.

Why, for example, do we feel like we have to settle down at all, and why does settling down have such a narrow definition? I mean, how cool would it be if we decided that we would "settle down" by retiring early and moving to India to live as ascetics? Or that we would "settle down" not with a wife and kids, per se, but with a commune of people who share our politics, beliefs and ideas? What if settling down meant leaving our day jobs and starting our own businesses? We have this culturally-approved ideal of settling down that includes house, wife, kids, 9-5 job, church every Sunday. And so, if we manage to escape the pressure to major in business rather than theatre, or to take the job as a sex toy salesperson rather than the middle-management exec, eventually we end up at a place where we are questioned by society and we question ourselves, "What's wrong with me? Why haven't I ‘settled down’ yet?" No matter if we are having the time of our lives! If we haven't settled down according to the plan, then no one takes seriously that we've settled down at all.

And of course the fear of growing old alone on the outskirts of society is frightening to all of us. I think it's why people rush into marriages (as though something with that failure rate could possibly be any kind of insurance against future loneliness), or worse yet, people have kids just so that they will grow up and "settle down" and take care of the parents - which leaves the children no space whatsoever for their own dreams, goals, and individual desires and breeds yet another generation of human beings who feel stifled in their growth yet can see no escape from social expectations. So, what to do about growing old if you haven't "settled down" becomes a sticky wicket, a source of fear. That fear then drives us to further inauthenticity - in our haste to "settle down" so we won't be lonely or alone, we "settle,” period.

But what would happen if young people who want to live their dreams began co-habitating with old people who have lived their own and don't want to be alone? An old couple who chose not to have children live in their big house and start to worry about who will carry heavy things, or make sure they eat, or get their medications from the pharmacy when they can't drive. They struggle financially on their fixed incomes. They start to feel like failures because they don't have anyone to take care of them. Now what about a young man who is working as an advocate for fair trade coffee and can hardly afford his tiny apartment on his meager salary? What would it look like if he moved in with that old couple and paid them a percentage of his income as well as did some little chores - picked up meds on his way home, carried laundry, took them to their doctor's appointments? I can tell you, if everyone in that situation came from a place of trustworthiness and kindness, and if they all met with open hearts and the right kinds of expectations of one another - that situation would be successful for a long time. There have to be models of successful living for people who are not satisfied with the status quo. And I believe Pagans are building these models every day in their lives, homes, work, and practices. That fact that you are sitting here right now, reading this article at work, or at home with your partner or kids in the background, means that you are living a certain level of fearless authenticity about who you are in life.

As for me, I am feeling good and also nervous these days. I recently launched my own business and I am definitely full of concern and excitement about its success. But even underneath the cacophony of voices muttering discouraging things in my head there is still this one high, clear note of truth in my work. I am creating a space where I will be able to do what I am good at. If I am living my truth, there will be no possible way it can fail. If I don't take the risk and actively try to build success from truth, I will be forever doomed to fail at jobs that are not what I want to do, and my spirit will grow dimmer and dimmer because of it.

So, let's agree to watch this space in the coming year to see what we look like when we decide to set our own barometers of what it means to "settle" down with our dreams. Blessed be!


Yeshe Rabbit

Location: Berkeley, California


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