Unfriend? Unfollow? Social Media and Spiritual Blogging

October 18, 2013

Social media has become both a constant irritant and an indispensable part of my life. I don’t remember what I was thinking when I joined Facebook – I may have read somewhere that I had to join social media to “develop a platform.” I now consider Facebook indispensable to networking and keeping abreast of opportunities, while I question its value as a platform. At times the whole Internet, but social media in particular, feels like a bottomless drain on my energy. There’s so much information, so much of it laced with fear, so little of it containing any real substance. It’s the journalistic equivalent of fast food: cheap but unsatisfying, fattening but lacking core nutrients.

Sometimes, I just have to stay home and virtually not go anywhere.

But surprisingly, when the specter of having to leave Facebook arose about six months ago, I was panicked. How would I function professionally? How could I get information that can’t be classified as news because it pertains to a relatively small group of people, spread over wide geography? How could I get information that can’t be classified as news because the story develops collaboratively, over the space of a day or two?

I don’t know if the reason for my speculating such a drastic move is, ultimately, important. The large social media outlets like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter are going to eventually implode as they become huge unwieldy conglomerates. The result will not be an exchange of Reddit for Yahoo or Facebook for Google+, but loosely connected independent sites catering to various specialized, alternative, or marginalized communities. Facebook tried to develop a series of small networks through its “groups,” Google+ has tried to do this in a different way through its “circles,” and Reddit has its “subreddits,” but ultiminately these are starting to collapse through the limits of size and centralized administration.

This graphic was removed on Facebook and its account holder suspended.
This graphic was removed on Facebook and its account holder suspended.

Which does bring me to the particulars of why I think it is likely that I will, eventually, need to leave Facebook. There has been a great deal of glorified sexualized violence toward women on Facebook, and attempts to address this have brought only short-term solutions. About a year ago, feminists began collectively trying to bring the worst of this violence to the attention of administrators, asking that it be banned. Almost always this went nowhere. Eventually, feminists began contacting Facebook advertisers, letting them know that their advertisements were appearing on group sites dedicated to graphic sexualized portrayals of violence against women. This got a reaction. Facebook began losing revenue and some of these sites were removed. Ultimately Facebook decided to make its advertising streams more sophisticated, so family-friendly advertising would not appear on a page titled something like “Chokes the Bitch.”

Which completely neutralized this organizing/activist tool.

On the other side of the equation, prominent feminist activists are routinely targeted on Facebook and reported to administrators for their pictures and speech. One woman had her account suspended because she posted a textbook-style illustration of female reproductive anatomy, with ovaries, Fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, etc. Another woman was suspended because she posted a picture of an ancient Greek statue. It’s not clear that Facebook is deliberately targeting feminists; when large groups of tech savvy males and their sock puppets submit complaints certain algorithms kick in, and even individuals moderating complaints may rely on the numbers of reporters rather than wading through the stream. The same thing happens in the comments section of online newspapers – a lot of feminist viewpoints do not get posted because so many males object. Twitter is even worse, veering into the realm of sexual harassment and threats of violence. Men get their back up when women call for a ban on this type of behavior, saying this is an impingement on “free speech,” but the whole purpose of sexualized threats and graphic violence is to silence the speech of women.

So if a significant number of feminists began calling for a boycott of Facebook or Twitter, there’s a good chance that I will feel compelled to go along with it. So far, women have been biding their time until better alternatives arise. I do believe that eventually this will happen. If social media has “been woven into the fabric of our lives” as everyone likes to say everywhere, there are some glitched stitches quite a few rows back, and the whole thing will have to be unraveled.

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Understanding Halloween

October 11, 2013

At the risk of preaching to the choir this week, I want to talk about the meaning of Halloween. Over the past few years I have been getting more and more calls-to-action over two issues associated with Halloween as it is commonly celebrated: the adoption of stereotypic American Indian trick-or-treat costumes and the borrowing of sugar skulls from Mexican American Dia de los Muertos ceremonies. While I agree with objections raised to these two practices, I nonetheless find the slant of this activism troubling. By objecting only to offensive elements within the sacrilegious perversion of this holy day, this activism ends up reinforcing the perverted narrative. Conversely, by bringing Halloween back in harmony with its roots, these and other offensive elements are banished.

Let’s look at the true meaning of the holiday. Halloween is a shortened version of All Hollows Eve, an ancient Celtic holiday of reverence for ancestors. It is still celebrated as such by Druids and Witches throughout the world. The day is usually celebrated between October 30 and November 2, depending on the religious tradition and the country. (Some Druids mark the full moon closest to November 1.) Many centuries ago the Catholic Church, in order to discourage the Pagan rites, co-opted the holiday as All Souls Day, and within the Catholic Church it retained much of its former purpose of remembering departed souls. All Souls Day has been an important holiday wherever there has been a strong Celtic influence, not only in the “Celtic countries” of the British Isles, but in France, Spain, and even parts of Germany. Because of the Aztec influence, the Mexican holiday retained even more of its original significance while incorporating elements of indigenous Mesoamerican belief.

This old postcard reflects what the Halloween is about. The evening marks the old Celtic New Year, and the words to Auld Lang Syne fit with the spirit.
This old postcard reflects what the holiday is about. Halloween marks the old Celtic New Year, and the words to Auld Lang Syne fit the spirit.
The ancient Celts believed that during the period marked by Halloween the separation between the worlds of the living and the dead became more porous. Thus this was an ideal time to contact and make obeisance to departed relatives. This was also a time when troubled spirits too wretched to find their way to the Celtic paradise might cause some mischief for the living. To help these troubled spirits, children would enact their plight by going from house to house in beggars’ garb asking for a small token of pity. The phrase “trick-or-treat” reminded the householder that unmollified spirits might become mischievous. The enactment of this ritual was believed to bring some solace to the wretched souls. Some witches even say the drama helped spirits to pass through.

Because all kinds of spirits were wandering on Halloween, houses needed special protection on this night. Talismans were put out to discourage unwelcome intrusions. This is the source of today’s jack-o’-lantern. While children were believed to have some innate protection from ghostly mischief, adults who wandered out on this night sometimes wore masks to scare away the ghouls.

Let’s take a look now at today’s Halloween celebrations in light of the original religious focus. The trick-or-treat “beggars night” activities are closest to the original meaning, but they have become somewhat perverted. The only appropriate Halloween costume for a beggar on beggars’ night would be that of a beggar ghost. Houses can have jack-o’-lanterns or other talismans about them, but decorations should not be doing anything to create a “creepy” ambience. The idea is to keep the house warm and cheerful and the more mischievous ghosts outside. The welcoming atmosphere indoors also sets the tone for interactions with the ancestors. The haunted house is the antithesis of this. Although Halloween is an important time for Witches, who often use the night to perform psychic work, demeaning stereotypic portrayals of Witches, in costume or in picture, are especially offensive on this core Witches’ holiday.

The Halloween party as it is commonly practiced does have some elements of old pagan belief. Bobbing for apples, the dumb supper, and spells to catch a glimpse of a future love interest are examples of activities that have deep roots. The main objection to the Halloween party is the parlor game atmosphere which trivializes the activities. Also, this is not a time for scary ghost stories. The object of the warm cheery gathering is to keep the scariness outside.

halloweengirl Scary stories have a universal appeal and probably serve some purpose, but in light of what has already been explained the sacrilege of Halloween slasher movies should be obvious. Imagine for a moment the most sacred Christian or Jewish holidays being given an exploitative, sacrilegious theme. What if Easter produced a slew of apocalyptic flesh eating zombie movies, seeing as Jesus rose from the dead? What if Yom Kippur produced stories on the theme of sadomasochism, seeing as it’s the day of atonement? If the very suggestion of such a takeoff offends you, think about the commercial exploitation of Halloween in light of what the night is really about.

You can still celebrate Halloween in a respectful way, even if you are not a Witch or a Druid. Explain to children that Halloween is a time of ghosts, and give them the option of dressing as a sad ghost or a wretched ghost or a whimsical ghost. Save the ballerina and astronaut costumes for a different occasion. If you want to have a Halloween gathering, just keep it cheerful and leave the slasher movies and related themes out of the evening. Tarot cards, harmless spells, and other witchy activities are fine, as long as they are not trivialized. If you simply ask your guests to bring a picture of a departed loved one and come prepared to talk a little about this person, you have right there an nonreligious expression of the true meaning of Halloween.

Re-Training Vision: The Three Principles

October 4, 2013

William H. Bates, the ophthamologist who developed the principles of natural vision.
William H. Bates, the ophthamologist who developed the principles of natural vision.

The three principles of natural vision are movement, centralization, and relaxation.

Relaxation is meant in a very broad sense. The more relaxed the mind, the more clear the vision. The student who develops nearsightedness or astigmatism under a heavy courseload is tired and stressed, not “reading too much.” It is fine to read or do close work like needlepoint for long periods of time, even in low light, as long as this does not produce eyestrain. Straining to see worsens the vision, both immediately and in the long term. Relaxation improves vision, and eyestrain is reduced over time by trusting that good eyesight is natural over a wide range of conditions.

We are not parakeets, who see only in daylight
We are not parakeets, who see only in daylight. Photo Dick Daniels.
Centralization is a very interesting principle. The human eye is developed to see sharply in color and to see in very low light, two activities that are non-congruent. In order to function well in both areas, the central portion of the iris is adapted to sharp color vision, while the peripheral portion is activated in low light. Peripheral vision can detect motion quite well at all times, but it is not the portion of the eye that sees most clearly in normal light. In order to see clearly, it is important to see with the part of the eye that sees clearly. Instead of utilizing the entire visual field to “see everything at once,” the person with good vision moves her eyes constantly, mapping the area in front of her by looking at one thing at a time. This principle really goes back to the idea of relaxation, since it is a type of hypervigilance that creates the compulsion to try to see too much at once.

The principle of centralization is obviously related to the principle of movement, but there are some implications to this principle that are not so obvious. Movement here is a broad term, related not only to eye movement but to blinking, moving the head, and changing the posture. It is unnatural for humans to sit stiffly or to stare without blinking, and this creates eyestrain and eventually fatigue. A relaxed posture contains movement.

We are not cats, who stay motionless for long periods
We are not cats, who stay motionless for long periods. Photo Horatiotorquez.
But proper eye movement also creates a condition that is anxiety provoking for some people: it creates the perception that objects known to be stationary are actually moving. Nearly everyone is unaware of this. People with normal vision need to have this demonstrated to them with special eye exercises. Interestingly, people with poor vision will usually compensate in order to not see the movement when doing the exercises. For these people, beginning to see “stationary” objects move while doing the exercises is a sign that they are relaxing into normal eye movement.

What are the implications for inner vision? I have found that these principles carry over into other areas. It is important to be relaxed in order to see on the inner plane. It is no accident that people tend to have more visions before drifting off to sleep or while doing ordinary activities such as taking a shower. It is important to let go of the compulsion to understand everything at once and allow the vision to naturally unfold. Trying to see everything at once inhibits the inner vision as well as the outer. It is most important to develop a frame of mind which allows perceptions to occur even when a part of the brain disagrees. The mind can draw its own conclusions, but it does not need to protect itself from the information it gathers.