Last Thursday, I went on vacation for a few days. This is something that happens annually in the fall because I need to take my vacation days before some of them expire. My favorite way to take expiring PTO during the semester is to do very long weekends because it is less disruptive to meeting schedules than taking a whole week off. I really needed these days because I was feeling pulled into many directions and at the brink of overwhelm, that fragmentation caused by a busy work schedule and wanting to hit hard at personal goals, but not having time to recalibrate mindfully in the systematic way I like. I finished reading Syrianus’ commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics 3-4 on Wednesday night — which was a great marathon, as I wanted to go into my PTO with a sense that I had completed the book I said I was going to read in September.
I also had a dream last week that I was giving so much incense to new and different Gods in an exploratory sense that I was neglecting the Gods close to my heart and couldn’t offer much incense to them without having too much smoke in my apartment — an anxiety dream that matched the fragmented pull of my daily life and something that I’ve been thinking about since.
The dream was a potent reminder of where my soul feels the most grounded. Over the past few years, I have done some explorations of integrating home cultus related to my ancestors, and it had always been an uncertain question of when that would be done and I would find new equilibrium. I think that the five-minute prayers at my other shrine — resinous fragrance, bubbly sober libations — have hit that steady point, where I pray to a few Nordic and Gaulish Gods and spirits and give a nod to my ancestors. The dream could also have pointed at the concession I knew I had to make about reading Syrianus’ commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics 13-14, as doing a deep dive into the Phaedo and taking a continuing education class on global polytheisms (which is a great class that can be done asynch on the Indica Courses platform‡) are about the max I can handle during the fall semester. Does that take away from contemplating Gods I know? Yes, but I had said in my 2021 goals that September-December would be my time to focus on reading many myths and divine stories, so I am technically returning to the intentions I set at the beginning of the year to be a more religiously literate person. I thought about the dream before and after prayer. Are my prayers too mechanical? Do they show enough understanding and connection to these divine ones? There are ways in which they are, but there is also room to grow and make them more graceful.
On Friday, I restarted my gym membership, which had been on hiatus since the start of the pandemic. Yes — on day two of PTO, I awoke at 5:45 AM, walked into the gym at 6:10 AM, and did some brief cardio before doing weights after spending a few minutes at the register squaring away my account. Everyone was masked, and beautifully so. I was wearing a silicone spacer under mine, which was great for cardio, as it keeps the mask from sucking in against one’s face when breathing in. Many of the people at the gym (especially that early) are affiliated with my workplace, and we have really high vaccination rates, so it’s probably one of the safer gyms in the area. I went at opening time on Saturday and did spin alone in the spin room before a few leg weights, and then did solo spin and weights today (my final day of PTO) at 6:10 AM. I used today to do a timed run-through of how my morning routine would need to be in order to sustain that going forward — on my onsite days, I think I’ll have to sacrifice spin in favor of a few minutes on the ArcTrainer and a quick weights workout so I can make it back at 6:40 AM for a shower. Working out in a mask reminds me of that gym trend over half a decade ago with those air restriction masks that people into triathlons would wear to improve their cardio performance, so I guess it has a lot of benefits. I’m excited to get fit again.
The gym routine is a bit of a shakeup with prayer because I have usually prayed first thing in the morning after showering, before I’ve gone anywhere. The energy is a bit different during prayer now because I’m pumped from the gym and a bit hungry, but the hunger doesn’t have a strong edge. I pray at my ancestral home cultus shrine for a few minutes before turning my attention to the Hellenic Gods, and I pray at that shrine for about 20 minutes if I’m using the prayer routine for onsite work days. On offsite days, I do slightly longer prayers because I gain time back from my commute and don’t have to prep lunch and snacks.
On Monday, the day I did the divination for the revivalist polytheist communities, I had a dream that bothered me. In the dream, I had organized an in-person polytheist conference, and many people were in a room. There was a general sense that it had gone well programming-wise. As the final thing, however, I started to do an active brainstorming exercise about the future of our movements — the opportunities, the challenges, the places to grow into. All but a handful of people walked out. They didn’t take the idea of the future seriously or didn’t think that it mattered. Someone I know got up from the audience and helped me with the brainstorming categories and facilitating the session because I was shaken. It was unexpected that it was that person, but I always feel like I’m on rocky terms with others because I know I can be too excitable and energetic and worry sometimes that it’s off-putting despite my efforts to dampen that personality trait. I awoke thinking about that feeling of abandonment, filled with frustration about almost nobody taking longitudinal things seriously — that we just care about the short-term goals, the here and now, the boisterous shifting opinions — and I felt an echo of the bone-wearying mental fatigue I get when I go on social media and see people slipping into conspiracy theories or turning “on trend” science into an ideology when science is a shifting coming-to-be process based on observing matter. I turned to my girlfriend and told her about the dream. “But people like you,” she said. “That dream is full of shit.” A day later, thinking about the divination I did yesterday, what strikes me is that the fears I had in the dream are fairly consistent with what came up in the reading about working with our shadows and coming to know ourselves.
Otherwise, while going about my daily life, I’ve been doing noting exercises that make use of the passage from Proclus on the Chaldean Oracles about not quenching one’s appetitive desires, but fleeing from them. Noting exercises are a meditation technique in which you notice your thoughts and label them as thinking or feeling, and they’re especially useful when one sits down to meditate and one’s mental chatter is really loud. It can also be used as a mindfulness check-in, which is the meaning taken here. The modification essentially just adds an interpretive frame, one that I’ve found helpful every time I wonder whether I’ve achieved social approval (Monday’s dream does not exist in a vacuum) through social media mechanisms or risk going over-budget the month after both a few vet bills and PayPal losing money I tried to load onto my balance (hello BBB). It’s great to think about while slowly crunching away at a re-read of the Phaedo commentaries’ sections on virtue.
Yesterday, I took stock in a detailed note-taking brainstorming session to see what I might need to change so I could make my commitments and recharge adequately for the rest of the calendar year. I feel chill and rested, especially since I committed to avoiding stressful websites during my vacation, and I’m excited to dive back into everything with a bit more measured mindfulness and a heightened sense of the value of periodic self-care.
There’s a tendency to view religious bloggers as having hyper-spiritual lives, and perhaps a few religious content creators buy into their own hype. At the end of the day, while we might pray for a few more minutes than others and make different choices about what we read after switching into soft pants for the night and consider many spiritual aspirations when we decide how we order our days, we’re still people with health goals to aim for, baseboards to dust, and cat litter to clean up. I hope that this small “slice of life during PTO” post contributes a bit more to that conversation.
‡ Note: The hosting org for the course is a large org with a lot of branches, and broadly speaking, I appreciate their content and find value in what I’ve read. I do wish the org focused more attention and word count on deconstructing untouchability because it’s an important civil rights issue, especially one that monotheist evangelists take advantage of using the same playbook they used in other societies — Christians convert disadvantaged people and then throw them under the bus once they have a critical mass of powerful people because evangelists don’t actually care about civil rights or the religious agency of the disadvantaged, whereas a firm civil rights push from within an indigenous faith community creates lasting change that is less vulnerable to abuse. I’m trying to stay in my lane, so this is the limit of what I will say — I think that this is something for pious people from various backgrounds in Hindu communities to discuss.