Archive for the Life Lessons Category

Learning to walk with the Lwa (the job edition)

Posted in Dreams, Legba, Life Lessons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2017 by cheshirecatman
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© Skypixel | Dreamstime.com – Career and Job Opportunities

If you are a regular reader, you may be familiar with my recurring shoe dreams. Some people have nude-in-public dreams; I have walking-around-with-no-shoes dreams.

I had another one recently in which I was walking around in a truck stop rural area with the girlfriend. I look down and I am stocking-footed. It finally dawned on me that these dreams are largely about stability (and the lack thereof). I don’t know why I did not figure this out sooner. I have weak ankles, so good shoes are paramount to my physical stability. So it’s not too surprising that my recent bout with job instability would trigger a shoe dream.

Just over a year ago, I was laid off from a job of nearly a decade and transitioned smoothly into another job. The new company seemed like a good fit, the job was interesting, and things went well for a while. And then things started going bad. The mundane reason: a long commute (Seattle to Tacoma) meant I was often tired and started falling asleep at work and having job performance issues. My confidence in my work skills took a hard blow. The other reason: a long commute meant little time for much else, including service to the Lwa.

They weren’t happy with me and this became clearer and clearer over time. Whenever my thoughts turned to finding a new job closer to home, things would go better at work. But if I thought, “Well, maybe this will work out fine and I’ll stay for a while,” then I’d start having problems again. When they speak and you don’t listen, things go awry. Eventually enough was enough. So near the end of last year, I started sending out resumes and quickly got a call from a staffing agency, who placed me in a temp-to-hire position with a company that processes legal papers.

The paper-pushing job was super-convenient (a one-bus commute to downtown Seattle), but also a little depressing. Aside from handling legal documents all day long, I was very much a production drone who wasn’t utilizing many of his skills. I really don’t like looking for work and was hoping that this job would work out long-term, but after a brief couple of weeks I could no longer ignore the push to look for something better. And then a playfully written ad on craigslist caught my eye. It was for a graphics-related job in the tech sector.

I was hoping for but did not expect a response, but they responded within a few days and requested a phone screening. Now, I hate the telephone and knew I needed Legba’s help on this one. I lit a candle and asked for his help. And he came through. The interview ended up feeling more like a casual conversation over coffee, and the following Wednesday I found myself over on the Eastside for a group interview.

Legba came through again–I aced it. So much so that my interviewers had no additional questions for me at the end because I’d already answered them. Now, I am a very inconsistent interviewee–whether I interview well or not depends a lot on my mood that day and the demeanor of the people interviewing me. So this was no small feat. I liked the feel of the company–it was energetic, forward-thinking and seemed to value its employees. My interviewers were considerate and followed through whenever they said they would do something. Legba’s hand was evident during our interactions and when I wrote an inspired cover letter and the follow-up correspondence.

The tech company told me they’d make a decision no later than the following Monday. I tried not to become too anxious, but this was a job I cared about, and I knew I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t hired. However, they made me the offer the next day.

That day, prior to the offer, I was returning from my lunch break at the temp job. I stopped in the restroom and set my phone and the book I was reading on the back of the tank. I turned to latch the stall door when I heard a splash. My book and my phone had fallen into the john. I am not really sure how; I thought I’d placed them firmly on the tank.

I immediately snatched them out. I was very glad the phone still worked but the book was damaged. It probably was salvageable, but you can’t really wash a book, so I decided to trash it even though I was in the middle of reading it. It was a Christmas gift. Oh well, I’d replace it at some point.

Shortly after that (like, within an hour), I received the job offer. That made me wonder if the book was claimed by Legba as payment for the job. Later I would call Mambo and ask her opinion, and she said that sometimes happens if you don’t negotiate your deal well. And I realized I hadn’t been specific enough when I petitioned Legba. I liked the book, but I wasn’t too upset. It was a small price to pay, and if the phone had been damaged then I might not have gotten the call in a timely manner, and the job might have been lost. So Legba took the book. I just recently replaced it, but felt it would be a good idea to remember this lesson. So instead of buying an identical new paperback copy, I purchased an older used hardback edition. In this way I don’t feel like I am erasing that event.

After a slightly stressful ten days (mostly due to confidence issues left over from the Tacoma job), I am starting to feel stable again. Also, from a numbers standpoint, this is the 3rd position I’ve had since leaving my last long-term job. Three is my met tet’s number. So I am optimistic I will be here for a while.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire….or is it smoke and mirrors?

Posted in Legba, Life Lessons on November 16, 2014 by cheshirecatman

Today I finally met two friends whom I’ve been corresponding with over social media for a couple of years now. It went really well, which I expected.

Usually when I meet someone in person for the first time, I am a little nervous, but today that was not the case. We interacted as though we’d hung out together many times before. I’ve really begun paying attention to when I feel completely relaxed around someone; it often indicates a long-term relationship. I felt this quite strongly the first time I visited Sosyete du Marche, for example. And when I went through Kanzo, I felt this way about my sisters in the djevo.

I think one of the reasons I was not nervous today is because these two friends have experienced some serious hardship for several years now, so I wasn’t concerned that they were going to be judgmental about my appearance or any other superficial thing. And part of it was that they are acutely aware of what it’s like to be misjudged, which brings me to the point of this post.

That old cliché: “Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Sometimes this is true, but if you are going to judge someone by rumors and gossip, you really need to take notice of who is talking about them.  Is this person speaking from first-hand experience? If not, then who knows how much the information has mutated along the way? And regardless of whether the info is first, second, or third-hand, does the person who is passing along the info have an ulterior motive? Ulterior motives may or may not be obvious–you may be hearing one side of a personal disagreement or you may be hearing exaggerations or outright lies based on someone’s personal dislike of someone–a  dislike that could be based on something as stupid as discrimination of one type or another. Online stalking and bullying have really gotten out of hand and I don’t have a very high opinion of people who spend a lot of time engaging in such activity.

“But I heard this from someone I know. I trust their judgment.” This is a tricky one, and here’s the thing. Just because you know someone and trust them does not mean that the person is immune to believing gossip or that they don’t have ulterior motives. They’re flawed people just like the rest of us.

I heard some pretty harsh things about my friends during the early days of our correspondence, and all I can say is I am SO glad I followed my own instincts. I think Legba had a part in this as well, and has now cleared the way for them to come to Washington.

Ayibobo, Papa!

“An Outsider at the Crossroads” article by Alley Valkyrie at Wild Hunt

Posted in Ghede, Ghosts, Life Lessons, lwas, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2014 by cheshirecatman

I highly recommend this article by Alley Valkyrie on The Wild Hunt site. It’s a fascinating account of a white artist moving into a neighborhood heavily populated by Caribbean people as well as a commentary on race relations, privilege and gentrification. Vodou also included.

An Outsider at the Crossroads

Kanzo as metaphor

Posted in Life Lessons, lwas, Vodou with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2013 by cheshirecatman

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I get philosophical at work when things get slow. I know I still need to work on my entry about my session with Tracy, and I will shortly. In the meantime, some mental meanderings….

A couple of months ago an initiated friend and I were discussing Kanzo. She mentioned that Kanzo is an ordeal–it isn’t comfortable or convenient. It’s a trial by fire.

We undergo Kanzo in order to become closer with the lwa and to advance in life and Vodou. I got to thinking that in many ways Kanzo is a metaphor for life on this plane. This life is often uncomfortable, difficult and, at times, harrowing. But maybe it has to be that way. It’s our trial by ordeal and fire, so that we can emerge stronger and more refined. The rewards of navigating these sometimes dangerous waters may not always be evident in this lifetime. I believe that clarity comes after death as we advance on our spiritual journey until such time that we move beyond this existence.

Life, happiness and the acquisition of non-blood siblings

Posted in Life Lessons with tags , , , , , on August 10, 2013 by cheshirecatman

I’ve mentioned before that for many years I suffered from debilitating depression. It began in adolescence and continued on until my mid-thirties. It wasn’t chemical in origin, but situational, caused in part by poverty, loneliness, an awareness of social injustice (affecting me or others) and the loss of  loved ones, among other things. By the time the periods of depression subsided, a permanent mark was left on my psyche. Sometimes it is difficult for me to feel happy even when things are going well. The emotion doesn’t always kick in when it should.

During the past several years, however, I have moments of excitement and happiness  along with the neutral and darker moments. Vodou and other spiritual development play a large part in this—even though I still have my struggles like everyone else, I am gaining more access to a larger picture, one in which my current struggles are temporary. (And yes, part of this involves thinking about death, but not in a negative way.)

Recent positive things going on in my life:

  • The Four Circles online class I am taking with Sosyete du Marche. I am often happiest when learning, especially when it involves spiritual topics. I am interacting a little with some nice people there, one of whom I suspect may someday be an initiatory sister. The more knowledge I gain about Vodou, the more I know this is the right path for me. As I like to say, “All my gods are out of Africa.” Someday I’d like to write a post about that, but the ‘why’s’ of it are not something I am ready to articulate at this time.
  • An upcoming session with my medium/animal communicator friend (and one of my favorite people hands down), Tracy Ann. This promises to be an interesting one, and I have lots of questions for my animal kin as well as the other unseen folks around me. Stay tuned for an update on this.
  • A very unexpected compliment. I was chatting with a young woman in my local Vodou group. We were discussing various things about Vodou, when she mentioned that she trusted and looked up to me. This was just something offhand she said without realizing how much it meant to me. This young woman is very gifted and promises to be a talented mambo one day in the not-too-distant future.
  • An online friendship with another woman who lives in Canada. She and I have become like siblings and can discuss a wide range of spiritual topics comfortably. I’ve found that a lot of these types of online relationships come and go, but I’m hoping this one won’t go too soon. I will appreciate it while it lasts (which reminds me I need to get in touch with another online sibling).

A few of my friends have been questioning what they’ve done with their lives and feeling like failures because they haven’t accomplished things that others have, or because they haven’t done what society expects them to do (big money career, marriage, children, etc.). Please remember that you are here to learn, create and assist others. If you are a decent person and do these things, that is enough. You may never know how much a small act of kindness that you perform without thinking may affect someone’s life.

More thoughts on cultural appropriation, humility and Vodou

Posted in Haiti, Life Lessons, lwas, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2013 by cheshirecatman

I doubt that anyone not born or at least raised in Haiti from a young age can ever understand Vodou in its full depth; the development of Haitian Vodou is so rooted in the history and culture of that country. Those of us adopting the religion can learn as much as we can, but some nuances will be lost on us due to differences in language, concepts and environment. We will never be the ‘experts’ in the way that someone who has always lived in the tradition is.

I am not saying that outsiders cannot be called by the lwa. If I believed that, then this blog would not exist. But I do see the topic of cultural appropriation brought up a lot in the online places where I lurk. This is mostly a good thing, as all of us who are not Haitian need to keep this in mind as we learn. But cultural appropriation is a tricky beast, and can be aided and abetted (and sometimes with good intentions) by the same people who are trying to avoid it.

To some extent, appropriation began the moment Vodou gained some popularity outside of Haiti. Outsiders became initiated, and a handful became Vodou’s mouthpiece for the outside world as more outsiders sought research materials that were easily accessible to them in the form of books and websites in languages other than Kreyol. Vodou is a beautiful faith and way of life; it is not surprising that it would attract outsiders once the stereotypes were pushed aside.

And this is where some of the appropriation occurred, in spite of the best intentions. Non-Haitians became prominent in this movement, not that this was undeserved or that hard work wasn’t involved. The problem is that the Non-Haitians became better known than the Haitians who taught them, with very few exceptions. The non-Haitians often do their best to connect newcomers to the original sources, but this has limited success. This is not dissimilar to what happened when blues music became popular among white musicians in the US and the UK. It morphed into rock and roll, which owes its existence to blues but is not blues in its original form. Nothing necessarily wrong with that except that the rock musicians became far more rich and famous than the blues musicians who inspired them, in spite of bands like the Stones making efforts to promote their blues idols. Popular media seems to have a life of its own sometimes. So I can’t blame those Haitians who express concern about foreigners adopting Vodou.

As outsiders, we should approach Vodou with a humble and respectful attitude; we begin as visitors and guests in this world whether we like it or not. Few things scream “appropriation” as loudly as people who initiate into a spiritual tradition not native to them, and then immediately present themselves as experts on the topic. Granted, they may have a good deal of knowledge about the tradition, but it is not going to be at the same level as someone born into the tradition. So ego needs to be placed aside, as they are akin to the graduate student who, while qualified to teach undergrads, is still not a full professor.

I also seriously have issues with those of European descent who study or initiate into a path and then set themselves up as the Billy Jack/Lt. John Dunbar/Jake Sully of said path (aka great white savior complex, which seems to be a bit more prevalent among males than females from what I have observed). I am not sure why they have a need to do this. In some cases it may be a combination of ego and a sense of entitlement (conscious or unconscious); in other cases it may be overcompensating for being a member of a privileged group (aka white guilt). Or perhaps they are simply the outsider attempting to gain the approval of the insiders by saying/doing what they think the insiders want them to say or do. A few of them seem to delight in publicly humiliating others, usually other non-Haitians whom they believe are more guilty of appropriation than they are, in spite of the white savior posturing, which is a particularly insidious form of appropriation that can sneak up on a person.

What can we do to mitigate appropriation? We need to locate reliable sources of information and follow regleman as accurately as we can. We can learn some Kreyol. We can follow the examples given to us by Haitian clergy when possible, and defer the spotlight to them as much as we can. We need to hear their voices more often.

There are a number of good mambos and houngans out there to learn from. There are also some very good groups and pages on Facebook run by Haitian people (although be forewarned that the crusaders may be there as well). Whatever happens, don’t give up. If you are diligent and meant to be on this path, the lwa will help you find your way.

Some recommended resources:

Sosyete La Deesse De La Mer Vodou Temple Facebook page

Sosyete l’Afrique Ginen Facebook page

Remembrance: Roots, Rituals, and Reverence in Vodou by Jerry M. Gilles and Yvrose S. Gille.

Blind faith and books

Posted in Life Lessons, Religion, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2013 by cheshirecatman

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had random people attempt to convert me to some form of Christianity. They are never successful because I was never raised in that paradigm. When I disagree with them, they often resort to quoting scripture to me, and I have to let them know that, to me (who was never a Christian) it is simply a book. I understand that it’s their holy book, but it’s still a book nonetheless, and one that has been edited numerous times for various reasons.

I am a very spiritual person in some ways, but I am also very grounded in this shared reality (sometimes more than I would like to be). I don’t do blind faith, I can’t. I won’t take your word for it, unless you are someone I’ve known for a while and I’ve come to trust your opinion. I can’t base my beliefs on any one book, although I love books and consider them invaluable to those of us exploring new belief systems, especially when we may not have access to experienced practitioners at any given time.

But ultimately, for me, whether I believe in something is going to be based on my personal experience. This is why I am on the path I am on now. It was not planned. I was, quite literally, guided here by my met tet, and the first time he contacted me I didn’t even know who he was.

So, for me, when doubt creeps in, I remember my experiences, many of which are hard to explain from a purely nonspiritual point of view. I love that I don’t have to rely on blind faith. Or books.

Ayibobo.