Sunday, January 16, 2022

How to start living ethically.

I'm a little bit fried tonight. Pretty sure I've mentioned that I'm temping for the New Mexico Legislature as a legal proofreader again this year. The 2022 regular session starts Tuesday, so we've swung into session mode -- which is to say we're working seven days a week until it's all over on February 17th. It's fun and mostly interesting, but exhausting. I'm already tired, and the session hasn't even started yet.

So I was grateful when I checked the comments on last week's post on making the mundane sacred and discovered a great follow-up question: "But to start living ethically, does one need to articulate their morals clearly to themselves so they are aware of living intentionally?"

It sure looked like a blog post topic to me (thanks, Jo!), and I didn't have anything else teed up. (I did have a couple of ideas, but they're both Curmudgeon's Corner material and they could probably stand to ripen a little anyhow.) So here's my response:

If you believe it would be a good thing to live ethically and you would like to do so, then yes, you should spend some time working out your own moral code.

Teodoraturovic | Wikimedia Commons | CC 4.0
Notice I said your own moral code. Now, lots of people adopt the moral code they were taught as children. Maybe their parents taught it to them, or maybe they learned it in church, or maybe they soaked it up from TV or the kids around them or Western civilization in general. That's a moral code, certainly, and a lot of folks just stop there.

But many folks, as they mature, begin to question some of the tenets of this hand-me-down morality. I'm not talking about theosophical questions like the nature of deity or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin -- although people question those things, too. What I mean is things like whether abortion is wrong. Or whether gay marriage should continue to be legal. Or whether the poor deserve to be poor. Or how rich is too rich. That sort of thing.

It often comes to a point where folks with these questions decide their beliefs about these things differ profoundly from beliefs held by those around them. But then they experience cognitive dissonance: Should they stick with the religion they were brought up in because all of their friends and family still follow it? Or do they turn away? And if they do leave the church, how do they orient their personal moral compass? Where is their true north?

For some folks in this situation, joining a different church is enough. But some bail from monotheism entirely.

I'm of the opinion that you don't need to be religious to live a moral life. It's a truism, I think, that many atheists and agnostics live more ethically than a lot of religious people. The difference is that the folks who have broken away from the religious mindset have spent time thinking about where their moral true north is -- and with any luck, they're then able to orient their lives around it.

Pagans have a slightly different dilemma. We don't have the rich theosophical history that Christianity and Judaism do. And while pagan philosophers definitely existed, their full belief system might not be a great fit for modern humans. Sure, the Greeks were deep thinkers -- but they also thought slavery was okay. And Roman women -- even the ones who weren't slaves or prostitutes -- weren't allowed to vote or hold political office.

But modern-day Pagans can do the same kind of deep thinking about ethics and morality as anyone else, and we can develop our own moral code. Our gods may not have inspired a holy book, but they have their virtues, and we can choose to live up to them.

It was Socrates (according to Plato) who said an unexamined life is not worth living. If you want to live ethically, but on your own terms, that's a great place to start.

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These moments of deep, bloggy thinking have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!


Sunday, January 9, 2022

Making the mundane sacred.

I usually agree with John Beckett, the Druid priest who blogs over at Patheos Pagan. But I had a problem with today's post from the get-go.

His post is in response to a question he received on a post-class survey: "How can we learn to see mundane activities through a sacred lens?" His TL;DR response: we can't. Because as soon as we consider the mundane sacred, the sacred necessarily becomes mundane.

That's going to be news to the members of certain Native American tribes, not to mention monks of various religious orders. 

It's easy, I think, for most of us to see how Catholic monks would consider day-to-day activities as sacred. They've pledged their lives in service of their Lord, so anything they do that helps the community thrive becomes a sacred duty -- even peeling potatoes and scrubbing floors. While Buddhist monks don't pledge their lives to a deity, they do separate themselves from the world in order to achieve enlightenment. Buddhists employ various types of meditation to reach this state, and enlightenment can strike any time -- even, say, when doing the dishes. 

Quasarphotos | Deposit Photos
As for Native Americans, the first thing I thought of was the Navajo Beauty Way. For the Navajo, as I understand it, beauty isn't just superficial; it's a way of life. It's living in balance with the land, with other people (including non-human people), and with their spirits. If a Navajo has somehow fallen away from the Beauty Way, whether by their own actions or through no fault of their own, rituals may be done to set them on the right path again.

I am broadly generalizing here. But the common denominator, as I see it, is in the attitude you employ as you go about your day. You don't have to be a monk or a Navajo to attain this, either: If you have settled on what you consider to be your moral imperatives, and you build your life around them, then everything you do that gets you to the goal of living your truth could be considered sacred. In other words, it's not the stuff around you that's sacred, although depending on how you believe it all got here, it could be; the important thing is how you interact with it.

Let's say you're a lawyer. What they teach you in law school is that everybody -- and I mean everybody -- is entitled to representation before the law. If that's your moral imperative, then you theoretically would have no qualms about representing a defendant who has admitted to killing multiple people in the most gruesome manner possible. Sure, your client is a horrible human being, but they deserve -- they must have -- a lawyer who will advocate for them before a judge and jury, and even plead for mercy.

That's one sort of moral imperative. But what if you're a lawyer whose moral imperative is that killing is wrong? Or what if you've been okay with representing killers for a while now, but something has changed? Maybe your latest client shot up a school, and you have kids who are the same age as the victims. (Full disclosure: I soured on being a news reporter when I had to cover a story about a scumbag who killed his three-year-old stepson because he wouldn't eat Thanksgiving dinner. He buried the boy's body in a truck toolbox in the Great Dismal Swamp. My daughters were toddlers at the time.) Now you have a moral dilemma. How do you resolve it? Do you move into another field? Or do you keep doing your job, even as you feel yourself falling farther and farther away from what the Navajo call the Beauty Way?

In The Pipe Woman Chronicles, Naomi Witherspoon resolves a similar dilemma by becoming a mediator. And then she meets a Lakota goddess and a hot Ute shapeshifter, but I digress. 

And I guess I've digressed pretty far from the point of this post, which is this: I believe that if you're working toward living an ethical life -- in other words, living up to your own standards of morality -- then every step you take toward that goal can be considered sacred. Even doing the dishes.

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These moments of moral blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Do the right thing: Mask up, maintain your social distance, and above all, get vaxxed!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A year of low carbing.

Never fear -- I am not going to turn this into a diet blog, or a dieting blog, or a lifestyle change blog, or any permutation thereof. I don't pretend to be an expert on anything except myself. And I'm not trying to become an influencer, nor am I looking for sponsors.

I also didn't mean to start this post with a disclaimer, but there you have it.

I just wanted to let y'all know about a thing I've been doing for almost a year now. It's a low-carb diet, kinda sorta, and I kinda sorta came up with it myself -- which is to say it's not keto or Atkins or carb counting or any of those. 

If it's anything, it's based on an out-of-print book called The 30-Day Diabetes Cure. The link is to Amazon but don't buy it from them (how often do you hear me say that?) because they're charging a ridiculous amount for it; try Better World Books instead.

Some background: I've had type 2 diabetes for about ten years now. For a long time I was in denial -- mainly because the first thing any doctor will say to you, when you turn up in their office as diabetic or pre-diabetic, is to lose weight. But I'd been dieting since I was eleven years old and had lost hundreds of pounds, only to see them all come back -- and bring friends. At last, I concluded that diets don't work, and that in fact they only serve to line the pockets of the diet and fitness industry. But doctors don't want to hear that. If you tell a doctor that you're not going to go on a diet, they label you as uncooperative -- or worse.

I tried to cooperate -- a little. I went to see a dietitian, who tried to sell me meal-replacement shakes "to jump-start your weight loss." That's a diet, honey, so nope. Later, I saw another dietitian, who tried to get me to track what I was eating and how much and all that stuff. "Does that feel like a diet?" she asked me. Hell, yes, it does, and it's exactly what I swore I'd never do again. She eventually passed me off to another dietitian, who seemed enthusiastic when I mentioned low-carbing (I'd read online that it could work for diabetics - here's a recent study), but of course she wanted me to track my carbs and -- all together now -- THAT'S A DIET.

What I needed was for somebody to tell me which types of foods to stay away from. But nobody wants to do that, and I have a feeling it's because they're in cahoots with the food manufacturers and Big Pharma -- industries that would rather sell you highly processed foods, fake sweeteners, and expensive drugs so new that there are no generics for them. But that's a whole 'nother blog post or three

Anyway, this book: A clerk in a vitamin-supplement store here in Santa Fe recommended it to me. "Diabetes is all about what you eat," she said. And I thought, if this book will tell me what to eat to bring my blood sugar down, I'm in. So I ordered a copy and read it. Then, a year ago this week, I started doing it.

For the first ten days, you get no sugar, no alcohol, and no carbs. Most veggies are okay, but no fruits. That's supposed to bring your blood sugar down to normal. Mine was pretty high at the time, even with the super-expensive drugs I was on, so I didn't get to normal in ten days -- but my readings did drop a significant amount. So I kept doing it.

It's been a year, as I said. I've been off the super-expensive drugs for months. My blood sugar is still not quite normal, but it's close. I've lost about 25 pounds and have kept it off, which is huge for me; if I were concentrating on losing weight, I would have given up in frustration months ago.

Here's a funny thing: I'm not interested in sweets or high-carb foods. I suspect it's because I'm not eating them, so there's no craving to trigger. In fact, I can taste hidden sugars in restaurant foods now -- and I don't like them.

That doesn't mean I'm eating bland meals. Here's my dinner tonight: ham and provolone with brown mustard on almond-flour rolls, broccoli slaw, and a dill pickle spear. 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
The key is to include lots of veggies and make most of your food from scratch. But I'm not a kitchen slave; the broccoli slaw dressing has five ingredients and whipped up in about two minutes, and the slaw itself came in a bag from Trader Joe's.

I'm not saying this will work for everybody. But it makes sense that if eating carbs raises your blood sugar, not eating them will lower it. And I've never had a doctor, or a diabetes educator, or a dietitian flat-out tell me that. I had to find out on my own. 

So now I've told you.

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These moments of non-dieting blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! Wear a mask!