Belief and Meaning

I have a feeling it was the character of Marcus in Babylon five who commented on how much worse life would be if we felt we deserved what we got. Life is not reliably kind, and often more like the opposite. I find in face of setbacks, that I get the downright unhelpful urge to look for meaning. The desire to extract meaning from the chaos that is reality underpins so much of what humans do. It is the basis of all science, philosophy and much artistic endeavour. We want it to make sense.

One of the common arguments against faith of any kind is that everything we observe makes it clear the universe is neither fair nor friendly. At best we might understand it as neutral, but there are days when downright hostile seems a more realistic interpretation. Different faiths and philosophies offer different ways of coming to terms with this. I think they can be divided into taking comfort from the idea that there is a god, and/or a much nicer afterlife to look forward to, or learning to adapt the mind in ways that making living a less painful experience. Not all such solutions need be faith based. Opting not to care is one of the easiest ways to avoid pain.

For a long time, I’ve resisted the possibility of religion as comfort. I have never really wanted my Druidry to comfort me. Except possibly sometimes in the middle of the night when, sleepless and overwrought I can see no way through. The thought of some friendly parent-god with words of encouragement and wisdom has its appeal then. Of course I want someone to promise me it’s all going to be ok. I probably wouldn’t believe it if they did.

What does Druidry offer you, during one of those long nights of the soul? What is there to turn to when life shows another hostile or malevolent face? When there is no justice, no peace and no apparent way forward? Druidry most certainly doesn’t tell us to sit back and wait for God to fix it, or that it is all part of some plan for our betterment that we mere mortals aren’t able to comprehend. Does anyone really draw comfort from such ideas anyway?

In the long dark, sleepless hours, in the dark night of the soul, my Druidry says ‘this too shall pass.’ Tomorrow the sun will come up, same as usual and if it doesn’t, you’ll have far bigger things to worry about than this latest setback. My Druidry says that the only sure fire way to lose is by giving up and reminds me that I would not have chosen the paths that involved not caring, not feeling. I can look back over recent events and recognise that yes, while I’ve made a bucketload of mistakes, I’ve not acted dishonourably. I’ve always done what seemed right, its just that there were times when the information I had to figure that out from was exceedingly faulty. That’s not always much comfort, but I know from experience it beats the hell out of lying there awake thinking you might have acted dishonourably.

My Druidry reminds me that plenty of people have it worse, but not that this is a reason to belittle or ignore my own distress. I pause to be grateful for what I do have, and to remind myself that life goes on and I am not beaten. It also encourages me to make the best of things, to focus on the good, and to extract what meaning I can from experiences. I don’t have to view the current trials as life being hostile. These are opportunities to test my strength, to prove my courage, to demonstrate that money is not the be all and end all and that I will not bow down in face of bullying behaviour. If life was always easy, I’d have no scope to prove myself.

Although a day off now and then wouldn’t go amiss. As Tom says, it’s character building. I am going to end up with so much character that other people will catch it just by standing in proximity to me. I’m going to drip puddles of it onto floors.

We can’t really know how anything we is, but how we understand it shapes our experiences. Hello hostile universe. How are you going to behave if I start treating you as though this is all very helpful and productive?

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Belief and Meaning

  • Sarah Head

    Fantasic article, Nimue and all so true! The only thing I’d add is a suggestion of remembering “what helps” during the long nights of the soul. There is even psychological theory now which states that the world is chaos and the individual has no meaning, therefore to find one’s own meaning and values and maybe have those reflected back to you in a positive way helps. I love the idea of you dripping puddles of character onto the floor! Maybe all the experience does lead you towards the wise woman – you have been in very dark places and while you were there these things helped/supported you. Sharing techniques and bricks, may help other to build their own solid foundations to keep rooted during their own chaotic episodes. All good wishes to you and yours!

  • Alison Leigh Lilly

    I think it was an episode of Joss Whedon’s show, “Angel,” where a character said something along the lines of, “If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do.” In other words, if there is no grand plan or god-father in the sky who has it all under control…. then we are the makers of our own meaning, and our choices form the foundation of our own goodness and beauty in the world.

    It’s been a long time since I had the kind of simple faith that can find comfort in a god-father figure (and sometimes I do miss it). But what I’ve learned since then, when faced with dark nights and deep griefs, is to ask the question, “What kind of person do I want to be?” An honorable and loving person, a creative and hopeful person. The kind of person who is able to seek beauty and make changes for the better even in dark times and places. If there is no grand plan, then that means I have within me the power to choose what kind of person to be and what kind of mark or meaning to leave in the world. And so do you, so does everyone.

    And I think you’re right – even if you were joking – that by facing such trials and tests with stubborn courage and gratitude, you will develop so much character that it will rub off on others just by being near you. I have known some amazing people in my life, and that is exactly how I would describe them. 🙂 I guess I do have faith in that.

    As always, thank you for writing.

  • Argenta

    Dear Bryn,
    what an interesting article!

    My current view on this topic has been greatly colored by two things: one was reading Dawkins’ Selfish Gene; the other was a long series of most difficult events this spring (with many people close to me falling seriously ill; a car crash; an attempt of mobbing at work etc.)

    This latter one came first, actually, and it was an experience that taught me what it was I appreciated about druidry and why I follow this path, though in a rather basic way. I have learned very quickly how powerful it can be to have a deity to turn to in need — and I am saying this as long-time agnostic. I do not know whether Brighid is real or not, and I am not sure I can know, but having a point of focus, a figure that represents all which is important to me — inspiration, healing, transformation — has been tangibly helpful in dealing with the crisis. Through druidry I have also come to appreciate the Roman adage “Natura salve”, for spending time outdoors has done wonders for both my physical and mental health.

    On the other hand, Dawkins has helped me see the other side of that same nature — the one we often interpret as hostile, while it is nothing more than making sure only those who can cope actually survive and pass their genes on. Before reading the book, I thought it was a harsh view of reality. Today, I just think we’ve become rather soft, and should be more pragmatical about life. It will not tolerate weaklings; the most cunning survive, and that’s how the universe works. I also have more appreciation for Nietzsche 🙂

    Another thing I absolutely love about druidry is that I can change my mind about this topic, and still feel I am “in”, as long as I do it honourably and respectfully.

  • Nimue Brown

    Thank you for the wise words and good thoughts eveyrone, hugely appreciated. I limp on, but I’m determined to make sense of what is happening, and not not succumb to despair or defeat.

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