On Integrity of Self, Hippy Shielding, and Atheism

Yep, that's me, casting a spell at Stone Henge.
Yep, that’s me, casting a spell at Stone Henge.


Dear Reader,

It’s been awhile!  So sorry for the delay.  The past six months have been a little bit of chaos for me.  I’ve had some personal issues, and I’ve also been on a whirlwind circuit tour of writing conferences with the great organization SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).  I’ve made a lot of new connections, and a lot of new friends, and as a result I’ve had some things on my mind.

Some of you may be reading this for the first time, and welcome!  I may only have met you in passing, at a Starbucks where we shared a mutual love of Doctor Who, or at a luncheon table with a surrogate writer’s group feeling alone and yet connected to the great universal family of writers.  But if this is your first time reading me, explore!  Look around!  I certainly spent enough time on YouTube tutorials putting this all together.  =P

What’s been on my mind, as I’ve been off stretching my legs in the wide world of community is what it takes to remain myself, while still being flexible enough to wiggle my way through the gates to success.  For me, it is very easy to abandon an integrity to my inner vision of who I am.  I did it for years, after all, as a teenager, denying my sexual orientation to play a part in my local church youth group.  It’s old hat for me to become a chameleon to disguise myself as who I think I need to be to fit in.  And as I’ve met people at these conferences, I am impressed with just how common that experience is, of struggling to find a balance between your own unique vision and the professional courtesy and market acumen it takes to really get ahead of the crowd.

Both, I think, are necessary.

In struggling to maintain that balance on my own journey, I find I often turn to the strangest sources.

I suppose I am a bit of an odd duck, in terms of spirituality.  I used to think of spiritual belief in terms of a binary, either Atheist or Theist, with Agnostic being something of a middle ground between the two.  I always struggled with that binary for a number of reasons.  Then I took a closer look at Agnostic (meaning uncertain) and Gnostic (meaning certain), and it opened up something for me.  Suddenly there were FOUR categories.  There were both Agnostic and Gnostic Atheists, meaning you could be an Atheist and unsure about it, and an Atheist and SURE about it.  Similarly you could be an Agnostic Theist, and a Gnostic Theist.  I realized along the way somewhere that I consider myself an agnostic theist.

What does that mean?

It means that I believe that it is logical to assume there are other forms of life we might call spiritual beings, and that those beings may interact with us, and may be as sentient or moreso than we are, but I don’t think any of the organized religions get it right, and I certainly don’t think we should be basing political or moral decisions based on the silent proclamations of a Sky Man or Woman.

I believe that spiritual practice should be personal.  It should empower the individual, and that each person will be empowered by different concepts and ideas, and that the most important thing is to support one another in our betterment, with the humble knowledge that none of us are getting it right, and all of us can only do the best we can.

So, why am I sharing all of this with you?

Because interestingly, even though I don’t particularly prescribe to any set of religious principles, I found in struggling to maintain my inner sense of self in the face of a myriad of forces begging me to abandon it, that I often turned to the spiritual practices based on religious traditions.

As someone who functions in everyday life like an Atheist, this was somewhat intriguing.

When I was heading to my first big conference, in New York City of all places, with some of the biggest movers and shakers in my industry, I planned my outfits for three weeks.  I laid them out in a hundred different configurations, looking at colors and layers.  I agonized over each choice, searching for the right balance between professional and funky.  Should I wear conservative business casual like I would for a job interview?  Or should I look like the fiercest Queen at the Pride Parade?  There was a disconnect between the person I thought I needed to be to succeed, and the person I was on the inside, and it was obvious the answer wasn’t so simple as one or the other.  But where was the balancing factor.

2015-02-07 07.31.29

For me, that balancing factor was a pair of the most fantastic blue suede shoes ever made.  I found them because I still needed one more outfit piece, and my hair stylist sent me to a little shoe boutique in Denver called True Love.  I was looking for a nice brown shoe to go with some designer jeans.  But then I saw them, on the top shelf, one pair left, just my size, gleaming like a sapphire suede savior.  I knew I had to have them.  And it was because they were the balance I sought.  They were a professional looking slick pair of business looking shoes, but in an outrageous and fantastic color.

They were me, evolved.

I took them home, and I doted on them.  I figured out ways to work them into my outfits.  I thought of them constantly.  I talked to them, and touched them, and wore them.

I made them into a talisman.

I didn’t realize I was doing it, but there they were.  They were infused with my being, and when I wore them, they were a constant reminder of the balance they helped me to achieve.  They were a shield and a source of energy.

It wasn’t until I wore them that first day at the conference I realized how much equilibrium they gave me.  I didn’t feel like I was dressing up.  I felt like I was dressing out, like I was displaying the best version of myself.  I smiled more, I felt courageous and sassy.  But I also felt calm, able to maintain my sense of what my goals were too.

And I did that by unconsciously drawing on the experiences I have had exploring world religions.  A talisman of protection is something common to many many traditions throughout the world.  To me, it seems like that belief must stem from some fundamental truth of the human experience.  Whether it is psychological, forming a biochemical pathway response to certain repeated external stimuli, or physiological, creating some resonance with bioelectric attention, or even mystical, genuinely forming some spiritual functionality with an esoteric energy common to conscious thought.  Whatever the case, the idea that objects can help us seems to have some merit to me.  And when I needed it I drew upon that knowledge to help find the balance I needed.

Find your blue shoes, find your way out of the binary and into the union of experience, and you will have the greatest chance of success without sacrifice of integrity.  For my own non-religious thoughts on the process of creating a talisman, hit the jump.

First off, a couple of provisions.  I’m an Agnostic Theist, which means that I think in the absence of direct evidence, it is better to believe than to not believe.  However, I don’t claim any of this is the truth.  I also don’t claim any of this works from a scientifically measurable way.  I will use specific vocabulary, but just because it’s what I have found to work best for me.  This is just one method, not the only method, maybe not even an effective method.  But it’s what works for me, and I’m sharing it because somewhere along the way other humans much older than me shared what worked for them and it made a difference in my life.  Here’s hoping this makes a difference for someone else.

Firstly, I want to explain the way in which I believe anything resembling a spell or prayer actually functions.  In a system called the Fourth Way, philosophers have postulated that reality exists in the interaction of three forces: An Active, A Passive, and a Reconciling Force.  The active and passive forces are fundamentally opposed to each other, like positive and negative sides of a magnet.  The reconciling force is the force which brings the active and passive forces together to form a particular experience or reality.  That’s all very high brow.  There are lots of questionably scientific examples used in very poorly written books from the turn of the last century given to illustrate this concept.  But that isn’t the point.

When you look at spells, or prayer, or intentional positivity (think The Secret), all of them are composed of those three forces.  The Active, the Passive, and the Reconciling.  The Active force, in this case, is thoughts.  The mind.  The conception of a thing.  The Passive is emotions, the feeling or longing for a thing.  The Reconciling force is the physical action taken in response to thoughts and emotions.  So, looking at a VERY basic example, you have the emotional experience of hunger, you think in your mind that a sandwich would very handily solve the hunger, and you get up, go to the kitchen, and make a sandwich.

From a certain very basic viewpoint, this would be considered a sandwich spell.

Very basic.  Don’t think too hard, there are a lot of other factors in that example.

But the concept is what I am communicating.

In order to bring any idea into reality, those three forces are always at play.  However, often the experience of reality is of being caught in a binary, black and white, this or that.  We become immobilized in the eternal and equal struggle between an active and passive force.  In my own life, I find that I am often able to break free from this sort of thinking by stopping and consciously seeking a reconciling force.  Most often, for me, that reconciling force is some sort of physical action.

Now, when you take things to a more esoteric level, you can apply these principles to all sorts of “spells” but the easiest is probably the talisman.  The broadest definition I can come up with for a talisman, after having looked at LOTS of different traditions, is an item or items which carry inside them a specific intention which the owner believes that they project into the reality around them automatically or after being exposed to specific stimulus.  The most common form of talisman is one of protection.  This can mean good luck, like a lucky rabbit’s foot, or safety and health, like a guardian angel bumper sticker, or comfort and peace, like a child’s teddy bear.  It can be personal, say a necklace that helps keep you happy in a dreary work environment, or general, a welcome mat that makes sure guests in your home are both comfortable and unable to leave negative energy in your space.  Really the limit is your imagination (your active force).

Here is an example of steps that might be taken to intentionally make a talisman of personal protection.

1) Identify what it is you specifically want protection from.  Are you struggling with depression?  Do you feel you need a reminder to watch your footing and keep your balance?  Are you looking for relief from a negative coworker?  Identifying the kind of protection you want is crucial.  And turn to your emotions (passive force) for this information.  What does your heart say you need this charm to do?

2) Try to get specific.  How will this talisman work?  What will it be?  How will your intentions interact with the chosen item?  Does the small pearl you are going to wear as a necklace project a calm white bubble around you that keeps out the negative vibrations around you?  Does the pair of gold earrings you wear form a golden second skin that shields you from harm?  Do the blue suede shoes draw the attention of others around you like a magnet ( 😉 )?  Use your thoughts (active force) to envision both the specific protection, and the way it will work in application.  This part of the process may feel VERY silly to you, but don’t worry.  You don’t have to tell anyone else what you imagined.

3) Take an action or specific set of actions to “charge” your object.  Obviously the process of obtaining the object, particularly if it is difficult or you make it yourself, can serve this function perfectly well.  In general, the more you sacrifice or the more difficult it is or the greater the expense, the stronger the “spell” will be.  But this can be done even with a simple coin found on the ground.  This can mean giving the object attention every day. Stopping to touch it, or look at it.  It can be formal, like an incantation or a prayer, spoken while holding the object.  It can be elaborate, a glitter filled circle singing Rufus Wainwright in a graveyard at midnight while drinking white wine.  Do what works for you.  If there are objects from your past that indicate sacred action to you, incorporate them.  For a Catholic, sprinkling an item with Holy Water is profound.  For a pagan, using sage smoke to “smudge” an item may be sufficient.  For an atheist simply exposing an object to the entire sonic vibrations of your favorite album may make it sacred.  Take a physical action.  In the early stages of working with this technique, the more out of the ordinary the action, the better (but stay safe!  Don’t endanger yourself or others).  After the action is completed, the talisman is done.  It can be a simple one minute process, or something that takes months to finish.  The important thing is that you feel all three forces have been satisfied by the process.  Is you heart at peace?  Is your mind at ease?  Are you feet at rest?  Then you’re probably done!  If not, look at what else may seem instinctively right to do.

There are a few tips as well to offer.  The three forces at play must all be present, but they do not have to be in balance.  For example, feeling very very strongly in your heart that you must stop and pray for someone right this very moment does not require a strong thought or even a very strong action to be effective.  The simple prayer is sufficient: “Be with them whatever they are going through”.  Similarly, though you may not clearly feel a desire to protect yourself, you can logically create an intricate idea that works, and with just a little bit of heart and a simple purchase, you can make something very strong.  And lastly, sometimes we do not feel or think much of anything, but our bodies guide the way, as when we suddenly make a breakthrough in our thinking when we go for a long and difficult run.  These forces are dynamic, and in flux, and it is possible to compensate for a weakness in one by increasing the focus on the others.

Lastly, there is care necessary to really bring a “spell” like this into full power.  You must treat the object you create with some degree of reverence.  Make sure you know where it is, keep it clean, and occasionally take an action designed to “recharge” it.  This can mean leaving it in the sun for a day, or letting it sit for an hour underneath the full moon.  It can mean breathing on it, or rubbing it three times.  It can mean wearing it while you get three headshots in Call of Duty.  Whatever the sacred action is to you.

And finally, try to remember what it is you sought to bring into the world by creating the talisman, and when the opportunity arises to take an action to support that goal, go towards it.  If you make a charm to protect you from an abusive spouse, take steps to end the relationship or make it healthier (going to counseling).  If you want help with your health, pay attention to your food choices, exercise.  If you’re looking to reduce negativity in your life, move away from people in your area who are engaging in negative speech or actions.  These talismans help, but they don’t accomplish.  That is still up to us, as humans.

But sometimes, they catch the right eye, or give us the reminder we need, or the faith we lack, to accomplish our goals.


With Love,


6 Responses

  1. Heather Kelly
    | Reply

    Love the blue shoes–great talisman!! Are you still coming to JRW? I can’t wait!!

    • DM Daniel
      | Reply

      JRW?? I…umm…yes? I dunno! I’m coming to all the things! Which thing is JRW??

  2. Definitley a total stranger
    | Reply

    Hi David,
    Great post, lots of interesting things to ponder.
    I had a question and I thought that it could be best answered by a total stranger, and since it relates (in a tangential sort of way) to this topic I figured it couldn’t hurt to get your point of view. How is one to know when the situation is one they should leave? In terms of, say, an intensely dreary and draining work environment. At what point should you accept that problems are more than a talisman can help with and decide to leave? Obviously there are a multitude of factors that would play into making a decision to leave (Mainly coming down to practical vs. mental and spiritual). What is your opinion on this? Do you have any methods of coming to a balanced decision? Hypothetically, of course. (My spelling is naturally disastrous)

    • DM Daniel
      | Reply

      Total Stranger,

      That’s an interesting question. I think it requires a lot of clarity and presence of mind. There is a tendency, in both modern “New Age” type thinking (like The Secret), or the reverse of that (parents or society saying get a job, pay your dues, suck it up) to want to make things very simple. And often, we mistake arriving at a simple explanation for arriving at the “truth”. It is very easy to say “follow your heart, be true to yourself!” However, that often doesn’t take into account very real concerns like paying bills, feeding children, eating, surviving, working towards a larger goal (saving money from a crappy job for college, or a downpayment on a house, or your dream trip to Europe). However, on the flip side, the idea that you just have to take care of business first is also overly simplistic. I find the balancing point between the two is intentional choice. Intentional choice requires a lot of conditions to generate (more than you would think actually), but in a nutshell, it requires TWO primary components. The first is clear perception of the situation, and the consequences for moving in a particular way within the situation (what would walking out on your job mean? What would staying mean? What are the benefits and costs of both choices?), and the second is a clear understanding of what your current goals ARE in life, outside of the situation. Then, you make the choice that is most viable (which is a complicated mess which you probably never feel like you are getting right) and then (and THIS is very important) be willing to bear the consequences of that choice you make. Too often people are unwilling to take the responsibility for the actions they make, and if a choice doesn’t work out they become so worried or depressed about the fact that they made the “wrong” choice. However, being caught up in right or wrong means being trapped in your mental reality in either the future or the past, and both places are places you cannot effect. If you have a “fidelity” of sorts to yourself, and you know in your mind that you did the best you could with the information you had at the time(and sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it on the knowing you did your best thing), then you can accept what is happening as a result of your choices, and make new choices again doing the best you can with the information you have to achieve the things you want. But that requires so much foundation, so many concepts and ideas, that is isn’t an easy thing to do at all. Even this explanation is over simplified. Basically, be suspicious of binaries, certainty, and regret above all things, and don’t stop making the best choices you can.

      Hope that helps Stranger,


      PS: An addendum here. Issues of physical or emotional safety should (almost) always be moved away from. Never hesitate, no matter the consequence, to protect yourself. If a boss is sexually harassing you, or a partner is beating you, or your SAFETY is compromised, do what is necessary to preserve your safety and get away. The certainty of protecting your self should NOT be mistrusted.

      PPS: In every case, clarity is enhanced by community. Strive to know and be known by others and to develop solid friendships, because sometimes knowing yourself is like knowing your own eye color without having ever seen a mirror. You can hypothesize, but it is much easier to have a friend who you can go “Hey! Joe! What color are my eyes today?”. If you are uncertain, or confused, the EASIEST solution is to get it outside yourself into communication with another living being (in the early stages, human is obviously easiest. I tried it recently with a rock to mixed results).

      PPPS: It helps one’s claims of “strangerhood” if one uses the name most often repeated on the website, rather than the every day name of the author. Just friendly advice from one stranger to another.

      • Albert Camus "The Stranger"
        | Reply

        Thanks. I’m sure the hypothetical person would now take those things into account and find them very useful, if a little bit abstract to apply. But thanks for the reply.

        PS- What would “emotional safety” encompass? (Should I perhaps email that question to stop this from cluttering your blog, should you be open to answering it?)

        PPS- A rock. That sounds like a pretty solid approach to a problem. Does sound a bit hard to interpret.

        PPPS- Of course, while I totally definitely am a complete stranger in the way you assumed, you overlooked the possibility that I was implying that, as in the classic novel by Albert Camus, I am a stranger to societies ways. Perhaps I was expressing my isolation and inability to understand emotion and social convention :P. (Okay, yeah. Even I know that’s a total stretch. Though I am curious as to who you think I am. The world may never know.)

        Thanks again, and good luck with your writing!

        • DM Daniel
          | Reply

          Of course using the contact form on my website will initiate a private conversation. I have no control on whether you choose to do so. But I will respond to all communications, comments or otherwise. I just may not often initiate them. Comments, however oddball do drive up traffic ratings on my website, so I don’t mind them at all. As you may have noticed, despite the beauty of the site, you can hears crickets if you listen hard for signs of actual interaction. But such is life. Takes most websites two to three years to really gain traction, and that’s IF they are active, which I am not.

          PS- Emotional safety is one of those gray areas I was talking about. It is also hard for someone else to make the final say for you on emotional safety. Usually, if emotional safety issues have arisen to the level of objectively being “dangerous” they are no longer JUST emotional issues, but are issues of physical or mental safety as well (a spouse being beaten by their partner, for instance, or an administrative assistant being forced to lie about a superior’s embezzlement). An issue of emotional safety is very hard to pin down from the outside (and sometimes from the inside). At what point does something you just don’t enjoy doing or experiencing become woundsome? Is the artistic child forced to endure a math class day in and day out being emotionally wounded? In a way, yes, and in a way no. It is such a fine balance, dear heart, figuring out when to shelter our heart and follow its lead, and when to endure with the knowledge that we are making a choice for our benefit regardless of the way it feels. If I may be so bold with a total stranger, I find it interesting that this is the question, of all the abstract concepts presented in my reply, that you chose to ask about. What that suggests to me is that you are going through a situation you aren’t enjoying in life, but it isn’t something definitely bad. You are conflicted, unsure what to do. One part of you wants to just “get the hell out” and another thinks “just suck it up buttercup and get through”. And neither part will shut up. What this question is really doing is looking to some sort of perceived authority you have projected outward from yourself and onto this blog to make a determination into what is “actually so” or “correct”. You want “the answer” so you can have the choice made for you. Well, tough. The answer doesn’t exist. I imagine you’ve become enchanted in some way with this romantic notion that there is a “right” choice to make here. That every decision in your life is some secretly important affair that contributes to your ultimate self-expression and happiness. Will you ever become the best you with the best life you can have? That notion only brings paralysis; because it adds such gravity to every choice as to make it impossible to move. The truth is that there are some things in this life a person can do, and some things they can’t. But as that great green woman said “Till I try, I’ll never know”. The important thing is to stop projecting into the future. Stop trying to anticipate. You don’t have enough experience yet! (Spoiler alert, you could be 90 and that would still be true. The great truth is that the more we know, the less we know). Whatever this situation is you are looking into, what you are really avoiding doing is making a choice. A conscious, big choice. Obviously if you are still conflicted about it, you are making lots of little choices that keep you suspended. But I’m talking looking at the whole thing, and deciding for today what you are choosing to do. That means listening to your heart, but also listening to your mind, and reasoning based on the facts. What do you gain from staying? What do you gain from leaving? What do you gain from changing? And then look at the losses too. What your question tells me more than anything, “Albert” is that you are really scared about trusting yourself. I don’t know why, because even if we “know” each other, I don’t know you. The real work possible for you in this situation is not making the right choice about whatever silly little problem is spurring you to write these comments. That’s such a small thing, I guarantee it, no matter how big it seems right now. Right choices are so boring anyway. No, the real work available to you is that you have the opportunity to practice trusting yourself. Not your heart or your mind. Those are both tools for you to use (and I’m not sure if you believe one or other other is “really you” but spoiler alert, they aren’t). Begin to look for that higher part of you. The part which “listens” to your heart and your mind. What is that? That is the Self(capital S). Or the tip of it at least. That part is the part you must both come to know, and realize you truly are, and ultimately trust. The exciting thing about this piddly little nothing problem you are facing whose outcome really, I promise, doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of your life, is that it provides you the opportunity to better know yourself. This is the truth, Camus: there is no right or wrong in this life, or if there is, it is certainly too grand a concept for we insignificant bits of carbon to comprehend. So stop trying. We can’t know. What we CAN do is infinitely more terrifying to us. What we can do is create. That is what humans are good for. We create all sorts of stuff. Think about it! Some other animals are beginning to create (bees, ants, chimps, etc). But we humans…we’re on a whole other level in that regard. And the first thing everyone wants to do with that power? Throw it the fuck away! What SHOULD I create? What is RIGHT or BEST to create? Because there is the real work, the only goal available to you in this lifetime. Create yourself. How can there be a right or wrong way to do that, when Who You Are has never existed before? Each choice you make in your life does contribute, but not objectively like there is some appropriate path you should be on and every choice you make either conforms or deviates from that standard. It’s all subjective. It is all part of the story you are telling. We’re all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?

          PPS- Nah, rocks are easy. They’re very accepting. You can’t hurt a rock because a rock doesn’t have any way it wants to be other than the way it is at the time. Rolls down a mountain? Cool. BECOMES a mountain? Cool. Gets blown up by dynamite? A million tiny cools. Flies through space as a comet? Very cool. Rocks are great to have a conversation with because they have such deep voices they remind us of the paradox that we are both completely insignificant and the most marvelous thing in all the universe. I find it very easy to connect to my Self (capital S) when I talk to rocks. Problem is, they aren’t very good at solutions. Very bad ideas for people, have rocks. “Why not just lay down and see what happens, for say, a million years or so?” So…you have to figure out which things to go to with which problems. I find people are usually best for people problems. But then again…so few of my problems are people problems anymore… *sigh* I am a liver.

          PPPS- I am, without doubt, histories worst read author. So congratulations! You are officially more literate than I. I have never read Mister Camus’ work. I am reminded of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land though, but that probably has more martian orgies. I was more referring to the fact in my previous tail end comment, that you used my first name, and not DM. That implies familiarity, since in order to find my first name, you really have to look on the website in a rather detailed manner. Then of course, the irony of your email, and name choice, suggests someone I know maybe messing with me. But the sincerity of your question does not match with that. So then it is someone I know, but not well enough that you would know my friends ask me these kinds of things all the time. So an acquaintance then. Beyond that, I think the leaps are fairly logical to make. I think the question you should ask yourself is, consider the context of the lives of those around you. What must it really be like to be them? Then deduce from there what avenues of deduction I myself may have employed with which to seek out your possible maybe identity, Strong One.

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