It was the sound of a mournful puppy that drew me outside.
I’d meant to be in bed an hour earlier, but I just kept finding excuses to stay up a little later. I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything, of course. Just puttering around the house, unwilling to give up on a day that was almost over anyway.
I’d finally decided that enough was enough, and was locking up, when I heard the noise.
Sad puppy, somewhere down the street it sounded like, making a noise somewhere between a whine and a bark.
I turned the deadbolt on my front door. Not my problem.
The sound came again, and I turned the bolt the other way.
Stepping out, the night air was cool and moist.
The last few weeks, here in North Texas, have seen more rain and thunder than anything else. It had rained, on and off, for most of the day, but for the moment the clouds seemed to be minding their own business, scudding their way across a grey sky and a few blurry looking stars.
I stepped out into the middle of the yard, away from the porch-light, and as I did, the strange yelping sound came again, and again – close! And a strange blunt shape hurdled through the air from the side of my house and landed in the low branches just to my left.
Before I could fully register what had happened, the first shape was followed by a second, which flew past its fellow, and into the branches just a few feet in front of me. The branches, just an arms length out of my reach, dipped low with an unseen weight, and that strange ‘puppy’ cry sounded again.
I turned back toward the first shape in time to see it launch itself toward and then past the second shape, its course curving through the branches, and coming to rest a little higher and on my right. Its small, compact shape only dimly visible in the reflected glow of my porch light. An owl.
The second owl launched himself high up into the branches, lost completely to my view, until I heard it land, again to my left, very near to where his friend had first touched down, and the circle was repeated.
…twice more, before they vanished off into the night, and I was left there, standing alone in my front yard, grinning like an idiot and truly awake again for the first time in months.
I listen to a lot of National Public Radio, and a couple weeks ago I tuned into a program discussing studies that had been conducted, showing that emotions are not just things of the mind, but that they possess a physical component.
The claim ran something like this: If you are sad, maybe you slouch and shuffle, maybe you frown, maybe you gesture and speak in a certain manner. These are the bodies physical expressions of your emotional state. The unexpected twist, is that according to multiple studies, if you slouch and shuffle, if you frown and gesture and speak in a certain manner, despite the fact that you are actually happy, you will BECOME sad. The connection between mind and body runs both ways, and the mind will respond to the actions of the body with an alteration in mood.
In the days that have passed since I listened to that program (and for the life of me, I can’t remember which show it was), I have read a number of blog posts, from various writers, which all seem to touch, in one way or another, upon the subject of Orthopraxy versus Orthodoxy.
That is, Right Action versus Right Belief.
Certain religions of a monotheistic persuasion, hold that correct belief (i.e. the one true way) is the foundation upon which personal salvation rests. From this perspective if you believe in the proper things in the proper way, your actions will follow suit and a glorious afterlife awaits.
On the other hand, if you are found to have committed incorrect actions (sins), the likely cause was your own failure to believe properly, or fully enough, to override your sinful nature.
Polytheists, on the other hand, reject the concept of ‘personal salvation’ and tend to be more Orthopraxic in nature. When you believe in more than one god, and when the wants and desires of those gods vary, sometimes to the point of being contradictory, believing in anything like ‘One True Way’ is problematic at best.
What’s more, as pointed out in this excellent post over at the Shrine of Antinous, Polytheism is, “Not About Belief. Belief may flow from experience, and may impact practice (in fact, it should!); but, belief does not delimit experience nor determine practice.”
Experience and practice should be the root of belief.
Without action, belief is of little value.
We are what we do, and if we stop doing anything, what are we then?
When we act like we are sad, we become sad.
And when, to please others, or to mollify certain hurts among our loved ones, we set aside the things that we do and say, the things that inform our beliefs and make us who and what we are…,
…we sleep, and our beliefs become mere dreams, unfulfilled.
I have allowed myself to fall into this restless slumber.
The connection I once felt with the natural world, and with the otherworld beyond, has faded through lack of use.
I was worried, for a time, that it had vanished completely.
Until a few nights ago, when a pair of screech owls decided to play a game of leapfrog in the trees above me, turning circles around me in the night. They were only there for a few seconds, and then they were gone, my laughter following them into the darkness. But they left me awake to something I had almost forgotten.
It is time to start doing things again.
It is time to start being again.
It’s after midnight, and I’m wide awake!