This week my kitten underwent spaying at the vets. To prevent the animal from licking or biting at the wound, most vets send cats and dogs home from such procedures wearing the infamous cone of shame, but my vets recommend the use of a Medical Pet Shirt – a kind of Babygro-type outfit that covers the animal’s torso so that they can’t get at the wound.
For the first 24 hours, as is normal after surgery, my shirt-clad kitten was severely withdrawn – she wouldn’t eat or drink, wouldn’t play, wouldn’t use her litter tray, did little other than sleep and, when awake, would just stand in one spot, shaking, staring at things anxiously. Then 24 hours turned into 48 hours, then 72…and I was starting to get really worried.
On a whim, I decided to try taking off the Medical Pet Shirt and replacing with the cone of shame that I had been given as a backup. Turned out, it took forever to even get near her with the cone, as the second I took off the shirt, she was off – running around, purring, playing – complete, instantaneous transformation.
Her alarmingly depressed and anxious behaviour was entirely down to the fact that she hadn’t been comfortable in her outfit. It wasn’t natural for her, and she found it restrictive and confusing.
How many of us can say the same about outfits we’ve put on over the years? I talk not, of course, of literal clothing – but of times when we’ve felt forced, in some way, to appear a certain way, in order to conform. I talked last week about the disguise of the Wise Sage. That was more an exploration of our attempts to appear something that we’re not – something more perfect than we are – in order to stand out, rather than to fit in. As a personal example of repressing one’s true nature to fit in, my time at TOTJO has overseen the whole arc of my coming-out story – when I first joined the Temple, I was in every facet of my life wearing the guise of a heteronormative young woman in order to fit in, and to say that, like my kitten in her shirt, I found it restrictive, confusing and uncomfortable would be something of an understatement.
I’m sure everyone can call to mind occasions of a similar ilk. Perhaps, like me, you are part of a recognised minority group and you’ve repressed your outward expression of that to avoid attracting unwelcome attention. Perhaps you are part of a different sort of minority, like people with an unusual interest. Perhaps you behaved in a way that you weren’t totally at ease with during your school or university years, in order to fit in with your friend group. Perhaps you were asked if you are religious and whilst you wanted to say “Yes, I walk the path of Jediism”, the words that actually came out of your mouth were a vehement “No, definitely not”.
Or perhaps, you found yourself at the Temple and you noticed that the people you consider to be doing well here think differently about certain things to you, so you decided to parrot their line and keep your own truth to yourself, out of fear of being mocked, attacked, or of being prevented from progressing.
I’m not here to debate the exact criteria for being a Jedi, or what difference in approach is a step too far for someone to be considered for Knighthood or for the Clergy. These are Temple-wide issues that I’m sure will be debated for a long time to come.
As Clergy, I’m here to hold up to whoever is in front of me a mirror, reflecting back the Force – and in the case of dealing with issues of belonging and conforming, the Force is vital. Many times over the years, I have posted the following Alan Watts quote which so very simply describes the Force as I understand it:
“You are the universe experiencing itself.”
Or another Alan Watts quote, which expands a little:
“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”
We each have the unique privilege of living an experience that no other living being will ever have. That inevitably means that we have different beliefs, principles, reactions, and behaviours. Every one of us at one point or another will sacrifice a little of that to fit in somewhere in a way that goes against our true nature – and what are we here for – not just at this Temple but in this human form – if not to experience and live our true nature?
From the 16 Teachings:
“9. Jedi have integrity. We are authentic to what we believe and are open, honest and true to our purpose and our minds. We remove all masks to reveal ourselves as courageous and noble of heart. We do not hide from fear of damage to our image because we know that our image cannot be blemished from the words and actions of others.”
Integrity is not just resisting the temptation to appear to be better than you are. It’s about not being anyone other than who you are. And that is something that takes great courage. When we offer raw honesty and openness, it doesn’t always turn out to be sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it will be met with the rejection we fear. In some places being truly authentic means risking your life, and that becomes a very different matter. We have to put ourselves and our wellbeing first and judge the severity of the risks. Choosing not to put oneself in real danger is not passivity but assertiveness, and there is integrity in that also.
But if the risks permit, we have a calling to explore the gift of consciousness that has been afforded to each of us as individuals. There is no need to try to mimic the experience that that friend, that associate, or that Jedi Knight is having over there – because they are already having it! If the universe is a puzzle and each of us are pieces of that puzzle, there is no sense in replacing a unique piece with a duplicate of another – the picture will be rendered incomplete. Perhaps a puzzle is a slightly prescriptive metaphor for the Force – I prefer to think of it as a great tapestry that is being woven, of which we are all a vital individual thread.
So – are you wearing any outfits that go against your nature and limit your experience?
What is it that makes your experience different from anyone else’s?
And can you do anything more to harness and utilise that – to live that – for the enhancement and development of your own experience and the experiences of those around you?
Finally, and most importantly – don’t make your cat wear a Babygro. They don’t like it.