Inner Fire

Yule, also known as Winter Solstice, is the longest and darkest night of the year. This is a time to look inward — a time to make our peace with the dark of the year. At this time, we gather with loved ones, warming our cold hands over the hearthfire and reflecting on what we truly value in life as we look to the East and await the return of the Sun.

In theory, this is a time of festive celebration and quiet contemplation, pausing after a hectic harvest season to relax, collect our thoughts, and prepare for the coming Spring. This year, however, my Yule has been a little different. Yes, I’ve been turning inward — but instead of simply basking in the warmth of my inner fire, I’ve been stoking it.

Samhain, the holiday celebrated at the threshold between October 31 and November 1, is considered by many Neo-Pagans to be the end of the old year and the start of the new. It is the Final Harvest, a time to honor ancestors, harvest what is going well in our lives, and cull what no longer serves us.

The day after Samhain, I decided to start jogging. I didn’t really have a plan at first — simply an urge, an impulse, an intuitive desire to follow through on improving my health and fitness. My yoga practice has been a wonderful tool in this process, and I couldn’t have made it this far without it. But it dawned on me that I need to build up my inner fire right now, and I don’t have the strength and flexibility yet to do the forms of yoga most suited for building my inner fire.

And so, as the old year died away, I started to jog.

When I started, I could barely jog at all. I’m not afraid to admit this. The moment I started jogging, I felt stiffness and resistance in my hips and back, and my heart and lungs almost immediately went into overdrive, insisting that I stop this madness immediately. But somehow, I managed to complete a single lap around the block — and that was good enough for my first day.

Every day since then, I’ve been jogging once a day. Through the snow, through the rain, I’ve jogged without fail. As one lap turned into two laps, and two laps turned into three, I realized I was onto something. My body warmed; my muscles strengthened; my fascia (connective tissues) started to soften. In essence, my body started to rebuild itself at the cellular level, restructuring my flesh for activity rather than inactivity.

My inner fire is rekindling, and my whole body is transforming in the process.

My goal now is to jog every day for a year and a day, taking a break on any days when I’m too sick or sore to jog. Once a week, I also go to the gym with friends for jogging and weight lifting and some time on the rowing machines. So far, it’s been going well, leading me to believe that if I continue to get plenty of food and rest, I’ll be able to keep up this pace indefinitely.

Of course, this doesn’t take the place of my yoga practice! Yoga is still at the center of my approach to self-healing. This dramatic shift in activity level would probably be tearing me apart if it weren’t for the fact that I’m continuing to go to yoga class once or twice per week and doing more yoga at home on most of my days away from class. The jogging stokes my inner fire, and the yoga allows me to smooth out the kinks and work on the long-term goal of improving my strength, flexibility, and overall body alignment.

So now, 49 days later, I find myself sitting at home on Yule after a day of jogging, walking, talking, working, and philosophizing. My recent focus on rekindling my inner fire has in some way drawn me away from other pursuits in the community, if only temporarily. But as the Sun rests at its lowest point in the sky, and I sink fully into this inner work that lies ahead of me, I’m starting to wonder if I may once again be reaching a turning point.

The celestial turning point we observe at Yule is very subtle. To the naked eye, it may seem at first as if nothing has changed. But ultimately, everything has changed. Nights that were getting longer will soon be getting shorter. The arc of the Sun will soon rise higher and higher in the sky. We still have some of the coldest days of Winter ahead of us — but tonight is the darkest night, and our days will only get brighter from this point forward.

This doesn’t mean that we should put too much energy into looking forward. We should be here, now, on the darkest of nights, and sit for a while with the fact that our lives are often shrouded in shadow, buried in cold soil, cloaked in impenetrable mysteries that our conscious mind may never grasp.

But as I sit here in this place — a place of doubt, a place of uncertainty, a moment when I wonder if the light outside will ever return — I find peace in the silence and the stillness. For even on the coldest, darkest night, there are seeds sleeping in the soil. And even in the dead of winter, there is still life in my flesh, my heart, my soul.

I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I won’t find the success I’m hoping for, and maybe humanity as a whole will never emerge from the dark night of the soul that we find ourselves in these days. But what I do know is that here, now, in this place, in this moment, I feel a light and a life within me that can never be extinguished, never be killed, never be lost even on the longest, darkest night.

I’ve felt this inner fire in my heart for a long time. But for years, I’ve had trouble bringing it out of the world of spirit and into the world of flesh. Now, with each lap that I run, each asana I perform, each prayer that I pray to my Goddess and God, I feel that fire more fully in my body. This fire is no longer just something that I know, or I see, or I speak about, or feel in my heart. It’s something *I AM* — a passion that I live, breathe, eat, sleep, experience in every cell of my body.

Drawing this fire into my body isn’t a simple or easy process. There have already been kinks along the way, and there will surely be more to come. But it’s better to be fully alive in a place of creative chaos than to be trapped forever in an unchanging world of separation between flesh and spirit.

I’m experiencing a great awakening, the full effects of which won’t be outwardly visible for some time to come. If my life path follows the Wheel of the Year, as it sometimes does, then each of the coming Sabbats will bring with it a new stage in this journey.

At Imbolc, some new glimmer of hope will become apparent, even though times still seem dark. At Ostara, something new and colorful will blossom in my life. At Bealtaine, the power of my passion will be readily apparent, a tangible creative force to be reckoned with. At Litha, I will experience the fullness of this new creative force. And over the course of Lughnasadh, Mabon, and Samhain, I will harvest the fruit of this creativity.

Of course, this is all conjecture. Maybe I’ll crash and burn tomorrow, or maybe it’ll take years for me to come closer to achieving my dreams. But today, I feel the power of the moment deep within me, and I have high hopes that this power will become manifest over the course of the remaining seasons of the year.

As the light grows brighter, so will I. As the Sun rises, so will I. As the Wheel of the Year turns, my life will turn around, and I will shine more brightly than I ever have before.

Here’s hoping, eh? If all goes well, my good fortune will be your good fortune. I’ve been keeping my community work to a minimum during this time of inner work — but as the seasons change, I hope to have more time, more money, and more energy, both for my own sake and for the service I long to offer to my community.

Hopefully, then, we all have a bountiful harvest to look forward to in the coming months. In the meantime, I am content to sit in the cold, in the dark, stoking the Yule fires through the longest night of the year, stirring the hope that in due time, the light will return.

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Half the Sky

Calling all superheroes, activists, and people of conscience! The time has come for us to join forces in a bold new grassroots effort to promote and protect the health and dignity and freedom of over half the world’s population!

I’m a member of a book club that’s currently reading a book called Half the Sky. Here’s the website for the book and the movement that is growing up around it:

Half the Sky Movement

As the subtitle indicates, Half the Sky is about turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. We still have a few chapters left to review, but since my library book was overdue, I decided to finish reading the book early. Therefore, I’m ready to start spreading the word and issue a call to action.

The strength of this book, as I see it, is that it focuses on stories — personal stories of women who have been harmed by various forms of oppression, and personal stories of women who have successfully taken a stand against the challenges that face them.

It’s one thing to hear a statistic; it’s another thing entirely to hear a personal story.

The statistics tell us that several million women a year are victims/survivors of sex trafficking, which is essentially a euphemism for sex slavery. We’re not talking about women who choose to offer sex in exchange for money; we’re talking about women who are kidnapped, deceived, and forced into providing sex for strangers, in exchange for money that all goes straight to their captor.

As horrible as such statistics are, they’re usually not enough to motivate people to take action. Personal stories, however, draw us in and make such injustices seem more real to us.

Half the Sky is full of such stories. One story involves a woman who escapes from sex slavery at great personal risk only to be returned to her captors by corrupt police. Another story involves a woman who survives such treatment and goes on to lead an organization that helps women who have escaped from sex slavery and are seeking to empower themselves so that they can hold onto their freedom.

The stories of this book cover a wide range of challenges facing the women of the world, including sex trafficking, maternal mortality, rape as a weapon of war, and the many other challenges of the second-class status that women endure in many places around the world. The authors don’t just focus on the problems — they also focus on solutions, particularly solutions that have been demonstrated to work and that we as readers can choose to support.

The book focuses on problems faced by women in “developing” countries. As people living in “developed” countries, it’s often hard for us to even know what exactly is going on, much less what we can do to improve the situation. Some foreign aid efforts do nothing, while others may even make the situation worse. That’s why Half the Sky focuses on organizations that are started by people in these developing nations who have found their own ways of addressing serious problems. This not only ensures that the programs are suited to the complex needs of the local community, but also shifts our perspective on women in these countries, treating them as self-empowered liberators who could simply use a little assistance from someone who shares in their commitment to social justice.

I can talk until I’m blue in the face about this book — or until my fingers are raw, I suppose, since I’m typing this message. But anything I say or type won’t be enough to inspire you. What will really make a difference for you is reading these women’s stories of oppression and liberation. Once you’ve seen what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done to face the challenges that surround them, you will surely be moved to do what you can to help.

The Half the Sky Movement offers many of the same resources as the book. The book is a more complete approach, offering both more stories and more ways that you can help. I encourage you to read the book. But in the meantime, the website is a good start. I encourage you to check it out right now — not later, not tomorrow, but as soon as you’re done reading this entry.

Once you’ve read the book, you’ll probably want to do something about it. I know I do! My book club hasn’t finished reading it yet — but when we do, I bet we’ll start talking about what we can do to support one or more of the organizations mentioned in the book. If you share our concern and passion for this cause, we can surely work together to make a difference.

This isn’t just a “women’s issue,” folks. This is a human rights issue, and a call to action for anyone with a sense of conscience and an ounce of compassion in their hearts.

Some people look at the scope of these problems and do nothing because the problem itself seems unsolvable. And really, who can say if humanity will ever live entirely without the evils described within this book. Personally, I believe that we can eliminate at least some of these evils over the course of several generations.

Either way, what we do know is that there are women (and men) right now who are working diligently and effectively to make life better for individual women and children who have suffered through sex slavery, and rape, and needless maternal complications, and a variety of other life-threatening and life-altering problems. These empowered women, who have seen some of the worst of what life has to offer, are doing good work to help their fellow women right now. With your support, and my support, they’ll be able to give better help to more people.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the Half the Sky Movement. Read Half the Sky. Talk with your family and friends about it, and help turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.

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Superheroes Anonymous 4: Conclusion

Note: This is the last of several articles about Superheroes Anonymous 4, a gathering of Real Life Superheroes being held in Portland, Oregon. This series, written by Treesong, is a collaborative project of Heroes in the Night and Song of the Trees.

I’ve already given a description of each day’s events in my previous entries. Now, I’d like to write a quick entry to sum it all up and thank the people who made it all possible.

On the whole, I would say that Superheroes Anonymous 4 was a great success. There were some logistical issues, some interpersonal issues, and some lessons to be learned for future events. But this is par for the course when you get together a group of people from different cities and try to bring them all together for a common set of activities. The important thing is that we met up, got to know each other better, and did some good work together. I’ve been to numerous conferences, and I felt that this one went quite smoothly.

This event has been a great inspiration for me. I get the impression it has been for other people, too. Becoming a part of the Real Life Superhero movement in general has motivated me to get active again, and this conference has definitely amped up my inspiration and motivation even further. I also have new contacts now in other cities, and we can support each other in the local work that we’re doing. We’ve pledged to stay in touch so that we can share ideas, offer support, and meet up again as soon as we’re able to do so, whether it’s in the context of Superheroes Anonymous 5 or some smaller regional meet-up.

I’d like to thank Zetaman, Apocalypse Meow, and anyone else involved in organizing the weekend’s events. Like many event organizers, I could tell that Zetaman was starting to stress out as we encountered a few delays and changes in logistical details along the way. But between the good work on advance planning and the attention to detail as the weekend went on, we were able to pull off all of the weekend’s main events: the food bank, the Red Cross training, the coat drive, the patrol, and the Race for the Cure. Thanks for being good hosts and bringing it all together.

Thanks to my fellow Real Life Superheroes for showing up, putting in the time and effort, and keeping it real. There are still plenty of RLSHs who I’ve met online and would like to meet in person. But it was a pleasure to meet some of you in person, and it was great to work and play and learn side by side with all of you.

Thanks also to Tea Krulos for inviting me to contribute to his blog. I’m sure Tea would’ve liked to make it out to SA4, but since he couldn’t, I’m glad we were able to work together in getting the word out about how the weekend went.

On a personal note, I’d like to send out a special thanks to everyone who made my own participation in Superheroes Anonymous 4 possible. I am a low-income worker with no savings, so I was only able to make it out here with the support of my community. Thanks to the several anonymous donors who supported my trip out here, and thanks also to Castle Perilous for matching these donations to ensure that Southern Illinois’ own Real Life Superhero would make it to Superheroes Anonymous 4.

Now, it’s time to return home to my own home town and resume my own efforts here. Good luck to everyone else as they do the same.

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Superheroes Anonymous 4: Sunday

Note: This is one of several articles about Superheroes Anonymous 4, a gathering of Real Life Superheroes being held in Portland, Oregon. This series, written by Treesong, is a collaborative project of Heroes in the Night and Song of the Trees.

Today was the final day of Superheroes Anonymous 4. It was hard saying goodbye to people, especially since I had to leave before the final dinner. But since we spent so much of our time together, it feels like we managed to pack more than three days worth of experience into less than three days worth of time.

I stayed out late last night for patrol, then stayed up even later to write about the day’s events. This was almost evened out by the fact that I was able to sleep in until about 7 am this time. I only slept about a total of 7 or 8 hours between Friday and Saturday nights combined, and I believe others slept a similar or lesser amount. As you might imagine, we were all tired — but we were also excited about walking in the Race for the Cure!

We weren’t able to do a big group breakfast this morning, so we ended up eating in a few small groups. I ate breakfast with Zetaman, Apocalypse Meow, and Civitron because we were riding together in the Zetavan. (Yes, Zetaman had a Zetavan!) We ate at this great little diner called Burgerville. At a glance, it looked like it might just be a typical corporate chain restaurant. Once inside, however, I discovered that it was actually part of a chain of local restaurants that focus on local food and ecological sustainability. I’m pretty sure this was the first chain-style restaurant I’ve seen so far where there were separate bins for recyclables, compostables, and disposables, with three illustrated signs to help the novice determine which was which. Portland is filled with many such pleasant surprises, and I hope that I can go back there again sometime just to explore the city more thoroughly.

Once breakfast was taken care of, we made our way over to the Race for the Cure.

First of all, I was amazed with the turnout. I knew that it was going to be big, and it’s not the biggest mass gathering I’ve ever been to. But it’s definitely one of the biggest, which is pretty amazing since it was for a charitable cause rather than a political protest.

Since we were staying in different parts of town and eating at different places, we ended up arriving at different places and times. It took a bit of walking to bring us all together. What started as a few isolated pockets of soon gathered into a prominent cluster of nine Real Life Superheroes plus several other people who were walking with us. Most people were wearing either the Race for the Cure shirts or their own everyday clothes, but there were also a few other costumed activists, including an entire group of Star Wars characters fighting against breast cancer. We have some photos of superheroes and Star Wars characters posing together, although I didn’t get to pose with them because I was busy taking pictures.

The atmosphere was very friendly and festive. My own costume is simple and low-key enough that it wouldn’t have drawn much attention in a crowd of this size and diversity. We were often walking together, though, or spread out into two or three smaller clusters, which added to our visibility. Civitron, Zetaman, and Blue Blaze in particular seemed to catch people’s eye due to the colorful spandex and frequent friendly greetings. In Blue Blaze’s case, it also didn’t hurt that he was often scaling nearby objects in order to gain a new perspective on the scene! Some people simply noticed that we were superheroes and cheered us on or asked to take their picture with us. Others actually asked us for more information about who we were and what we were doing. I can’t remember who was the first person to say this, but after a while, several of us started telling people who talked to us that EVERYONE who was marching today was in fact a superhero. The money raised will be going to prevent and cure breast cancer, so all of us who are supporting the cause are superheroes.

We didn’t end up staying in a group during the walk, due in part to the fact that we all walk at different speeds. I was sometimes floating between the two or three loose clusters of superheroes, as were a few of the others. Zetaman and Apocalypse Meow were generally at the lead, while Skyman was usually bringing up the rear. I’m a pretty fast walker, so I didn’t get to spend much time with Skyman. However, I was impressed with his commitment to keep going throughout the walk. I’ve been the person at the back of the group before on hikes, so I know it can be tough, but he stuck with it.

All in all, it was a great experience. I don’t have the final dollar amount from Zetaman yet, but our team raised several hundred dollars for the cause, and we got to show our solidarity and meet plenty of cool people along the way.

After the walk, I had time for one last meal with Zetaman, Apocalypse Meow, Civitron, Dreamer, and a couple of their friends. Then, it was time to make my way to the train station for the journey home.

Now that Superheroes Anonymous 4 is over, I plan on writing one last entry on the subject. This epilogue will offer my overall summary of how I feel the weekend went, along with some very important thanks to the people who helped make my own participation possible. First, however, it’s time for some much-needed sleep.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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