Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Project Prayer - Part Two

"Praying" is a pretty loaded word. It used to make me feel a little uncomfortable, which is one of the reasons I chose it as the focus of this project - I wanted to explore the discomfort and figure it out. I was going to write quite a bit about my own thoughts on prayer, in fact I have already started a post about it, but then I decided not to publish it just yet... since what I want first off is to know what others think. I will post mine in a while, once I have collected responses from you guys.
What I am most interested in, for this project (and in general) is people's ideas about prayer that have little or nothing to do with organized religion. I would like to know about the personal, private, creative ways that people pray, rather than the more conventional, by-the-books ways that they were taught.
Bear in mind that I have basically no religious education and so some of those more traditional prayer practices will be unknown to me anyway - so if that is what does work for you then let me know about that too! These are the questions I have in mind, although feel free to respond in different ways if that makes more sense for your responses:

1. What does the word "prayer" mean to you?
2. What does your practice of prayer look like? Is it confined to a quiet, meditative state or a conversation with a higher power or is it a wild dancing party? If you don't pray, why not?

3. Who (or what) do you pray to? Is there a particular deity, body part or universal image that resonates for you? Why do you suppose this is so?
4. What has influenced your practice of prayer?
5. How has your practice of prayer changed your life, if at all? Do your prayers "come true"
or do you see them working in some other way?

Please feel free to leave me your responses in the comments (though that doesn't seem to be the popular option with my blog!) or email me at the address listed in the contact section (people never put their email addresses in the text and I think it is to avoid spam... good plan).

I am planning on including any responses to the questionnaire in my final project. I will not be publishing any of people's personal email responses here. There is a small possibility that so
me of the final projects will be included in a short publication entitled "Stories from Montreal" which my university creates from undergrad work every year. All this is just to say that if you do send me a response (and I would love it if you did!) please let me know if you give permission for your responses to be included in either my project (likely only ever read by me and my prof) or in the book (likely only read by me, my prof, the other editors and future undergrads who are forced to buy it) or both. Also, please let me know if you would like your name to be included (just first name) or if you would like to remain anonymous. Both options are totally fine, I am not obligated to give any identifying info about my respondents. If you have any questions about the nature of the project, the publication, my university (including the ethics board) or anything else please feel free to ask.

Thanks!!! Can't wait to hear what people have to say. The project is due at the end of March, so I will be happy to receive replies right up until then. (Well, I would still be interested/happy to get replies after that, they just wouldn't be included in this project).

If your response is "no way, praying is not my thing at all" that is just as valid and interesting for me, so please don't exclude yourself for that reason! Instead, I would love to hear why you feel that way, and what your thoughts are on the topic. Remember, that is where I was coming from too, originally.
If you know anyone else who you think would be at all interested in responding to the questionnaire please feel free to spread it far and wide. I am just casting my net and will be happy to get as many replies as I can.

Photos: both from the playing-around session the other day... the view out my kitchen window and a close-up of one of my favorite candle-holders with a lovely-smelling beeswax candle glowing away.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Project Prayer - Part One

Ok. Enough procrastination.

I have been (supposedly) working on a research project for school since September. This project started out on Meditation, then kind of Yoga, and then finally (for the actual proposal) Prayer. Bless Anthropology's little heart for being so elastic as to allow me to do something as loosely defined as I am. Most people are doing ethnographies, meaning that they are going to study other people. I am doing an auto-ethnography, meaning that I am going to study me. Sounds narcissistic, and it is! Kinda. I will not only be studying myself, but I will be the main focus. I like the idea of doing it that way because it completely removes any of that traditional anthropology us/them dichotomy and it also feels like I get to be a lot more experimental about the whole thing. I have to admit that I do sometimes get irritated with the fluffiness of anthropology, as well as the simultaneous "we are totally scientists, this is totally a REAL science" and "we hate science, down with positivism!". It gets a bit tired. Let's face facts, anthropology is decidedly not a science. Don't get me wrong, I like science. I still kind of wish that I had just stuck with my high school ambitions to study zoology. But no matter how much it may want to be, anthropology isn't very scientific. It's really hard to apply any scientific principles to the study of culture (oh, when I say anthropology I mean cultural anthropology which is all that my university teaches, I realize that physical anth., linguistics and archeology all do use scientific principles). So when I started thinking about things to do for this project, and I realized just how much creative leeway we would have, I decided to fully embrace the fluff and do something as decidedly un-scientific as possible. So I decided to start praying, and to document my experiences as they unfold. Neat hun?
I was inspired by you! Well, by the internet, by the blogs I read and the books I have stumbled upon through them. Especially Eat Pray Love and The Red Book. In both cases prayer was presented in such a way that I could sort of, kind of, almost see myself doing it. At the very least I could see h
ow it was a practice that greatly benefited those women, not to mention many of the women whose blogs I read. And anyway, it got me curious, thinking, wondering and generally feeling inspired. Hence, this project.

Hmm... explaining all this is maybe going to take longer than I thought. Rather than write one long post (who has time to read loooooooong posts?) I will split it up. I want to take my time explaining it becau
se, for one thing I think it will help me get clear about what I am doing (oh the fluffiness of it all) and because eventually I am going to get you guys involved. I will be doing the thing all sociologists do, which is, survey. I would love to hear from as many people as possible, so I am going to put my survey/questionaire here and invite EVERYONE (and their dog... and their cat!) to reply. And those of you who I know in "real life" will be getting copies of it sent to them directly via email, lest they think I should let them off the hook. : ) But more to come on that later.

For now I will leave you with a couple of photos. This afternoon I spent a few creative hours playing with my new (from
Christmas) camera. I love it, digital photography is so full of instant gratification. Although those suckers do eat batteries like candy.
The photos on the top are: Griffin (of course) ... I was actually trying to photograph my favorite purple scarf, but he decided to crash the photo session and the other is of a tiny corner of my altar, and the one below is me, doing the oft -used self-portrait method of ... standing in front of my bathroom mirror.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sweet dreams

The second of February was Imbolc, which is a celebration of renewal. Traditionally it's associated with pregnant/lactating ewes, and the goddess Brigid. For me though, Imbolc is a kind of festival of dreams.
The idea being that early February is at the heart of winter, and so the earth and a lot of life's force is slumbering away beneath a blanket of blue-white snow. Of course the reality is that in a modern metropolis like Montreal, only the plants and raccoons get to sleep, while the rest of us are expected to press on with the same energy as we would have in summer.
And the pristine fields of snow are in fact piled up along the streets or carted out of the city in huge dump-trucks (this blew my mind the first time I saw it).
None the less, I find myself slowing down around this time of year (slowing down from snails pace to near-stop) and paying more attention to dreams and intuition. It's also quite close to my birthday (as
well as my mom's birthday and a few others who are close to my heart) so it is an easy time to get introspective. Dreams are a mysterious kettle of fish, not well understood in the land of science. I know that I dream often. Well we all do, I mean to say that I often recall my dreams, at least for the first few moments of wakefulness. I am lazy about keeping a dream journal so even though they are still circling my head in the morning, they usually flit away again by mid-afternoon and sadly, I have no record of them. I find it strange which dreams stay with me through the years, not necessarily the most meaningful ones but generally the ones I had the clearest memories of when waking up. And of course, the ones I noted down as quickly as I could.
I am not well versed in dream-interpre
tation. While I think there must me a wealth of interesting knowledge tucked away in the secret nooks of our dreaming minds, I am quite skeptical of something that tries to place universal meanings on personal reveries. But like I said... not well versed, so I withhold judgment (mostly). I am intrigued by the concept of premonitions in dreams, although I have not really experienced it. Ok, once, back in my midwifery days, I had a dream that a client was in labor. The dream woke me up and I noted the time (around 3am). The next day, lo and behold, I was called to her birth and I found out that her labor had started around 3am.
One thing I find frustrating about dreams is their tendency towards ordinariness. Sometimes they bring me to fantastic landscapes or allow me to fly or perform other feats of unexpected magic, but often they are merely a slight twist on the everyday. Last night I was a bit luckier than usual however. In bed, before sleep, I was listening to the beginning of Eat Pray Love on audiobook. When I eventually drifted off, I was unsurprisingly transported to Rome. Never having been there in reality, my imagination was free to invent a magical dream-version of the ancient city. I can only remember scraps of the dream, but I do recall approaching the city by boat, in the evening, on an imaginary ocean (Rome is not on the coast in real life). The buildings rose up before me, elastic in my mind. It was a strange and lovely place to visit, I wish I could've taken pictures.
Well, however you choose to celebrate Imbolc (or Candlemas or Groundhog Day), I hope that Queen Mab peeks out from behind the grasshopper-wing shutters of her hazel-nut chariot and sends some juicy dreams your way.
Dreamy reading for the cold winter days:
The BFG by Roald Dahl - all about dreams, snozzcumbers, frobscottles and whizzpoppers.
What are your favorites books for reading this time of year? Or do you have music to help keep away the chill instead?
Images: The imbolc candles with snowdrops I took from this website but I recognize it as an image from the Llewellyn day-planners; Vachel dreaming is from Little Dee from April 2006; and the photo of Rome (Forum and Colosseum) by Stephen Studd, taken from Getty.