Coming home to myself

Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place. Rumi

So I’m finally in India.

If you read this blog, you’ll know how much heart and soul, how much meticulous planning – read rumination, anxiety and self-doubt – I have poured into this trip. To me, this is a manasatirtha, a sanskrit word that means ‘pilgrimage of the heart.’

Over the years as my attraction to Indian mysticism has blossomed, I felt compelled to connect with this wisdom at the source. But where was the source? India is vast and its wisdom has evolved over millennia. Cities and civilisations have risen and fallen, time and again. 

I couldn’t find a particular place that was ‘the birthplace’ of the chakra system, the Vedic wisdom is interwoven into the very fabric of Indian life, but to pinpoint a geographical source seemed near impossible. But there was one thing that kept calling me, the great river, Ganga.

What is this power that calls to us? I know it’s not just me. Where does this call come from that compels us to leave the comforts of home and travel? Where does the power of place originate? 

Do people flock to a place because of its power or does place take on the power that is attributed to it over millennia of pilgrimage, worship and devotion?

We see the work piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole of which these are the shining parts, is in the soul. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I tend to think both. It’s a symbiotic relationship where we intuitively recognise a power place and then project more power onto it through our devotion and the intense focused intention of pilgrimage. 

As much as we wish to be near the gods, they wish to be near us too.

India is a land of pilgrimage places where trails to holy tirthas have been trudged for thousands of years, and are alive and well today. Aarti – the sacred Hindu fire ritual – has been offered to the river Ganga every single day for five thousand years. That’s a power of place that is palpable. In an increasingly secular age, Hindu worship is bigger and brighter than ever.

My dad brought me to India as a teenager. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before and I was captivated. I have always wanted to return.

I was not a happy teenager. In fact when my dad took a year’s long service leave and decided to take the family on a massive overseas trip, I was relieved. It felt like the ultimate escape. Nine days in India was our first stop, on route to an Irish Christmas with mum’s family. I don’t know why but it was the highlight of the year for me.

Yes, it was confronting. Arriving in Delhi in the middle of the night, stepping over sleeping bodies to get out of the airport. It was a foggy December and all I can remember is that smell, the people, and the frenetic drive to our hotel.

The body is a multilingual being.  It speaks through its color and its temperature, the flush of recognition, the glow of love, the ash of pain, the heat of arousal, the coldness of nonconviction. . . . It speaks through the leaping of the heart, the falling of the spirits, the pit at the center, and rising hope.  Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Busy streets of Rishikesh 

The fog was so thick all you could see was the headlights reflected in it for about a metre ahead. Out of this jumped people, cars, cows, as the driver erratically veered across five lanes of traffic to dodge them. It is commonly said that driving in India one needs three things “Good horn, good brakes, and good luck!”

It was so otherworldly. I had never been or seen anywhere like it. People literally mobbed our car. Waving wares and missing limbs, begging. 

The car pulled into a driveway, blocked by elaborate white wrought-iron gates. Suddenly we were confronted by an enormous white Raj-style hotel, along a wide driveway lined with trees – a rare sight in Indian cities. In the daytime the grounds were immaculate green with fountains of clear water, a stark contrast to the dry and dusty road beyond the gates.

I was fascinated.

I wonder whether something in this place, which could morph from paradise to hell in the blink of an eye, appealed to my teenage sensibilities. For whatever reason, India lodged herself firmly in my psyche and called me relentlessly to return.

This call intensified at the turn of the last year. My heart was suffering, needlessly caught in a cycle that should have completed long ago. Unable to break free, I sought solace in my yearning to travel. Bali had awakened some dormant knowing in me, some ancestral memory of worshiping the divine as part of daily living. India became the next logical place, why not sate my passion for the Hindu tradition at the source. 

India is beyond statement, for anything you say, the opposite is true. It’s rich and poor, spiritual and material. Cruel and kind, angry and peaceful, ugly and beautiful, and smart but stupid. It’s all the extremes. India defies understanding. Sarah MacDonald 

Feeling triumphant, standing on the Lakshman Jhula bridge at sunset, overlooking the Ganga river, after arriving in Rishikesh

There were a few serendipitous signposts which propelled me from the dreaming to the planning stage. First a dear friend who was planning to travel to India put an actual date to my plans. Then I kept being drawn to the sight of Alana Fairchild on the cover of various New Age magazines, tempting me with the Grace of the Golden Goddess Lakshmi Retreat, in Varanasi. As I explained in a previous post, despite seemingly rational and sensible reasons why I couldn’t afford it, my heart would leap out of my chest and beg “Take me, please!” I wanted to visit the Beatles Ashram in Rishikesh, and was thrilled to discover it was further upstream on the Ganga from Varanasi. 

And so it happened, it all began to fall into place and the next thing I knew, I found myself standing above the Ganga river at Rishikesh. Feeling that I had never felt so right about anything in my entire life.  

India has a distinct smell – and no, I don’t mean a bad one , although there’s plenty of those. In trying to describe it, the best I can guess is a mix of various types of smoke, incense, spicy cooking, cow dung, rotting garbage, and diesel fumes. And it’s a hot and steamy smell, in that way organic matter starts to exude a ripe odour in the sun.  I know it sounds awful, but it’s not. Well, sometimes it is. Other times, it’s just distinctive, unique. It’s a smell that permeates everything, your hair, your clothes, and your soul.

As soon as I stepped onto the tarmac at Delhi airport my olfactory responses kicked into overdrive and I felt that sense of returning to a familiar and beloved place.

So here I am, back after almost 30 years. Still transfixed by the polarities of this place. Still mesmerised by the kaleidoscope of colour, scent and sound, in amongst the dirt and stench.

Being here is not a letdown, even though my expectations were high. I’m pulsating with love for this place.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body; there you have a solid place for your feet. Think about it carefully! Don’t go off somewhere else! Just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things, and stand firm in that which you are. Kabir

My evening view, aarti at Trayambakeshwar Temple.

Here I am in the midst of an Indian ‘Room with a View.’ Gregory David Roberts wrote that India is the Italy of Asia, with its insatiable lust for God, food and music, where the vibrant dance of life explodes in stereo sound and vivid technicolour in multiple directions all at once. 

Every evening the temple opposite my room bursts into sound at 6pm. Well in fairness it is never really quiet, the temple bells ring from dawn, and the evening sound check starts around 4pm, with a gorgeous Indian rendition of ‘testing 1,2’ where the kirtan leader just shouts “hello? hello?” repeatedly in various tones, before descending into an indecipherable stream of Hindi.

The evening aarti is a Ganga tradition that can be found at most places along the river. Although over my time in India I will experience aarti at a truly awe-inspiring level, there’s something lovely about watching this little ceremony from the comfort of my balcony.

Aarti is a Hindu religious practice, a part of ‘puja’ or ritualised deity worship, in which offerings made from lighted wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities. Aarti is derived from the Sanskrit word ārātrika (आरात्रिक), which means something that removes rātrī, darkness, or light waved in darkness before an icon.

During these ceremonies, conducted daily in many holy cities along the Ganga river, offerings are made with the symbolic inclusion of fire, incense, flowers and chanted mantras.

The power of mantra and sound is ubiquitous here. Music is everywhere, from the singing of women as they work, to the chanting and bells emanating 24/7 from the multitude of temples, to the constant barrage of loud Hindi music. The place is a vibrational smorgasbord. And that’s apart from the constant car horns, yelling, animal sounds and firecrackers going off. 

Donkey driver, Rishikesh (I know they’re asses, but ass-driver? Really?)

India is perpetual motion. From pre-dawn the cattle herders move their herds through the streets, cow-bells toning across the bridge and through my window. Calls to prayers, chanting, car horns. Constant sweeping of the doorways and streets – not really impacting the piles of garbage outside, but surely moving energy around. People work from day-break until late at night, where they often bed down in their place of work to sleep. But it is not the frenetic pace of the west, work is punctuated by frequent resting and drinking of chai, the sharing of food. It’s not uncommon to enter a shop only to find the keeper fast asleep on the floor.

Nobody rushes, everything is done  at a laconic pace. The division between labour and leisure non-existent compared to western societies. It is just life. Every day, excepting the many holy festivals, is the same. The relentlessness of life may explain the frequency of religious festivals, but moreso for the majority of Indians there is the surrender to life without ambition or any drive beyond living.

No people whose word for ‘yesterday’ is the same as their word for ‘tomorrow’ can be said to have a firm grip on the time. Salman Rushdie

Could I ever tire of this view? I’d like to try. My second dip in the Ganga was in front of the amazing abandoned building on the right. Hotel? Ashram? I’m not sure.

From the moment I arrived in Rishikesh I had the strongest feeling of being, if not home, certainly somewhere that my spirit found an energetic affinity with. A deep maternal feeling rose around and through me, an all-encompassing loving welcome, as if from the very earth, the river, the mountains, the sky itself. It whispered encouragingly to me “welcome home to yourself.” It felt like the unconditional love of the divine mother.

Quickly, within hours, I was lulled into a blissful sense of being at one with myself. I happily wandered the streets, absorbing the sights and sounds, the atmosphere of constant activity and sensory engagement.

I felt good in my body, strong in my spirit. Except for lapses into fear and doubt I felt a new sense of steadfastness.

I began to notice that when I was out of integrity my energy was scatty and anxious. When I was in integrity, even to the point of following through on what I told myself I would do, like finding a yoga class, I was calm and things seemed to unfold for me. I was in the flow.

In India the difference between lovingly being in the flow and being blocked and stunted by fear became such obvious polarities. And suddenly I saw my power, it was choice. 

So far India has demanded full immersion from me. Instead of holding back from life, watching, waiting for some perfect moment or opportunity. Here I feel fully present. Every moment demands decisions from me and I can’t operate on automatic pilot. 

There’s no traffic lights so you have to pay attention, wait for the gaps and pauses, seize the opportunities. Sometimes I feel like I sleepwalk at home, red says stop, green says go. Good little automaton. If you sleepwalk here you’ll get a quick and loud wake up toot!

He stood breathing, and the more he breathed the land in, the more he was filled up with all the details of the land. He was not empty. There was more than enough here to fill him. There would always be more than enough. Ray Bradbury

If only you could bottle a feeling… After my first dip in Ganga

The river Ganga is the archetype of sacred waters. Ganga is river, goddess and mother. Ganga is the mother of all. Her waters, like mothers’ milk, are said to be the drink of life itself. 

The Mahatmyas – Hindu scriptures – call the Ganga by a thousand names. She is ganga because she has ‘gone to earth’ (gamgata) from heaven. She is Mankakini, the River of Heaven, flowing through the heavens like the Milky Way. She is Vishnupadi, because she flowed forth from the foot of Vishnu. She is Bhagirathi, because the sage Bhagiratha brought her from heaven to earth. The Mahatmyas extol the benefits of bathing in these waters – purification, lifting the burden of sins, the cleansing of the heart – all are the fruits of bathing in the Ganga. 

My first immersion in Ganga was a big deal. I mean, I took it very seriously. I knew both the spiritual significance of what I was doing as well as the physical risks, having read reports of the e-coli levels and fierce currents, amongst other dangers of the river.

Hindus believe that Ganga waters will cleanse any sin. The poet Jagannatha, author of Ganga Lahari, ‘The Ganga’s Waves,’ was cleansed as he composed his ode, the waters rose to touch his feet and purify him.

I come to you as a child to his mother, I come as an orphan to you, moist with love. I come without refuge to you, giver of sacred rest. I come a fallen man, to you uplifter of all. I come undone by disease to you, the perfect physician. I come, my heart dry with thirst to you, ocean of sweet wine. Do with me whatever you will. Jagannatha

Above all it is mercy and compassion that flows out from the foot of Vishnu or from the hair of Shiva in the form of this mothering river. I had sensed this energy just being near the river, but I had yet to go in her waters.

On my third morning I prepared to go at dawn to the ghat – the steps leading to the river and used to bathe from – directly opposite my hotel. I had the intention of letting go of all that had been limiting me in my life. The limited thinking that got in the way of my being of service to the divine, and to humanity – my shame, my sadness, my disappointment in life, my disappointment in myself. I wrote out my intentions and brought an offering of incense to burn.

Of course as local tradition demanded I would be fully clothed. 

After I had all I needed, I headed up to the lobby. There, curled up in blankets, asleep on the lobby floor and adjacent restaurant, were all the staff from the hotel. The dark and serious manager, the gorgeous lobby boys, the manager and waiting staff at the restaurant, who joked with me each night at my vocal and near-orgasmic appreciation of their South-Indian curries.

The lobby was dark, the metal security doors locked. As the product of a society where even our poorest workers usually have a home to sleep in, it took me a while to adjust and comprehend what I was seeing.

I knew if I made a sound they would all jump into action for me, open the doors, I wasn’t trapped. but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. 

There was a small beach I had tried to access at the base of the cliff the hotel perched in. Maybe I could try getting down that way.

This Ganga was sent out for the salvation of the world by Shiva, Lord of lords, filled with the sweet wine of compassion. Shiva, having squeezed out the essence of Yoga and the Upanishads, created this excellent river because of his mercy for all creatures. The Skanda Purana

Believe me, it’s a more precarious climb than it looks from here! This was my hotel. My room was on the second to top floor – under Cafe De Goa which served the most delectable curries I have ever tasted… And right down the bottom is the beach from where I dipped myself in the river.

My previous attempt to access this beach had only got me halfway down to an ornate landing inhabited by monkeys. I couldn’t see a safe way down the cliff, and thought even if I did manage to get down, how would I ever get up again. So instead I sat in the peace of the trees and river and watched the monkeys play.

This time with new resolve I decided to try the descent again. I appealed to Ganga that my intentions were true and to please help me to follow through my desire to be in her waters.

From the monkey landing there were no steps, but a series of further narrow landings, interspersed with rocks and shrubbery. I scrambled my way down wondering if I’d ever make it back up or would have to swim back to land.

When I reached the little beach, I knew it was perfect. Secluded and slightly hidden by the hovering mass of the Lakshman Jhula bridge. 

The Mahatmyas claim that the Ganga concentrates into her waters some thirty-five million tirthas. Indeed it is said that every wave of the river is a tirtha. Diane L Eck 

Burnt offerings

I placed the lighted incense in the sand, read my intentions to Ganga, then set them on fire. Well I tried to. Mornings in the Himalayan foothills are cool and breezy. As the charcoaled ash floated down the river, I braced myself and stepped in.

The water here is fast flowing and cold. I guess I should have braced myself for the cold – hello melted Himalayan snow – but I hadn’t.

It took my breath away. Hanging onto rocks with each hand, I went deep enough to submerge myself completely, and as it the custom, dunked myself one, two, three times.

By this stage I was gasping. It was a strange mix of chill, exhilaration and a lurking fear that I had swallowed some water and some horrible bacterial army was now plotting mutiny in my body. 

But mostly I felt triumphant. I had done it!

This blog has always been about intentions, and this had been my great intention for this trip, to plunge myself mind, body and spirit into the grace and power of this great river goddess. And I had done it. Tears came, but all I felt was intensely loved and held. It was indescribable.

No, really, it is indescribable. I tried to describe it many times, but people only really got this when they felt it for themselves. When my friend Tanya went in the river at the ashram near Varanasi, suddenly she looked up at me, her hands and feet in the glistening water, and said “I couldn’t understand what you meant, about this river and her loving power before, but now I do. I feel it.” And she had the same star-struck look in her eyes that I saw in photos of myself after experiencing the power of Ganga Ma. But why should we be surprised? The Hindu scribes had been recording testimony to this power for thousands of years.

One should not be amazed … that this Ganga is really Power, for is she not the Supreme Shakti of the Eternal Shiva, taken in the form of water? Skanda Purana 

India mythology is labyrinthine, there’s so many deities, so many stories, and so many incarnations or avatars who are actually the same deity in various forms. After reading about it for years, I thought none of it had stuck. However I found myself in India playing tour guide, seeing images and icons and explaining who they were, an avatar of so and so, how you could tell by their number of arms, colour and accoutrements. Then I’d tell an amusing anecdote on each. This made me ecstatic – it was sinking in, I was starting to really immerse myself in Hinduism. It was as if being in the energy of India activated all this knowledge and brought it to life. 

That said, I had not read many stories of Ganga. Which allowed me to appreciate her for myself, through direct experience, before learning of her rich place in Hindu mythology.

The Ganga is believed to be the distilled lifeblood of the Hindu tradition, the essence of the scriptures and embodied goodness of the Gods. She is the manifestation on earth of the great Lord Shiva who is commonly depicted with the stream of its waters flowing out from his hair. Thus the Ganga is believed to continuously descend from heaven through Shiva’s locks. The Ganga is said to be a liquid form of Shiva’s shakti, his active and creative energy. Shakti is the feminine life energy through which Shiva manifests himself in the world.

Just as Shiva became the vehicle for the Ganga’s fall to earth, Ganga became the vehicle for Shiva’s merciful work of salvation. Unlike many deities who carry a weapon in one hand and a symbol of blessing in another, Ganga is depicted as carrying the lotus in one hand and the water-pot in the other. She is symbolic of unambiguous goodness. Both are symbols of auspicious blessing.

Fortunately for me, considering how I literally dove right on in, her worship does not require the usual rites of invocation at the beginning and dismissal at the end, required in the worship of other gods. Her divinity is immediate and everlasting.

The Ganga is also the mother, the Ganga Mata of Hindu worship and culture, accepting all and forgiving all. Unlike other goddesses, she has no destructive or fearsome aspect, destructive though she might be as a river in nature. 

Morning bathers at the Ganga, Rishikesh

As liquid shakti, Ganga is, in more familiar terms, God’s incarnation, God’s divine descent, freely flowing for all. One can even immerse one’s body in her liquid form. Diane L Eck

The power of this experience was not so much what Ganga Ma gave me or even took away, though both were palpable. Instead it was the vision of myself I saw mirrored in her unconditional maternal love, I saw myself as divine innocence, a perfect child of creation. 

Ganga Ma saw me completely, nothing was hidden from her perception of me. She bathed me, cradled me as a mother would her child, as her all-pervading love flowed into every single aspect, every part of me, every dark, hidden nook and cranny of my being, even my shame, which melted away in the glow of this divine love. I felt deeply, completely, unconditionally loved. Loved to a degree I had never known possible before.

I had glimpses of this divine love before, but this experience was overwhelming, it washed over and through me as her waters held me. I came home to myself, to my divine self, to my innate sense of divinity.

This experience has reawakened my soul. Making choices, allowing grace and desire into my life, letting go of the limiting thinking that has blocked me from doing what my heart desires. Somewhere I had got the idea that desire was bad. It may be toxic when it turns into a demand or an ultimatum, but when desire is allowed to steer my choices, from a place of love, showing me my preferred path but not being so attached as to resist the divine flow, that to me is the ideal partnership with divine. The heart is my barometer and my rudder but in the end, the divine is my ocean. Or should I say, my river.

I looked in temples, churches and mosques, but I found the divine in my own heart. Rumi

Blessings,

Hari Om

Hidden intentions of the heart

Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. Mary Oliver

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will be familiar with my free-form, flowing, somewhat leapfrog style of following the synchronicities as they unfold in my life.

I’m not really prejudiced when it comes to guidance. Whether it comes from a teacher, a spirit guide, books, music and even billboards or snippets of conversations I overhear. Usually it’s a combination of sources – sacred and profane. It’s the repetition I notice, the patterns, reoccuring themes, colours, symbols or numbers that occur in my life. I acknowledge what captures my attention.

Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness. Mary Oliver

This week as I arrived at an early yoga class, I noticed with bemusement that I had a pink yoga mat and pink leggings on. As someone who has never really been into the colour pink, I found this curious. At 6am I don’t put much thought into what I wear. I’m just grateful I remember to put pants on.

I call these yoga pants my flamingo pants. I bought them in Bali while I was studying shamanism there.  I came across them the day after my friend Niina had done a power animal retrieval journey for me. She found a flamingo – which at the time I thought was hilarious. So I bought the pants to visually connect me with my spirit flamingo. Pink legs will do that, don’t you know.

During yoga class the teacher instructed us into the flamingo pose. In five years of doing yoga with him I’d never done this pose before.

What are the odds on the day I wear my flamingo pants, he does the flamingo pose for the first time in that class?

My curiosity piqued, I googled ‘flamingo totem animal’ and one of the interpretations of its medicine is acknowledging the hidden intentions of the heart.

The idea is that we are sometimes manifesting life from unconscious or hidden intentions, that even so-called mistakes are not wrong moves as such, but instead a manifestation of a hidden intention that we have not yet made conscious.

Hmmm…

This seemed pertinent for me at a time when I am constantly second-guessing my own choices.

It also aligns with a sneaking suspicion that I tend to have conflicting conscious and subconscious intentions. So while I say I want something, sometimes, some deep part of me really doesn’t. And so the thing I think I want doesn’t work out.

There is also the possibility that the flamingo, with its fiery colours, may be the inspiration behind stories of the mythological Phoenix rising from the flames.

In this way flamingo represents a rising up after a fall from grace. And if that’s not the story of my life, I don’t know what is. Flamingoes also love group dancing, in fact it’s their main form of communication. 

Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled – to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. Mary Oliver 

Now I am not saying I get divine messages from my flamingo pants and yoga teacher, that may be so, but I am not so convinced that’s how it works. Which is why I love Jung’s concept of synchronicity.

I accept these things as meaningful coincidences. I need not concern myself with whether there is a wizard behind the curtain, all I know is that my heart knows what is true when she feels it.

Well, I think I do, I guess that’s why I need to see it four or five times, just to be sure.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things. Mary Oliver

One of Carl Jung’s most famous examples of synchronicity in his therapeutic work was with a woman who was failing to make any breakthroughs in her therapy.

She was relaying her dream of the night before to Dr Jung, she had dreamt of a golden scarab. At that moment there was a noise at the window and Jung opened it to find a scarab beetle had landed on the window pane.

Just a coincidence? Perhaps, but a coincidence with enough significance to enable this woman to have a breakthrough in her therapeutic work, which up until this point had been going nowhere.

I see my ‘signs’ in the same way. I’m not suggesting some divine force is manipulating physical reality for my benefit. Although I am not opposed to that possibility, rather from what I have experienced of the divine it seems an overly simplistic explanation.

Instead that these are meaningful, acausal events which have a relationship with my own psyche, and as such allow me to have breakthroughs, but only if I pay attention and are willing to see them as meaningful. Because in the end, we all have to figure out our own way.

Nobody can build the bridge for you to walk across the river of life, no one but you yourself alone. There are, to be sure, countless paths and bridges and demi-gods which would carry you across this river; but only at the cost of yourself; you would pawn yourself and lose. There is in the world only one way, on which nobody can go, except you: where does it lead? Do not ask, go along with it. Friedrich Nietzsche

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For the last few months I have been planning a trip to India.

There are many reasons why this may not be such a wise idea, money is the main one, but there are others that wake me in panic at 3am.

It would take too long here to list the coincidences, synchronicities, freak occurrences and downright weirdness that constitutes the guidance that directed me to take this trip, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Now I don’t subscribe to everything I read about these significances. Of course not. I observe the world, and I read, and I sit, and I see what lands in my heart, what has significance for me.

The point is, if it’s a meaningful occurrence to me, and I notice it at a time when I’m needing reassurance that I’m not making some disastrous life choice, that’s what it gives me. Is that spirit? Is that my unconscious, my hidden intentions? Honestly it’s all much of a muchness to me.

And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment? Mary Oliver

flamingo close

It’s funny because I started this post trying to write about the throat chakra, because that’s where I thought I should be up to. Nice and orderly like, one chakra per post – it’s the librarian in me.

But the words wouldn’t come and as I meditated on the synchronicities, including a Sanskrit word that so deeply resonated with me – more on that in a moment – I realised I am still very much in my heart chakra energy.

I don’t want to be. My heart hurts today. But it’s where I need to be. Because it’s where I am. If it were time to move on I would be noticing blue, and my attention would be drawn to associations of the throat chakra. Instead I’m seeing green and pink and lovey-dovey flamingos and reading Sanskrit words that makes me heart sigh…

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. Mary Oliver

On New Years’ Day this year, finding myself once again curled in foetal position crying my guts out, I made the decision to stop trying to have a relationship with anyone until I could have a loving relationship with myself.

Once again I had abandoned myself to try to bend myself into a pretzel for another person. “No more!” I wailed through snot and tears. Slowly an intention formed that I would do the things my heart desired, and I would not even try to fall in love again until my heart was full with the pure glory of being alive.

(Or at least until I felt that I understood who I was enough to not lose myself in a relationship again.)

In Hindu mythology, the relationships between the gods and goddesses are not romances. Rather they are allegorical tales about the balancing of male and female energies, the shiva and shakti. 

I wonder if my intimate relationships have been much the same, highlighting my deficits, the areas where I need to mature, to grow spiritually. 

How I would dearly love to find a less painful way to grow.

I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything – other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion – that standing within this otherness – the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books – can re-dignify the worst-stung heart. Mary Oliver

Despite this desire to move on from my heart centre, what really hit me hard and made me sink back into my heart was this line, in fact one particular word, from a book I am reading about India.

In Hindu scriptures, the places that spiritual pilgrims seek are called tirthas. Literally this means the “ford” or “crossing” of a river, coming from the verbal root meaning “to cross over.” Originally this literally meant a place to cross the river. In India these pilgrimages places are on the banks and confluences of the great rivers. But in her wonderful book, India: a Sacred Geography, Diane L. Eck explains that over time this word came to mean a crossing or passage into a world of transcendence.

The tirtha mahatmyas (early travel guides aimed at pilgrims) make it clear that going to a tirtha is not only a matter of the feet, but also a matter of the heart. The “tirthas of the heart (manasatirthas)” are as important as the geographical tirthas. Diane L. Eck

standing woman flamingoesManasatirtha, the crossing of the heart, the pilgrimage of the heart. Ah. Yes. That landed.

Traditionally the tirthas of the heart focused on specific principles that pilgrims were required to covet in order to be pure enough to make the physical pilgrimage.

It’s not enough to simply make ones way to a physical tirtha, the real pilgrimage is always within.

Tirtha are of three kinds,

Jangam Tirtha is to a place movable, of a sadhu, a rishi, a guru. Sthawar Tirtha is to a place immovable, like Benaras, Hardwar, Mount Kailash, holy rivers. Manas Tirtha is to a place of mind, of truth, charity, patience, compassion, soft speech, soul. Skanda Purana

Again in yoga class, the teacher, who is prone to go on rants – which he says are channelled from the spirit guides of his students – made the point that what we search for is within. He has a deep, booming voice like James Earl Jones…

“We don’t need to go anywhere to find it. It is right here.”

He said if you lose your house keys you don’t go to India to find them. I laughed. Is that what I’m doing?

I’m sure I give that impression at times. I’m sure at times I believe that too. My heart has led me here, and is leading me there, but not because there’s something in India that isn’t here.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Rainer Maria Rilke

flamingo wingsNo. It’s something in the process. It’s what I have to let go of to get there. What India will demand of me to let go of once I’m there.

My comfort zone. My innate desire to hide from challenge or change.

This trip came from that tears and snot-fuelled New Years’ intention. I decided to replace love with travel for the year.

Now I know that’s not very spiritual. That called “doing the best I can with what I’ve got.” Replacing one obsession with another, slightly healthier one, until I find the guts to let go of it all.

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Mary Oliver

What’s waiting for me in India is the same thing that was in Bali for me last year. My heart at its most fearless. That moment where its just me in the world taking a deep inhale and feeling 100% alive. Knowing the floods of fear and self-doubt I had to wade through just to stand there in all that glory and grace.

And then there will be all the other magical experiences that I can’t even imagine. Those precious memories that will fill my heart with that freedom and aliveness for years to come. The otherness of being in places where the gods and goddesses are part of life, and made constant offerings, where spirit and material connect in daily life.

And all the times when I have to pull myself up by the bootstraps because things get hard or scary, or I’m tired and want someone to take care of me or make a decision for me, and I realise there’s nothing and no one to fall back on but my own strength.

No matter how much I whinged, complained and threw tantrums it was possible… I realised I’d been spending the last few years holding myself back. Terrified of what lay ahead of me. But when you just trust your instincts and let go of the need to be in control anything is possible. THIS is why life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Because you NEVER know what you are capable of until you push yourself to find the answers. Lauren Heyes

flamingo

This month I had to run two classes dancing the Heart Chakradance – how serendipitous.

What emerged for me what a clear message to love the world with all your heart, starting with what’s in front of you. What does that mean? That love up close and personal is messy and out of my control. It forces me out of my safety zone. Love as a concept is easy, but in practice? Not so much.

It’s easy to sit with beautiful people in meditation halls and radiate love into the world. But what about the man that comes to work with the ugly growth on his face who just wants some eye contact or a smile? I am reminded of the story of St Francis encountering the leper on the road. Despite his revulsion, he gets down off his horse, gives the man a coin and kisses his hand.

What about my family? Who like me are imperfect and who push my buttons. What about getting up close and personal with that? Not withdrawing, not running away and hiding. 

This year I have shut down and avoided love. I thought it was just romantic love but I see now it was almost all love. Apart from my son I really haven’t opened my heart with anyone. I have operated on auto-pilot, physically present but emotionally detached. I wanted the past to go away. I wanted something new. And maybe it hasn’t just been this year, perhaps it’s just something I am becoming aware of. Perhaps I have always avoided true intimacy with people.

I wanted the past to go away, I wanted to leave it, like another country; I wanted my life to close, and open like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song where it falls down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery; I wanted to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know, whoever I was, I was alive for a little while. Mary Oliver

After the Heart Chakradance the group shared our experiences. A common theme was the discomfort of facing painful memories and acknowledging where we may have closed down our hearts. 

Opening up a closed heart hurts at first.

Anodea Judith says that when we awaken these ‘frozen’ parts of ourselves, there is a thawing out stage. And like the recovery from frostbite, going from numb to thawing can feel excruciatingly painful. 

There is a reason we freeze out our emotions, they sometimes hurt. A lot.

Let it down, let your love flow and astound me. George Harrison

Alongside the thawing is a tingling, very much like that sensation of blood returning to a numbed limb. It brings sustenance and life. It reminds that there is always healing. The challenge is to let go of fighting this process. To resist thawing because it hurts blocks the life force that wants to move through me.

Like a numbed limb, the heart wants us to feel, at first the pain motivates us to do something, and as we tap in and allow it, the heart shows us the beauty of its opening.

Contemplation and action. Spirituality is like this cosmic letting go and at the same time, a microcosmic diving in. Letting go of the big picture and diving in to the here and now – in all its guts and glory. Hard for a big picture, idealistic, reality-squeamish girl like me.

Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Brene Brown

img_3890This is all I have.

This unquenchable desire to live from the heart.

This heart that I have ignored so many times, keeps calling me, challenging me to live, just live.

Grab life with both hands, arms, feet, whatever I have, and just live the hell out of it. Face the messiness, the revulsion, the discomfort of getting up close with life, with people.

In the Celtic tradition they talk of the turning of the heart. The image is of the cauldron being filled up with all the experiences of life. As it fills it turns upright and the magic of the potion of life’s many emotions begins. It is this process that distinguishes the sage, that produces deep wisdom and compassion.

Interestingly, this passage also makes the connection between the inner experiences and the pilgrimage to holy places.

How many divisions of sorrow that turn the cauldrons of sages? Not hard; four. Longing, grief, the sorrows of jealousy and the discipline of pilgrimage to holy places. It is internally that these are borne although the cause is from outside. Cauldron of Poesy

Reflecting on this passage and my own ongoing dance with loss, longing, and heartache, it seems to me this year is a time of turning. If I allow the heart to transverse that chasm between despair and joy, to encompass its entirety, the heart turns, and filled with its magic potion of grief, despair, joy, and ecstasy, begins to bubble and broil with life.

In losing what I thought I wanted, I have been propelled into this pilgrimage of the heart, both spiritual and physical.

I think as Mary Oliver says, it is all about attentiveness. Am I sleep-walking through life or am I paying attention, wide-wake and aware to what a dear friend used to call this “exquisite journey?” 

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. Franz Kafka

This is the beauty of travel, being uprooted from our safe and secure little rituals of daily life and transplanted into a strange new world. Where everything reflects our awareness. Are we in awe? Are we threatened? Are we numb? 

I think more than many places India is a land and culture that forces you to be awake, the visceral, seething of so many people, so much history and culture, not contained in museums and gallery like in the West but breathing, pulsing and spilling onto the streets. It’s like electric shock therapy for the spirit. Wake up! Wake up!

I’m not fearless by nature. But I am learning to do what I love in spite of fear. And that my friends, is courage in my book.

And once India is done and I’m home. Once this year of trudging though my tear and snot-fueled sadness and relishing in the rewards of being true to my heart has left me with an empty bank account and a full spirit, what then?

Then I continue the pilgrimage of the heart, the mansastirtha. The quest to find these sacred places wherever I am. To pay attention to the synchronicities. And to make peace with love and other people. And myself…

And I say to my heart: rave on. Mary Oliver

Bless!

Within you and without you (or how The Beatles taught me everything I know)

We were talking about the space between us all, and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion, never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late, when they pass away. We were talking about the love we all could share. When we find it, to try our best to hold it there. With our love, we could save the world, if they only knew. Try to realise it’s all within yourself, no one else can make you change. And to see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you. The Beatles, Within You Without You

Exactly what listening to these lyrics at the tender age of 8 does to a psyche, I really don’t know. I tend to think if my mind had not been somewhat open to the sentiment of these words,  I would have dismissed my father’s rather unusual birthday gift to the exile of discarded things and never thought of it again.

Either that or I’m completely justified in blaming dad for my being such an anachronistic freaked-out flower-child.

But I did not discard it. In fact I listened to that cassette of The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band until it wore out. And then I bought the record. And not just that record, but every Beatles record, and any other psychedelic 60’s band I could get my hands on, but more on that musical journey in this previous post, The Shamans Blues.

My dad loved the Beatles and he loved India. He went to India well before the whole 1960s psychedelic, Maharishi Yogi ashram, hippie craze, but in my mind – thanks to The Beatles – these were all inextricably linked.

I happened to mention recently to a friend that the reason I am making a pilgrimage to India is because my dad gave me the Sgt. Peppers album for my eighth birthday. He looked at me askance. And rightly so. I know. It makes no sense, but I’ll try to make some sense of it here anyway.

Because really and truly, The Beatles pretty much taught me everything I know about life.

As a child I lived 90% of my life in my imagination, I read voraciously, I loved magical realism, The Faraway Tree, The Water Babies, The Neverending Story, C S Lewis, Celtic fairy tales. I had no doubt that although Santa and the Easter Bunny were definitely made up kid’s stuff, these magical realms beyond ordinary reality were absolutely real.

So it’s no wonder really that the psychedelic visions of Sgt. Peppers were, quite literally, music to my ears.

Picture yourself on a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, the girl with kaleidoscope eyes. The Beatles, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds


It’s a little sad loving a band so much after the fact. For starters, I was absolutely devastated when I found out that John Lennon had already died.  It would have happened only months before my eighth birthday – before I really knew what it meant, what he meant.

The Beatles sang about love. 613 times to be exact. In some archetypal way, to my mind, they each represented an aspect of love.

Paul’s love was romantic love. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy wants girl to hang out in slippers when they are 64. Ringo was the jester who made us smile and laugh. He sang songs about underwater worlds, and often with a mock Western twang or some other funny voice. Well, let’s face it. His normal voice was a funny voice.

Nothing you can know that isn’t known. Nothing you can see that isn’t shown. Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. It’s easy. All you need is love. Love is all you need. The Beatles, All You Need is Love

George’s spiritual love was subtle and esoteric, and beyond my understanding at this age. And in truth, he was often overshadowed by the dynamic duo of John and Paul. But once you listen and understand the impact of his burgeoning spirituality in the band, his influence is always there.

But John’s love I could relate to, it was an idealist’s love – that uncompromising, unconditional dedication to the principle of universal love. “Why can’t we make love not war?” He asked. I tended to agree.

John’s murder seemed a brutal answer to that question. There were forces in the world that didn’t come from love and would do anything to silence that love in others. That was a dark lesson for a child to learn.

But The Beatles taught me everything. Even the hard things.

My best friend in high school was as fanatical about the Beatles as I was.

We poured over the songs, listening endlessly to George Martin’s layered, chopped, and backwardly arranged lyrics in order to try to decipher some secret message. Back in the day when you could play a record backwards to hear the lyrics.

They even helped us learn French and German, She Loves You was translated and recorded into both languages.

We spoke a ‘secret’ language of Beatles lyrics. We sang in our best Liverpudlian accents.

We had deep and meaningful conversations about who really was the walrus? And more importantly, why?

Well, she was just 17. You know what I mean. And the way she looked was way beyond compare. So how could I dance with another (Ooh). When I saw her standing there. The Beatles, I saw her standing there

My first teenage love was a boy I knew for only one night. He escorted me to my high school dance. He was a few years older and had a reputation for smoking weed and deflowering virgins so I had high hopes for the night… But instead we sat up all night, as the fumes of Southern Comfort leached from my pores, and we sang Beatles songs and shared our deep love of them.

He was a fan of their early stuff, while I loved the psychedelic later years. He was a musician and by about 3am had convinced me of the genius of their early song compositions. He sang And I Love Her. To me.

At the dance they had played I Saw Her Standing There and we had danced. And I was just seventeen, you know what I mean.

By the time I started experimenting with drugs I was well and truly prepared for the ‘trip’. After all I’d been singing along to psychedelic experiences for 10 years already.

But life was not always a Magical Mystery Tour.

The Beatles were torn apart by conflict. Charles Manson stole Helter Skelter as his demonic signature for the Tate massacre. John was murdered. He and Paul who’d once lived and breathed each other, had not even been on speaking terms for years.

It seemed that love was not enough after all.

In my own descent into nihilism, from my late teens to mid-20s, I lost that psychedelic light entirely. I drugged and drank not to see and seek anymore but to stop from seeing, to escape.

She’s not a girl who misses much. She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand. Like a lizard on a window pane. I need a fix ’cause I’m going down. Down to the bits that I left uptown. The Beatles, Happiness is a Warm Gun

The Beatles went to Rishikesh in 1968, along with their partners, Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, and the British musician Donovan, and much of the White Album was written at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram there.

The White album is incredibly diverse – random even – and signals the disparate ways the band members were heading. Perhaps it was also a reflection of each member’s reaction to going within during that transformative time at the ashram.

The White Album is a soul-searching album of disconnection. What happens when we go within and things are not all peace and love? What do we do with the anger, the disappointment, the nihilism.

It was only in researching this post that I got a true sense of how bad things were for the band after the ashram trip. When they went to record The White album back at Abbey Road, the band fell apart. Yoko was always there, Ringo left the band for a period, and the other members even filled in on drums on some of the tracks. In fact, only 16 out of the 30 songs on the album were recorded with all four members in the same room.


There’s something about hearing music that you’ve been listening to for 35 years. The sounds trigger layers of memories and associations, the music plunges deep, like an arrow through the memory skin and this variegated essence of me across the years is exposed.

From these familiar sounds dance a prism of memories, an augmented reality, in which I can simultaneously see the various projections of my self across the years. The eight year old me, the fourteen year old, the seventeen year old, the young adult, and the middle aged me, all bopping along together.

No matter where I have found myself, what dark places, the music of The Beatles has always been a lifeline back to my true essence.

I too descended into a place of dark nihilism during my “White Album” years. But I came from that dark place with a hunger and a thirst for spiritual connection. Again there was something in George’s sitar and those words that kept drawing me back to Indian mysticism.

We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold. And the people who gain the world and lose their soul. They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them? When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we’re all one and life flows on within you and without you. The Beatles, Within You, Without You.

George Harrison was most permanently transformed from the ashram experience, for the other Beatles it was a more transitory phase, although they all remained convinced by the benefits of meditation and continued to practise in one form or another.

John Lennon in particular was put off by the somewhat dubious practices that went on as the Western pop culture came crashing into Eastern mysticism.

The energy that I’ve found doing meditation, you know, has been there before – only that I could access it only during good days when everything was going well. With meditation I find that it could well be pouring down rain; it is still the same amount. John Lennon

George however found a spiritual practice that would strengthen and sustain him all his days. He connected with musicians such as Ravi Shankar, who became an inspiration and mentor, George felt he could see how music was an expression of spirit, a call to spirit.

The Beatles connection with India goes back further than George’s interest in transcendental meditation. The first time I heard the names of the Hindu goddesses Kali and Lakshmi was in The Beatles movie Help! Where the band are on the run from a crazed Hindu cult after Ringo inadvertently steals their sacred sacrificial ring.

In various interviews around the time The Beatles became interested in the Maharishi Yogi, they describe how they came to know of him and his practice.

All of us, except Ringo, attended the lecture given by Maharishi at the Hilton Hotel. I got the tickets. I was actually after a mantra. I had got to the point where I thought I would like to meditate; I’d read about it and I knew I needed a mantra – a password to get through into the other world. And, as we always seemed to do everything together, John and Paul came with me. George Harrison

Recently I watched the wonderful Martin Scorsese documentary film, Living in the Material World, on George Harrison.

It struck me that his trajectory into the spiritual was similar to mine and many others I’ve known.

When he met the Maharishi Yogi in 1967 he was lost in a world of booze and drugs.

Cocaine especially had taken hold and his life was on a roller-coaster of empty highs and lows.

With drugs, you are still on the relative level. Just waiting and dreaming – all this is relative, only on this grosser level. Whereas when you meditate, it is all on a subtler level. So really you cannot compare them. With drugs you do have a glimpse of a few things, they heighten your experience. But if you take a drug and hope that it will bring the subtlety out of this grosser level – well, it will never work. George Harrison

In transcendental meditation and later the Hindu faith, George found a means to access spirit and all the higher realms of consciousness without drugs. In the same way, I found the journey within and connection to spirit was way more of a psychedelic trip than any hallucinogen I’d been on. And this time it had meaning.

The Beatles inadvertently taught me my first meditation mantra, jai guru deva OM जय गुरुदेव ॐ. It was in the song Across the Universe. I thought it was French and John was singing “I’m a guru already.” I’d been singing it for years before I understood what it was. In sanskrit it means “Glory to the Heavenly teacher.” Guru Dev was the Maharishi’s guru.

img_3805OM is the vibrational sound used to resonate with the vibration of the universe. In Sanskrit, these sounds have a vibrational resonance that has great power, the effect of reciting this mantra is to lull the mind into a state of higher consciousness. I remember having this mantra floating around in my head for days after listening to this song.

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million suns. They call me on and on across the universe. Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box. They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe. Jai Guru Deva OM. The Beatles, Across the Universe

This blog has always been about intentions. I have watched this intention for India bloom from a deep, but nebulous, wishing “wouldn’t it be lovely to go” to a shift where it became a vague possibility, to the multitude of signs that cropped up almost every day once I had said to myself “I really want to go to India.”

First, I kept seeing pictures of Alana Fairchild everywhere. She was promoting her Lakshmi Invoking the Goddess Retreat, during Diwali, the Festival of Lights, in Varanasi.

Diwali is the celebration of the inner light over spiritual darkness, knowledge over ignorance, right over wrong, good over evil.

In addition, the first day of Diwali is seen as the birth day of goddess Lakshmi, born from “the churning cosmic ocean of milk,” and the night marks the union of Lakshmi and Vishnu.

During the five day festival, the Ganges river comes alive with lanterns, fire offerings, and floating lights, every dwelling is lit up as the whole city is festooned in light.

It is said that, in Varanasi, an aarti, or devotional ceremony, has been offered to the Ganga morning and night for five thousand years.

Although logically I knew I could do India a lot cheaper on my own, every time I read the description of this week of full immersion in Lakshmi worship, in one of the great holy cities in the world, beside this river that represents the spiritual and literal lifeblood of India, my heart would leap up and pant, “please, please, please.”

During this time of deciding, the signs popped up everywhere, every newspaper and magazine I picked up seemed to have India on the cover. The Taj Mahal was everywhere! So I said to spirit “Okay, you want me to go? Show me the money.” The $500 deposit was due in a week and I was broke.

As I prayed at my altar I noticed it was pretty dusty so I gave it a good spring clean. I opened a special jewellery box I call my God box, where I place little notes and symbols of people and things I want to pray for or get help with, and out popped $250. (More on God Boxes in this previous post.)

It was the day after my entreaty to spirit.

At first I couldn’t understand where the money had come from, then I remembered my cancelled trip to Bali. I had exchanged money at the airport and had to get a refund when my flight was cancelled. I had come home and put the money in my god box, ostensibly for Bali. But here I had half my deposit.

Within a week I was offered a professional blog writing job, the Chakradance bookings were coming in and so I paid the deposit. When the intention is right, the money comes. I just had to trust my heart on this stuff.

I can’t remember when the Rishikesh idea came to me but once it did it took root immediately. A pilgrimage to the place the Beatles, well at least one of them, had got connected with their spiritual destiny? How could I not!

Looking a photos of this glorious town in the foothills of the Himalayas, I realised that this was near the source of the Ganges. The very same river I would be engaged in worship with for a week in Varanasi. Was this river calling to me?

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream. It is not dying, it is not dying. Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void. It is shining, it is shining. Yet you may see the meaning of within. It is being, it is being. Love is all and love is everyone. It is knowing, it is knowing… The Beatles, Tomorrow Never Knows

Since then I have read books and watched numerous films about this sacred river.

In Hindu traditions the Ganges, or Ganga is divine, part mother, nourisher and sustainer of life, part goddess incarnate in elemental form, she is worshipped and revered.

According to Diane L. Eck in her wonderful book India: A Sacred Geography, 

Her true headwaters are not really in the highest Himalayas, but are said to be in highest heaven, emerging from the very foot of Vishnu. She was carried in the water pot of Lord Brahma, and when she plummeted from heaven to earth, her cascades fell first on the head of Lord Shiva. It is no wonder the most famous hymn to the river calls her “the embodied goodness of the gods.” Diane L. Eck

To go to her waters and be blessed by mother Ganga is a great privilege. It is the pilgrimage of a lifetime for many Hindus, and I feel honoured and humbled to have this opportunity.

The river certainly called George Harrison, he had such reverence for her and the Hindu traditions surrounding her, that his ashes were scattered in the Ganges at Varanasi.

When I say I am going to India because of The Beatles, I don’t mean to flippantly disregard millenia of Indian mysticism. Of course my fascination with the Hindu Tantra tradition is the reason I am drawn to this place. The role of The Ganges in that religion makes my destinations particularly pertinent. I trust this is the beginning of many Indian journeys for me.

img_3820I guess the point is, at a very young age this wonderful band came into my life and shaped me in a fundamental way.

Through The Beatles I was exposed to Indian mysticism at a formative phase of my psyche.

Not everyone who loves The Beatles develops a fascination with the Hindu spirituality, so I think for me it sowed a seed for something that my soul longed to be part of my incarnation at this time.

Or not. Who knows, really? All I do know is that when I wax and wane with indecision, as I am wont to do, this journey keeps cycling back to the sound of that sitar on that first album I ever owned.

There have been times over the last few months where I have questioned my decision to go to India. I can’t really afford it, the day after I paid for my retreat I found out my car needs $1400 worth of repairs.

But The Beatles taught me to live from the heart, to live as love would have me do. So I drive around with a noisy muffler, and play The Beatles really loud, and every time I hear that sitar, well don’t you know…

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright, alright, alright. The Beatles, Revolution

Bless!

The places that scare you

When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armour, like armour that imprisons the softness of the heart. Pema Chodron

I wake early and sit on the verandah of my little Balinese bungalow. The ocean roars below. Dawn is breaking. A pair of small bats flap around and through the rafters of the row of huts. They pelt past me, ducking and weaving through wooden pillars and trees. I watch in awe.

Blind as a bat, that’s how the saying goes and yet they navigate with apparent ease. I’m pulled between feelings of admiration and a mild fear that one will come crashing into my head.

This torque between awe and fear captures my experience in Bali. Quite possibly it epitomises my reaction to life in general.

There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. Alan Watts

This place is beautiful but a little unsafe. No, not really unsafe. Unfamiliar. There are imagined disasters at every turn. Can I leave my son in the bungalow for an hour to go to yoga? What if something happens to him? What if I get hit by a scooter? What if we get sick? What if I lose all our money? What if there’s a tsunami? A volcanic ash cloud? What if we get stuck here and I run out of money? What if I chose the wrong place to stay? What if we are too isolated here? What if…?

These thoughts have plagued the early hours of the morning. Waking me from a blissful tropical sleep into heart-pounding anxiety. It is said that the body doesn’t differentiate between a real or an imagined experience. And here I lie in paradise traumatising myself with imagined disaster scenarios.

The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling, or changing, or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo – even when it’s not working. It attaches to past and present and fears the future. Richard Rohr

This same torque exists within me, a strong need for security coupled with an adventurous and inquisitive spirit. There is absolutely no way to quell these needs simultaneously, there are always choices that serve one but not the other. And I feel ever pulled in different directions. 

Anxiety is a strange beast. It’s been with me forever and yet I am only just starting to see its pervasiveness. I think in the past I had a host of coping mechanisms – not good ones it has to be said, but temporarily effective. 

These strategies seemed to mask and divert my anxiety into manageable, material things. I felt anxious but I had a solution, I just needed a drink, a drug, a man, a family sized tub of Haagen Dazs…

The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet. Alan Watts

Then there is the strategy of control and micromanaging. It goes like this, if I keep my life small, contained and manageable, if I stick to the list of things I can’t do because they scare me, then I keep anxiety at bay. Well, that’s the theory.

Except I discovered none of these things actually works in the long term. Like a hyper-resistant virus, anxiety soon finds a way through all my defences. “Ha ha it says. You can’t beat me!” It’s like the ever confident poker player always willing to raise me one more until I fold.

So what to do then?

Nothing goes away until it teaches you what you need to know. Pema Chodron

So what does my anxiety have to teach me? Paradoxically I think it teaches me to be brave. I know that sounds crazy but bear with me here.

When every day, all day, every little decision, every action scares you, it means you are constantly overcoming fear. Unlike someone who lives in the illusion of security, an anxious person is only too aware of the unstable nature of life, inherent is suffering, misfortune and ultimately death. 

The trick is to be at peace with this awareness. It is how we react to the anxiety that makes the difference, not trying to get rid of the anxiety itself.

What lies beneath this anxiety about seemingly trivial things is the fear of no control, and ultimately the fear of suffering and death. Anxiety is borne of a lie that if things were a certain way, then I’d be okay. But in reality things are in constant flux and mostly out of my control.

The places that really scare us are within and not outside of ourselves. That’s the ruse. Anxiety makes us feel that the threat is out there, that there is safety and security to be found if only we manage well. 

Coming to Bali, leaving my son to go to yoga, all involves acting in face of these fears. The fear turns out to be an illusion. This acting in spite of my fear strengthens me for the next bout of fear. It teaches me to be present in the fear and act with integrity and courage anyway. It teaches me that although I have no control, I do have choice. 

The more we witness our emotional reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. Pema Chodron 

Here I have none of my defences. I wear little clothes, no make-up. I have no job, no profession, no role. There is no schedule, no timelines. I am without my armoury. Without my anchors of familiarity and routine. In this free flowing unfolding of life my anxiety runs around like a headless chicken. “What if… What if… What if…”

After centering myself, reminding myself gently that I came to Bali to revisit my spirit of adventure, I say “Wouldn’t it be lovely to walk to yoga in my favourite studio in the whole world, knowing my son is completely safe and so am I.”

And that’s exactly how it goes.

Now I’m not saying bad things don’t happen. That’s not the point. The point is worrying and anxiety are not going to stop bad things from happening. And mostly those things are the ones we never see coming anyway. Like the coconut that fell from a tree missing my head by inches as my son and I walked to the pool. Didn’t see that coming! I didn’t wake at 5am worrying about having my skull caved in by a falling coconut…

The point is not to let fear poison and dominate my life’s experiences and choices. To as Pema Chodron says go to the places that scare you. Be present there, and live heart-fully in spite of fear. To accept my vulnerability in a world where quite possibly anything could happen. To be invigorated rather than petrified by this.

When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation, and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment. Pema Chodron 

All this has emerged as I feel the shift into my heart chakra. This year I have been allowing myself to flow through my chakras very slowly and intuitively. Last month I was enjoying the fiery energy of Manipura. And even as I finished writing my last post I could feel the shift into the heart centre.

The alchemy of surrender is a term used by astrologer Sarah Varcas. She uses it to describe the power that comes from embracing the state of unknowing. She talks about the shift that happens when we stop trying to think our way through uncertainty and begin to feel into it.

Over the past ten days I have remained present through my varying states from mild panic to complete calm and peace. Having just been attuned to reiki, I practiced this on myself and tuned into where the nervous energy was stuck in my body.

Anxiety is awareness without presence, just as fear is excitement without breathing. Russ Hudson

Anxiety is just energy. When you think about it, there’s very little difference between anxiety and excitement except the story the mind tells itself.

In yoga class, the teacher led us through pranayama breathing exercises. He reminded us that without proper breathing the energy cannot flow. Yoga asanas, or any energy raising practice for that matter, without breathing will raise energy but not move it, creating blocks and imbalances.

Anxiety is an energetic charge created by our mental perception. Breathing into the anxiety. Focusing on where it is being trapped in the body – both subtle and physical – allowing a compassionate observation of our thoughts and sensations, creating space for them, is a powerful way to transform anxiety into a mindfulness practice.

This is not something we do once or twice. Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening the heart is the work of a lifetime. Pema Chodron

Anxiety and fear is a call to arms. Without it would I have pursued a spiritual solution? I doubt it. If not driven by my discomfort, what motivation would there have been for me to investigate meditation, yoga, Chakradance? That’s not to say that anxiety is all that motivates me, I have a connection to the spirit world that is precious and wonderful to me, but it was desperation that got me started.

For those of you who haven’t experienced anxiety it begins with a feeling of something running on a mouse-wheel in your chest. There’s a feeling of panic even if there’s no real sense of what the panic is about. It’s like feeling scared. 

People – the ones who don’t experience anxiety – will say it’s all in your head. Yes. Like real fear. That’s in your head too. And your body doesn’t distinguish between the two. For someone in the midst of an anxiety attack, they may as well be tied to the train tracks with the 4:32 fast approaching.

Anxiety certainly gets your attention. It’s hard to ignore that freight train rocking through your chest, the dry mouth, the pounding head, the urge to run. Maybe that’s the point. Anxiety wants me to pay attention. Like a parent who has asked politely twenty times for their child to come to dinner, anxiety ramps it up a notch just to get their attention.

We’re all very familiar with the experience of fear escalating, or the experience of running away from fear. But have we even taken the time to truly touch our fear, to be present with it and experience it fully? Do we know what it might mean to smile at fear? Pema Chodron

Meditation helps. It helps because it is a practice which disciplines us to let thoughts go, to not attach or overly identify with them. It helps because it brings awareness on to the breath, and breathing can become shallow when anxious, and breath moves energy through our subtle body. 

And it helps because it teaches us to just observe whatever state we may be in with loving compassion and a little detachment. In meditation I am present, aware, but not a slave to my thinking.

Someone once told me that the problem it not how we feel, it’s how we feel about how we feel. So when I’m anxious I have the choice to feel anxious about my anxiety – can you see the snowball effect of that line of thinking? 

Or I can choose to accept that I’m anxious, without reacting to it. This was a strategy I first encountered in Russ Harris’ book The Happiness Trap, but essentially it is the basis of many religious and contemplative practices. Begin in the now, with what is, accept it, breathe, refrain from judgement or reaction. Be an impassive observer of your own inner workings. Create a space between the feeling and the observing of the feeling.

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. Pema Chodron

I know it sounds so simple, but it’s also really hard to unlearn years of habitual thinking. So I have found I need to be very gentle and compassionate with myself. Sometimes I react to my anxiety, that snowball starts rolling and I’m out of control.  And that’s okay. It always comes to a head and then I regroup. I meditate, I dance, I run, I do yoga. I sit on a stationary bike and pedal until all the nervous energy has burned out of me. I begin again.

I am sure much of my anxiety comes from a defensive self-protection. I want to be open to life, to explore, to love, to experience. 

Yet part of me feels that in the past when I have opened to life, to love, it has been a Trojan horse, which seemed at first, like a wondrous gift, but once within my walls, once it had me vulnerable, it attacked. After charming itself into my world it let me down in the most spectacular way. My heart hurts from this disappointment and betrayal. 

As much as I wish to be rendered new, these scars linger. But what if that’s the point? What could be more brave than keeping my heart open knowing that pain is inevitable?

A dark night of the soul is some of the most transformative times that we go through in our lives. They are sacred initiations. Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson talks of the modern tendency of pathologising of normal human suffering. Pain and suffering are part of life, we are built for it. As well as a physical immune system we have a psychic immune system. After a physical injury or illness we allow time for the bruises and scars to heal. The same goes for our psychic scars, after loss or sadness or disappointment there is a time when we feel bruised, and are healing. Time and self-compassion and acceptance is the way through this process. 

The thymus gland relates to the immune system in the body and is the gland that is located in the area of the heart chakra. Is it possible that this psychic immune system is also located in the heart centre? 

Just as our physical immunity strengthens from exposure to allergens and bacteria, perhaps our psychical immune system strengthens through these times of fear, pain and grief that so test our hearts.

Marianne Williamson maintains that much of what is diagnosed and medicated as anxiety and depressive disorders is actually the very sane reactions we have to the world we live in. Bombarded daily with images of violence, poverty, disease, only the hardest of hearts could not feel pain. 

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart. Helen Keller

Spiritual malady is often called the ‘dark night of the soul.’ As Buddha and Christ demonstrated suffering is at the core of the spiritual experience. Indeed the need to be happy – that we are so bombarded with – is a set-up for disappointment and despair.

When what we really need is to develop acceptance and resilience to pain, compassion for ourself and others, by understanding and accepting its intrinsic role in our human experience.

The energy of the heart is simple. It is love. It wants to love. To radiate its light. To bring warmth and healing to others. To open to the radiance of life. 

In Sanskrit, Anahata means unhurt or unstruck. 

The heart is always unhurt and unstruck. That sacred centre cannot be scarred. The scars are energetic memories of past suffering. They are not bad, just products of the mistaken belief that closing, hiding and shielding the heart will prevent pain when of course the opposite is true.

Jung described the heart chakra as the beginning of individuation. The place where we begin to experience something beyond our ego-self, something we might call spirit.

When we begin to heal the heart chakra, we create a softening of the heart. This softening stirs the energy of love and compassion and through awareness we can begin to dissolve the hurt we so often bury in our hearts. As our heart awakens to its own loving potential we begin to experience genuine connection with others, and our relationships grow healthy and radiate love. Natalie Southgate 

The heart Chakradance is a dance of integration, of uniting the masculine and feminine energies, the energies of the more dense chakras below, with the more etheric above. As we dance we honour Father Sky and Mother Earth, day and night, light and dark, yang and yin. We experience that beautiful space where all is united and integrated, where all apparent opposites move together in harmonious dance of love.

I remember the last time I led the Heart Chakradance, it was close in time to an experience that had hurt my heart. I was more than a little afraid to be going there, especially leading a class. ‘What if I break down?’ I worried, knowing the pain was just beneath the surface.

Yet in the dance I didn’t experience my pain, I held the space for the dancers, and what I found was the essence of the heart energy, endless, unfathomable, bottomless waves of love and compassion. The room was bathed in emerald green light, as I shifted the energies that people released, yes, there was sadness and grief and disappointment, but it paled in the face of this infinite supply of love. 

When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space. Pema Chodron 

The recent years have marked a shift for me into setting my sights high and acting with self-belief. And while the fear and anxiety are often there, they no longer dictate my actions. Often I see anxiety as an indicator that have stepped outside of my comfort zone, into new territory and I remind myself this is a good thing.

After returning from Bali I met with the leader of my Druid grove and she guided my through walking the wheel. The Druid wheel is both a calendar for the eight seasonal ceremonies of the year and like the Native American medicine wheel, a sacred symbolic and archetypal map for the stages of development and the energies we are working through at a given time in our life. 

As part of a grove or Druid community, it also suggests the ceremonial role that we should hold for that year. While we work through the energies of an aspect of the wheel, we can also hold and represent those energies for the group during ceremony. For me the wheel guided me to stop just North of West, at the position of the knight. 

Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move. Move the way joy makes you move. Osho

It a curious position, archetypally the Knight is a young male, still adolescent, who embarks on a spiritual quest, the search for the Holy Grail, if you will. He represents the spiritual warrior. While it seemed strange for a woman at my stage of life, somewhere in the mother/queen realm to be guided to this energy, it also makes perfect sense.

This year I have been guided to make my spiritual journey a physical one, with my pilgrimages to Bali and India, and next year to Ireland. I have very much been called to get on my horse and physically seek. I have also been guided to do so alone. For the first time in my life I am not looking for a partner, if anything I feel I have no space for one right now. I’m the knight on his holy mission and it’s a path I must travel alone.

And how interesting that at a time when anxiety over my life choices has reared up, this warrior energy has emerged for me. It feels like a beautiful integration of the solar plexus warrior energy into the heart. Where my will and passion is channeled through my heart centre. 

It’s exciting for me to see spirit guide me in this way, it’s validating. As I march into the unknown, I have unseen guides alongside me. 

And like the turning of the wheel, my time as the knight won’t be forever, only until I have worked with these energies, gained their wisdom and I am ready to integrate this and move on.

The most courageous thing we will ever do is bear humbly the mystery of our own reality. Richard Rohr


Bless!

Light my fire

Energetically, physically, emotionally and mentally, we are all powerful, radiant beings. However, we may not always be living from a place where we accept and radiate our own power. Sometimes we may feel like it would be easier not to have to interact and bargain and state our worth to people at all. Sometimes we may give in and accept less than we’re worth. These are all symptoms of an under-active solar plexus chakra. Natalie Southgate

When I left my marriage seven years ago, I was a shivering mess of a woman. In fact, I should say shivering mess of a girl rather than a woman, even though I was well into my thirties.

All my life I had given my power to others, thinking everyone else knew better for me than I did, mostly because they told me that, but also I had never outgrown that childish irresponsibility of happily letting others take control.

Avoiding conflict seemed the peaceful path, and so I would give in to the needs and demands of others. It was just easier.

I had never stepped into my own power, never fully embraced my own authenticity or sense of integrity. Although I had some degree of a spiritual life, it could never fully come to fruition while I continued to place human powers ahead of my own connection with the divine.

Life is the sum of all your choices. Albert Camus

For years I was fuelled by fear and anxiety, as I forged through those hideous early months and years of separation and divorce. Trying not to take on my ex’s bitter rage, trying to sort out parenting arrangements, trying to mend bridges with my step-sons who rightly felt abandoned by me leaving them behind.

Then just as the sun seemed to finally peek back through the clouds, and life seemed to settle into a more mellow pace, my body completely crashed. It sounds dramatic I know, but that’s really what happened. The official diagnoses included depression, anaemia, low blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, leaky gut… Not to mention a whole lot of head-scratching by doctors who really couldn’t understand what was going on in my body, never mind why.

In retrospect I can see all those symptoms had one root cause, power loss. After years of giving my power away, I was bankrupt, and was running dangerously low on life force.

One of the greatest struggles of the healing process is to forgive both yourself and others and to stop expending valuable energy on the past hurts. Caroline Myss


It was during this time, researching my first blog, that I discovered Chakradance. Although I knew of the chakras and had always felt drawn to Indian mysticism, I can’t recall exactly how I found myself at the website.

Something drew me there and something about the name, the Sanskrit-inspired lettering, the colours and description of the practice set off bells and whistles in my gut. Before I even knew what I was responding to, my spirit was shouting “Yes! For Gods sake, YES!”

Thus began my Chakradance journey, which started with me dancing along to a DVD in my lounge room and has grown into a beautiful practice, a way of life and a spiritual business.

While I would never want to single out one chakra as being more fundamental than another, I think all newcomers to Chakradance identify pretty quickly where they are blocked or deficient. For me it was primarily the solar plexus.

When facilitating a class, I always explain to participants that they may encounter a chakra where the music doesn’t resonate, or where their dance feels stilted, or they just disconnect and their mind wanders off. For me the solar plexus was the triple whammy.

The tribal, warrior dance-inspired music – that I have since grown to love – was initially abrasive. My dancing, so smooth and graceful in the sacral chakra became jerky and off-beat. I often joke to people who have a similar experience with this chakra – it’s very common – that I danced like Peter Garrett, from Midnight Oil.

The Chakradance facilitator training involves a deep-dive into each chakra through dance, Jungian archetypes, energetic practices and journal writing. When I reached the solar plexus, I had little expectations because of my previous experiences.

Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know. Pema Chodron 

The dance of Manipura (the solar plexus chakra) begins with a flame, and as the music intensifies, the fire increases, I danced like wildfire. I became one with the fire, I was fire, flickering and wild. It felt incredibly liberating and powerful, and then all of a sudden my perception shifted dramatically.

The experience transformed from being elemental fire, to being ON fire – being burned, encased in flames – and all the powerful emotions that came with it. Horror, fear, panic.

During the dance I became angry, outraged, I found myself growling and shouting, I was defending myself against people who had abused me, punished me, shamed me, or taken my power away. It was a stream of vitriol that started as a very young child and worked its way through to the more recent relationships in my life. Doctors, teachers, partners, family, friends, one after another I got very angry about all the times I had disempowered myself or been disempowered in these relationships.

Even knowing it was just in the dance, the emotional reaction was profound. Recovering in child’s pose, I found myself saying to myself, “that was then, this is now, it is safe to be powerful now.”

As I incanted this affirmation, there came a vision of a fiery cauldron burning away the hurts of the past, all those experiences where I was persecuted, shamed, or abused for expressing my power. An image came to me of a golden cauldron on a large fire, and I poured all this emotion into the pot, to be transformed by the fire.

That night I dreamt that a golden pot exploded – flipping its lid – with such a force it woke me up. Manipura had been activated!

Meditate there on the region of Fire, triangular in form and shining like the rising sun. Purnananda

The image of the cauldron is meaningful. In both Taoist and Celtic traditions, the three cauldrons are the energy centres which are roughly equivalent to the seven chakras in the yoga tradition. The first cauldron in the Celtic system is the cauldron of heat, or Coire Goiraith, and in the Taoist tradition, is known as “the golden stove” representing the refining and vitality of the life force into the Ching energy, which is basically a highly refined, super potent form of chi, or life force energy.

Since then I continue to connect deeply in this chakra. After my last few months of immersion in the waters of Svadisthana, I knew I needed to wake this fire up again. I needed energy, motivation, will to power. All the aspects of Manipura.

Manipura is the seat of personal power and will. It is the fire that fuels our metabolism, and if it’s activated it increases our energy, drive, and sense of purpose. Who couldn’t use some of that?

According to tantric texts, it is in manipura that the spiritual activation of the kundalini takes place, as it is the junction of two vital forces, prana and apana. As we breathe prana rises from the navel to the throat and apana rises from Muladhara – the root chakra – to the navel. Manipura is considered the activation point for these subtle energies. In the sacred alchemy described in Taoist texts, this corresponding dantien is the furnace.

From Manipura chakra emanate ten nadis appearing like the petals of a lotus. The lotus is yellow and the petals depict the ten pranas, vital forces, which control and nourish all the functions of the body. On each petal is inscribed a letter in blue, giving the sound vibrations produced by the ten nadis. Inside the yellow lotus is an inverted red triangle-shaped yantra, representing the fire element, the spreading of energy. The inverted triangle also suggests the movement of energy downward. On its three sides the triangle has svastika signs shaped like a ‘T’, representing the formative force of fire (tejas tattva). At the lower end of the inverted triangle is a symbolic animal, a ram, representing dynamism and endurance. The ram is the vehicle of Agni (the fire God) and on it is inscribed the bija mantra ‘ram’, which lies latent. This is the symbol of the Divine Intelligence presiding over fire. Arthur Avalon, The Serpent Power

So let’s start with the Sanskrit meaning of Manipura – which is city of jewels, mani means city and pura jewels.What are these jewels? The jewels of Manipura are self-confidence, self-assurance, clarity, wisdom and knowledge. Unlike the higher centres where this knowledge may be more subtle, in Manipura the gift of knowledge is translated into will and action. It is the knowledge that enables us to make authentic and empowered decisions for ourselves. The solar plexus chakra is where our mental intentions become manifest. Here our will is fired by passion, purpose and energy.

This centres awakens our sense of individuality. Where as the first and second centres activates our awareness of our physical and sensory natures respectively, it is in Manipura that we begin to individuate, we experience our sense of self as a distinct identity.

This chakra is our autonomy, our sovereignty, our authenticity. As Shakespeare said “to thine own self be true,” Manipura is where we can find this truth. Manipura is thought of as the centre of willpower, vitality, achievement. It is the force that makes us act in the world.

It has a corresponding centre in the physical body, the solar plexus, which governs our digestive fires and heat regulation in the body. Manipura regulates our pranic – or life force – energy throughout our body, controlling our energy balance, vitality and strength.

This chakra helps develop the ego, creating our self-identity. Concerned with assertiveness and personal power, it is easy to see where this chakra can be out of balance. Either in excess feeling a desire for material power and control over people, or deficient in allowing ourselves to be dominated by others.

The archetype of the warrior epitomises the energy of this chakra.

The archetypes that we live out reflect the psychological patterning of self-care and worthiness, demonstrating the degree to which we love and cherish ourselves. The archetypes are also a metaphor for the strength of our vital energy, and the degree of creativity and pleasure we enjoy. Ambika Wauters

I wrote in my last post of becoming immersed in the watery, emotional world of the unconscious. My mandala drawings were full of water serpents chasing their tails, and I see how easy it might be to sink into those waters. What I needed was the sun rise to call me up and out, to again experience the heat and fiery passion of the dawn.

While we can dive into our unconscious and dance in our sensory waters, we cannot live there, there is no momentum.The unconscious is rendered conscious in the light of Manipura. Rising from sacral depths our emotions are digested and processed in the solar plexus chakra.

Here in Manipura, we have to contend with both the fire of desire and the power of the emotions. Without the fire in our bellies we could be stuck in the mud, or stay in the dark oceanic depths. Here in this energy centre we rise like the sun and the will to action is engaged.

You must have control of the authorship of your own destiny. The pen that writes your life story must be held in your own hand. Irene C. Kassorla

As much as our shadow side is unconscious and hidden, it does want to be seen. Those parts of ourselves that are underdeveloped, or we turn a blind eye to, will project themselves onto other people and life circumstances to force us to see the things we try to avoid in ourselves. All this owning of our truth, our authenticity and our power comes to light in the solar plexus.

Here we experience the light bulb moment, as the light illuminates the dark and we see what we have been wrestling with in the murky depths of the sacral waters. Unconscious becomes conscious awareness.

Dancing the solar plexus chakra was the catalyst for this process, allowing me to release all the ways I had been disempowered.

Our fiery natures gets dampened through our way of life in the west, through societal conformity and a focus on relating to others, which is all very base and sacral chakra stuff. The epidemic of depression and anxiety in modern westernised cultures could reflect a generalised loss of connection to the vital core of spiritual power, based in the solar plexus.

Above the inverted triangle is the storm-God Rudra (Shiva), portrayed as an old Shiva, daubed with white ashes, who represents the power of destruction. Presiding over the subtle body, seated beside Rudra, is his consort, the three-headed, four-armed goddess of fire, Lakini. Arthur Avalon, The Serpent Power

The solar plexus Chakradance is a journey with the Warrior archetype, with our relationship to masculinity. What does ‘warrior’ mean in our world? Integrity, perhaps? Not being silenced by ideals of correctness?

Servitude, the opposite archetypal energy means following the party line, subsuming ones own needs and desires beneath the needs and desires of others.

In an age of rampant political correctness, it is a fine line between respect for difference and being silenced from speaking our thoughts because they might offend someone.

There’s certainly plenty of anti-masculine rhetoric that goes around, as if the feminine alone could save the world. What will save humanity, if indeed it even needs saving, is balance. I’m not talking homogenisation here, I mean true balance, where all aspects of our selves can be healthily expressed. Where masculine traits are not derided.

We give away our power all the time, in our choice of lifestyle, where we spend our money, what we choose to do with our time. If the power of Manipura is considered masculine, if the warrior archetype is considered masculine, if authenticity, autonomy, the will to power is masculine, I say we all need plenty of that.

Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness. Shakti Gawain

For women, it may help to think of this archetype as sovereignty, as the warrior queens who stood their ground under all kinds of difficult circumstances, who prized integrity and autonomy as the highest goals.

As we move into the heart chakra, we begin to balance and integrate these masculine and feminine energies, but before integration comes activation, and I feel that this chakra is so out of whack in our culture. Most of us are just living in the box we were provided with, enjoying our small illusions of freedom and autonomy. While a few are overactive in the chakra wielding tyrannical control and destruction over the world.

Until we activate, acknowledge and integrate our inner warriors, the shadow warrior will continue to rage in the collective unconscious of humankind.

Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage? Pink Floyd

Like all archetypes, the warrior is a stage we must develop through, taking the lessons and integrating them as we move into the next phase of development. Archetypes are two dimensional aspects, as such we try them on, act them out, but they are rites of passage, stages we move through to differentiate and ultimately integrate the various aspects of self.

As teenagers when the energy of Manipura really fires up, we may find ourselves butting heads with the world, but at some point we have to turn all that passion and will power within to foster our own integrity and personal authenticity. This inner warrior needs discipline equal to its fiery passion.

Many people misunderstand Tantra as being about sex. What Tantra really does is provide a system for engaging with, managing and ultimately uniting our inner masculine and feminine energies. The tantric practitioner seeks union of the shakti and shiva within their subtle body, by encouraging the upward movement of the feminine kundalini energy to unite in Sahasrara – the crown chakra – with the masculine shiva energy. As in Jungian psychological terms, the goal is an inner union, an integration of forces, that he called individuation.

By meditating on the navel centre one attains knowledge of the whole body. Patanjali

5 top tips for balancing your solar plexus chakra by Chakradance founder Natalie Southgate:

  1. Take responsibility for your life; avoid blaming others, circumstances, or fate.
  2. Develop a strong sense of self and keep sight of your own unique direction, ambitions and goals. Take the right action to achieve these goals.
  3. Find appropriate self-discipline in your life.
  4. Create good boundaries.
  5. Call to mind and celebrate your achievements and successes.

Expressing power need not be an act of overpowering. It is an act of being in touch with who you truly are and having your actions follow that belief. It is being able to commit, have integrity, keep your word and deal honourably. A balanced and healthy solar plexus chakra allows us to live lives of dignity and self-respect. Natalie Southgate

Blessings!

After the Storm

  

Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does. Margaret Atwood

This morning I woke up and wept. Afterwards I feel as if a storm has blown through me. That tension and anticipation, moments before the storm hits, the release of torrential winds and rain, and the subsequent freshness and sense of cleansing and calm that comes after really good downpour.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned in the last few years is the patience to allow my emotions to come and go. I’m not saying I stay ever-calm or enjoy these storms, but I do mentally buoy myself with the understanding that they are a force unto themselves, and they will pass.

For years I medicated uncomfortable emotions with all kinds of panaceas – from alcohol to love to food – and for years into addiction recovery, I would get on the phone and talk, talk, talk about my feelings to anyone who would listen. I never learned to just allow them, to just sit with myself without panicking or having to judge or create a big story out of the experience.

What I discovered over time is that feelings, like the weather are in constant flux. And if I can just be with my feelings, just be present while they ebb and flow – or dance and wail while they storm and rage – they will always pass away and shift into another state. 

Heraclitus – the Greek philosopher – believed flux and change was the central theme to life. Like the ancient Chinese philosophers he understood the paradox of non-dual thinking epitomised so beautifully in the yin yang symbol. There’s no sense of fixed polarities between opposite states, just a constant shift in balance between different states of being. Movement, flux, change.

Unlike his predecessor Thales who believed water was the great unifying element, Heraclitus though it was fire. What’s interesting here is the shift between all creation being of the gods, to an understanding of a more earthly and nature-originated source. The Greeks like many ancients, saw the inherent wisdom within the very nature of things, and then applied this wisdom to human life.

The Greeks, like many ancient cultures, associated the four elements with different aspects or humours of the human body, particularly in relation to medicine, but also as a study of emotional temperaments. Water was generally associated with the feminine, the lungs and the brain.

In modern Western esoteric traditions, think here of the imagery in the tarot, water represents the emotions, the psyche, the flowing, unpredictable, sometimes hidden aspects of human nature.

  
In Hindu philosophy the element water is one of the five great elements, or Panchamabhuta, is associated with water devas or vasus, with Chandra (the moon) and Shukra (Venus) who represents feelings, sexuality, intuition and emotions.

The Mantrapushpam, a sacred text of the Rishis, explains that the moon and the waters support each other, and draws a parallel between the waxing and waning of the moon, the effect on the tides, and the mind vacillating between emotions of grief and happiness.

Emotions are like the tides, in constant flow and flux, and the connection between emotions and the element of water is archetypal. Water doesn’t move in a straight line from point A to point B, it meanders and goes around things – solid things like rocks and trees and land masses. A lot like the emotional nature, water ebbs and flows, it can rage and damage, or be calm and soothing.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong. Laoxi

And what about the connection between water and tears, that has always fascinated me. Why does salt water well in my eyes when I’m feeling emotional?

These past months have been, hmmm, let’s keep the language PG and say ‘challenging.’ I felt right back in the deep end of life again, frantically treading water.

My dad has been sick, again. Every time, it’s that emotional roller coaster of not knowing if we are going to lose him. Not even if, but when.

My son is struggling at school. I think I try to hold things together for his sake, it’s not ideal when your main parent has an emotional breakdown. So as soon as he left for a weeks holiday with his dad, the pressure of the past few months dammed-up emotions broke though.

So I wake up, alone, and it feels like there’s a race to see if my head or my heart is going to implode first. My thoughts eddy me from one overwhelming scenario to another, wave after wave of emotions crash, culminating in a massive cry.

At the extremities of human feeling, language becomes the language of tears. John O’Donohue

At the same time, I was reflecting on the sacral chakra, located around the lower belly. The sacral chakra is considered the energy centre of our senses, emotions, sexuality and creativity. The Sanskrit name svadisthana translates as ‘the dwelling place of the self’ and ‘sweetness,’ so it is our own sweet place.

This chakra is associated with the element of water. Like water our sacral chakra is in constant motion. Tap in for a moment to your feeling state, your emotional sense, you senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and sound. Notice the constant stream of ideas, of creativity that streams through your mind. It’s in a state of movement, of flux, isn’t it?

I’m always looking for synchronicities in my life, I think ideas and concepts come together at a particular time for a reason. These seemingly random ideas began to coalesce into a theme for me.

Maybe I navigate through life like water?

 

I often berate myself because my emotions seem to loom so large and dictate so much of my behaviour, but what if that’s just how I am? What if like a body of water I do swell with the rains, and get churned up by the wind? Only to be restored to calm again. What if I do tend to flow around or over obstacles instead of moving them? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that?

I know I have a great affinity with water. Particularly the ocean. I took my son away on a road trip, we crossed the bay on a ferry and drove along the Great Ocean Road which transverses the Southern coast of Australia. The next day we awoke outside of Lorne, a truly spectacular place where the bush land meets the ocean. Sleeping by the ocean had worked its magic and I felt that the crisp sea breeze had blown my mind clear, decluttering and clarifying. I walked down to the rocky shoreline and allowed the waves to crash over me.

Sitting on a rock with the ocean crashing over me, singing my soul song, I imagined myself a mermaid. Tapping into some primal aspect of myself that never feels completely happy on solid ground. Between worlds. In the liminal zone.

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

My dreams take place in a watery world. As a child I would dream that I awoke in my bedroom and that it had a door in the floor that opened to the sea. I would swim and swim from azure shallows to a dark, churning ocean. Then find myself at the shore, back amongst people. Sometimes I just swam away.

I have an old pattern of trying to be someone else. Somewhere along the line, I got the message that I was not okay as I was and I needed to change in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. What if it’s one of my gifts to be so emotional? Well, perhaps ‘gift’ is stretching things a little, but what if I just have to accept that aspect of myself.

Forty years after learning my wild nature was not acceptable, I am still beating my head against that wall of trying to be different, but what if I just be who I am? What if I accept that plenty of people won’t accept me that way, but that’s okay. If emotions drive me, then perhaps it’s time I learned to flow with that force. Or at least to not fight it.

I tell you, we are the people of the sea and restless, wind-tormented still have no will but the water’s will. Traditional Irish poem

Our culture tends to dismiss emotion, to see it as weak and unmanageable. We tell people to “pull yourself together” and “swallow a load of concrete and harden up.”

We all feel emotions, some of us more than others, and some of us are more expressive about our emotions that others. So what’s the big deal, why are we so afraid of feeling?

Emotion is energy in motion, it is the moving out of energy from the unconscious into the conscious mind so we can deal with it. An emotion is like a message from within, and we need to be receptive to the messages.

Understanding that emotions move like water, gives us a clue to how to experience them. If we are in a strong current of water we can expend a lot of energy swimming against it, or we can go with the flow, and save our energy for paddling once the power has dissipated from the current, or in this case the emotional charge.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters. Norman Maclean

   
It’s hard being watery in a world that loves hard edges and grid lines and efficacy of A to B without meandering. My life, the true life that inspires me, all happens on a meander. Even that word makes me deeply exhale.

At best in our society we are encouraged to talk about our emotions, “and how did that make you feel?” The favourite go-to line of therapists. While I think naming our emotions is valid to a point, what our body surely wants is for us to FEEL them. I find now that excessive talking only creates and embeds a story around my emotional state, which may even entrench rather than release these feelings.

So how do we release emotions? We feel them. We allow them, honour them, dance in their rain, fly with their winds, bask in their sun. We stop resisting, denying and suppressing them. We allow our watery natures to flow.

Water is so fundamental to life. Our bodies are mostly water, we live on a planet that is mostly water, where all forms of life evolved out of the waters. We all come from the waters of the womb.

The water element is at the heart of evolution. All of life has come out of the sea. The matrix of life began in the primal soup that stirred in the beginning. Life crawled out of this water onto land. In a strangely ironic parallel, this is also the way human life begins. John O’Donohue

Our modern lifestyles tend to be quite rigid. Most of us work in jobs where we are expected to be somewhere at a certain time for a certain time, often sitting still, working on a computer.

And yet this inner ocean needs to move, to ebb and flow. How do we create a safe space to be in this sacral chakra energy?

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children. Rainer Maria Rilke

Dance is a wonderful way to reconnect with our own sweet place. In traditional cultures dance is used as an important part of their ritual practice, as well as for the emotional and spiritual release it provides. Dance literally puts our energy into motion, releasing emotion, awakening our senses, freeing up tension in our body and connecting us with the deep essence of our spirit.

In Chakradance, the element of water comes through the sacral chakra. This is the feminine centre, a centre that holds the key to our emotional life, to our sensuality. In the dance we visualise stepping into a stream and being washed clean of any stress or tension. Then we dance from the hips, our bodies undulating like water. Stimulating the natural ebb and flow of our being.

A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable. William Wordsworth

Dancing allows all parts of me to engage in a delicious whirl of sensory experience, all the conflicting feelings and emotions and demands of my life get to come up and play, express themselves, are rearranged, and often dissipate or transform into something completely new.

Instead of life feeling disastrous. It feel like a dance of delicious imperfection.

 

But that’s in the dance. Then the music stops and I have to live it. Some days I stay in the dance, I maintain this perspective. But others… My desire to flow comes crashing down amongst all the conflicting needs and desires of those around me.

Some days I swing from some makeshift peace and acceptance of my life to abject terror that I’m letting everything slide. That I’m a slack mother, a negligent daughter, a bad friend, a haphazard worker. As a business owner I feel I should be doing so much more. As a woman I feel I should be socialising, dating. But I’m tired and deflated. There’s an apt word. Deflated.

I once had so many ideals for life and this world. Now I often feel jaded. I still believe in love and peace as perfect principles, but I also accept, as someone who’s lived in this world for over four decades, that much of the time these principles are not what motivates us, even the best of us.

I try very hard to be loving and kind but some days I’m hanging on by a thread not to just scream and shout and hit people. Some days the thread snaps.

I think this world forces me to be rigid and strong, and I suppress my watery nature. I freeze up. A few months ago I had an experience that affected me so that my entire sexuality and confidence in myself literally froze. I kept functioning but I felt nothing. George Clooney himself could have walked up and kissed my hand without the merest flutter of recognition in my body.

I just let myself be. Chakradance has taught me that these blocks will shift when they are ready to. I could see it was a self-defence mechanism. There was too much hurt so my feelings froze.

Shamans dance with their spirit guides and power animals to be empowered with spiritual life force. And to release what is no longer needed. Chakaradance taps into this shamanic practice, as well as the energetic aspects of the chakras. As my class danced in the sacral chakra, I felt that energy stir. That divine feminine that had shut down began to awaken.

Anodea Judith says that when we awaken these ‘frozen’ parts of ourselves, there is a thawing out stage. And like the recovery from frostbite, going from numb to thawing can feel excruciatingly painful. There is a reason we freeze out our emotions, they sometimes hurt. A lot.

Alongside the thawing is a tingling, very much like that sensation of blood retuning to a numbed limb. It brings sustenance and life. It reminds that there is always healing. The challenge is to let go of fighting this process. To resist thawing because it hurts blocks the life force that wants to move through me.

Maybe life is in the struggle. In the struggle and the letting go. Flux, movement, change.

Always be like water. Float in the times of pain or dance like waves along the wind which touches its surface. Santosh Kalwar

  
Maybe that’s the deliciousness. Like the fresh air that comes with a big storm, that washes away all the tension and makes everything feel new again, even just for a moment.

It feels that life is truly seen in those fresh moments. It may feel crappy. I may be tired of always having to be strong and kind when I’m tired and sad and just want some strong arms around me. But I do it. And then suddenly there is a moment. When my teenage son who is driving me crazy walks past and I feel in my bones the miracle of his creation and his growth from a baby into this burgeoning young man. And I trust that he’s going to be okay, that his life will burst from him in its own unique way and I don’t have to control or manipulate that.

And I sit with my dad and he gets sicker and frailer and I remember the man who made rude jokes at the dinner table, and always had gravy in his beard, and made you smile for ten minutes with the sun in your eyes while he took a photo, only to find there wasn’t any film in the camera anyway. Who took me so much to heart when I begged him not to embarrass me by shaking my male friend’s hand, that when my friend stuck his hand out, it took dad several awkward attempts to untangle his own from behind his back.

It hurts this life. It hurts to love. Because inherent in love is loss. Inherent in every moment is loss, just look at nature. Constantly recycling life from leaves to worms to raindrops.

It’s perfect in its imperfection. Because a perfect world would have no pain, would it? And yet pain is part of it.

My greatest asset is the pain I have navigated in life. That pain allows me compassion for the pain of others. To try to spiritually bypass suffering is possibly missing the entire point of being on a spiritual path.

Using our emotional suffering can be an in to developing compassion. The Buddhist practice of tonglen, in its most simplified form, is to allow ourselves to mentally connect with all sentient beings that suffer in the same way we do. And then radiating loving kindness to all suffering beings, by definition, including ourselves.

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity. Pema Chodron

I suppose the point should be made, that in all this talk of letting my emotions flow, I don’t mean venting them at someone else’s expense. I have been accused of being insincere at times because I will hold back expressing the full force of my emotions. I will exercise restraint and wait until the storm clears before communicating. Otherwise, well, it’s not pretty. Obviously at work I deal with all kinds of people who have all kinds of emotional effects on me. But I have to keep that in check, that’s just being professional.

So when I talk of expression and release of emotions, I am referring to finding appropriate ways to do that, in the right environment. Releasing emotion at the expense of another person is more akin to abuse than healthy release.

After 17 years in recovery groups, I’ve heard a lot of platitudes. Some still irritate me, but others despite their somewhat cloying tone, are helpful. One such platitude is to ‘act better than you feel.’ I like this because if doesn’t discount my emotions, it just reminds me to check myself before acting on them.

Is this insincere? Yes and no. It’s perhaps inauthentic, in the sense of complete self-expression, but who does that? Who doesn’t filter their behaviour in some circumstances? Imagine the chaos if we all just acted how we felt all the time. “Sorry, I just can’t parent/work/show up today because I’m having a feeling.” Or just venting on the people around us all the time, imagine if we told our partners the depths of our feelings towards them at all times, or our mothers? That’s not helpful authenticity, that’s just careless self-absorption.

This is where the work of Russ Harris, author of the Happiness Trap, amongst others, comes in handy. Authenticity can be expressed at an emotional level sure, but is that really going to benefit us and the people around us? Most likely not.

Authenticity at the level of our values, and the behaviours associated with our values however, can be of benefit. When I know what my values are, and identify how to act them out in my life, say loving kindness and respect for others, I may not be able to unleash the true nature of my feelings at all times, I may have to take some time out to process and calm down before I can respectfully communicate with another person, but that’s not inauthentic, it’s just putting my value systems ahead of uncontained self-expression.

Do I manage this all the time? Hell, no! Have I told you how emotional I am?

No. I try. And often where I fail is with the people that matter most. I can be restrained at work, but at home, with those relationships closest to my heart, that’s where it gets harder. But I try, I practice. I meditate and try to own my stuff as best I can. Progress not perfection. Yes, another cloying platitude.

I think this balance between awareness of our authentic self and our connectness to others, to all of life, is the basis of all spiritual practice. 

You used to think that it was so easy, but you’re trying, you’re trying now. Gerry Rafferty 

The point, is I think, that if we can mindfully experience our own emotions, and find healthy forms of expression, like dance or creativity or a good brisk walk, then we have a better chance of first, developing self awareness and second not venting unto others. We can also begin to see how these passionate emotional charges can be channeled for creativity and self-expression in constructive rather than destructive ways.

Which is why I’ve discovered, and I don’t think I’m alone here, that I need clear boundaries in relationships. Like my river banks, boundaries allow me to flow easily, to see where I need to go, otherwise I just disperse my energies everywhere and dry out.

And in my own life, this is what I’m pouring my energy into. It’s contained, but flowing.

And then every now and again we can allow ourselves the leeway to not be perfect and to have ourselves explode all over the place with emotion and hope the people around us love us enough to forgive.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always our self we find in the sea. e e Cummings

As I reflect on my affinity with water, I remember the day I found my soul song as I waded in rock pools near the thrashing ocean. I was distraught with emotion, with the wretched, wrenching pain of lost love. I hummed a song that resonated in my mind at that time, and somewhere between that melody and the ocean’s roar and hiss, my soul song came. It is a sad song, the wail of a siren calling for redemption, but it has great power. It reminds me that my own strength and power has come from sadness too.

The danger for water is stagnation. Is becoming so contained as to be stuck without its essential life force which is flux and flow. I see that in my own life. Disheartened in love, deflated in my dreams for my life, I have been merely going through the daily motions of life.

I sleep a lot, my dreams being an escape or release from my stuckness.

It’s taken me months to write this post. I have allowed time to flow and I know feels like it’s time to get some momentum going again. I am stagnating. I realise that any change right now would be beneficial. I find a simple change to my routine, early rising meditation, regular exercise, very basic things can get me moving and flowing again.

I need movement, when I allow my body to sit or rest too much, I lose all momentum. The time for resting and recuperating is over, it’s time to get moving again, to move those waters and let them flow on.

The undiscovered vein within us is a living part of the psyche; classical Chinese philosophy names this interior way “Tao,” and likens it to a flow of water that moves irresistibly towards its goal. To rest in Tao means fulfilment, wholeness, one’s destination reached, one’s mission done; the beginning, end, and perfect realisation of the meaning of existence innate in all things. C.G. Jung

This post is long, I know, if you made it this far you’ve done well. I thought about editing it down, but the whole point was the process of emotional flow and it’s taken me three months to go through this process. At the beginning I felt flooded with emotion. Then, as those storms subsided and I sat with the feelings, I eventually became stagnant and stuck, through moving, both physically and energetically, the flow has begun again.

What I have learned is that I can’t force or fast-track this process, trying to control it only adds to the pressure. The best I can do is make peace with wherever I find myself, to understand that great things come from sadness and grief, these are our shadow times when we get to dig deep and tap into unknown reservoirs of strength and power. 

And then to be grateful, ever so thankful, when I get to rise up out of the depths and sun begins to shine again.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person you walked in. Haruki Murakami

  

Blessings!

Art by Katherine Skaggs katherineskaggs.com

Holy crap! This stuff actually works

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Entirely by accident, I conducted a little experiment on myself in the last month or so.

In the lead up to Christmas, I finished up teaching Chakradance and holding shamanic circles for the year. Things were super busy at work and at home, and my yoga and meditation practice waned.

Then we went on a family holiday, which was more family than holiday, it has to be said. And suddenly I found myself in perhaps the worst head space I have been in the longest time.

I was irritable, anxious, unsettled and restless. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be, but it definitely wasn’t where I was and what I was doing.

I knew I should be meditating and exercising and doing yoga, but I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel like doing anything.

Knowing I was a stone’s throw away from a serious depressive episode, I knew I needed to do something about this funk I was in.

When I got back home, I wrote myself a plan for the remaining days of my holidays. I wanted to paint my studio, and prepare for the classes I would be running in the new year. I wanted to complete the online chakra course I was undertaking, that I hadn’t been able to devote enough time to. I also had enrolled in a meditation course on the centering prayer practice. And the garden looked like a jungle so I had to whip that into shape before I had my students come over.

I wanted to write too…

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So I planned out my days, beginning with yoga and meditation, alternating with periods of physical labour, exercise, chores, study and writing. Of course leaving time for my reward activities reading, having a cuppa, catching up with friends and watching the entire seven series of The Gilmore Girls on DVD.

As a result I have been doing several sessions of meditation, yoga, and chakra exercises a day. I have been in the garden, in the sun, reading and writing prolifically. 

It took about four to five days for me to realise I felt calm, I could sit still without my mind racing, I didn’t constantly feel like I should be somewhere else doing something else. I felt present, grounded, content.

More than just an internal shift, I was aware the this presence positively impacted my connection with others, where I had felt irritated with my son, and fallen into near constant nagging, I now found myself able to sit and talk with him – and more importantly, listen – about his latest computer game obsession.

‘Holy crap!’ I thought to myself ‘This stuff actually works.’

Which may seem like a duh! moment to many of you. I mean this is what I practice, what I write about. I suppose I just hadn’t had a chance to compare myself with and without these practices for a while. It really took me by surprise for a number of reasons.

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First, I think it was a great reminder why these techniques are called practices or disciplines, that’s because you have to actually do them, consistently, regularly, with discipline, to get the results.

Second, I have a short memory. And I don’t think I’m alone here. How many of you have either been sick or injured and thought ‘I will never take my health for granted again!’ That may last for weeks or months, depending on how sick or injured you were, but pretty soon the mind is back to complaining about the traffic and being on hold, and why is my coffee not hot enough?

Being in a state of grace is a little like that. When I’m practising my disciplines, I still feel life with all its slings and arrows, I still get heartbroken and yelled at, and upset. The difference is that I get to empty out regularly. So that stuff doesn’t accumulate. What happened to me in the last month is that all the little shitty bits of life had their way with me, and I hung on to the residue, I wasn’t emptying out my bucket. And pretty soon I was overwhelmed and drowning in my bucket of crappola.

Three, having experienced a more balanced and calm state of mind, pretty consistently for a few years now, I find I now have way less tolerance for being out of sorts.

Now, I’d like to say that I am never going to get slack again, but we all know that’s not true. It’s just a really great opportunity for me to take stock and observe the tangible effects of what I do on my state of mind, body and spirit.

I said it before, I’ll say it again, holy crap, this stuff actually works!

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It’s interesting to unpack the components of the daily ‘to do’ list, because I think I intuitively stumbled onto something quite insightful. Without intentionally doing so, I realised my list incorporated aspects of clearing myself physically and mentally – of stresses, concerns, and tension – allowing me to empty out and surrender more fully as I sat in meditation. As I wrote in my last post, it is helpful to smooth and soothe the body and nervous system before we can ‘just be’ in spirit.

From experience I know a day’s plan must balance activities I NEED to do with activities I LOVE to do. My personality disposition lends itself to a ‘work then reward’ system. So I tend to start with something like going to the gym (work) with a period of reading in the sun (reward). 

Interestingly I discovered some of the ‘work’ aspects actually made me feel fantastic. After the gym, I had a endorphin high, after half an hour of weeding I felt the soothing effects of having my hands in the soil (more on that in a minute), the invigorating effects of sunshine as well as the sense of satisfaction at seeing the very apparent results of my labours. 

Seeing the positive results of these aspects of my day certainly made it more appealing to do the work. I think too, I was reminded that procrastinating over uninspiring or difficult tasks is really draining and even depressing. It feels like the elephant in the room, that thing I’m avoiding, a large inert mass sucking up all my mental and physical energy.

When I talked with a friend recently about my procrastination she told me of a system that worked for her. Basically you set a timer for 25 minutes and you do the activity with the agreement that at the end of that time you can switch to something else.

Faced with a week of time off and a massive to do list, I decided to test this practice out, with great results.

Starting a task when you have only a small allotted time is psychologically motivating. I found I didn’t procrastinate because I had a sense that I didn’t have ‘enough time’ to complete the task. Strangely I found quite a few tasks were more than adequately achieved in that time. Even larger tasks were obviously impacted upon in the time. It seems that by launching into action, and seeing results, the effect was very motivating.

After a few days, as my mood improved, my list was getting smaller and my sense of achievement grew, I found myself looking forward to the very tasks I had been putting off.

One of these tasks was the garden. I have a large garden at the back of my place, which surrounds the studio where I teach Chakradance. As last year intensified, I really let go of maintaining the garden. As such it is now overrun with weeds.

Every time I saw the state of it, I felt a range of negative emotions, shame, dread, self-disgust. It was as if the garden was an outward sign of my inner deterioration.

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To be honest, 25 minutes a day seemed like a drop in the ocean of my weedy wilderness, but I knew I had to do something. Once I got past the mental barrier of the overwhelming scale of the task, I really enjoyed the activity. I sat on the earth, I stuck my hands in the soil, the sun was shining, I played music and sang. 

During this time I was writing my last post on the base chakra, and I realised this sitting on the earth, alongside my energetic chakra practices was really grounding me.

As I listened to Anodea Judith talk about the earth, she said that one handful of soil contains more diverse microbes than there are people on the planet. Even though we can’t see it, the earth is teeming with life.

Gardening makes me happy, I thought. And then I stumbled upon this article which put some science into my experience. Antidepressant Microbes in Soil: How dirt makes you happy. Apparently the microbes in soil actually contribute to serotonin levels in the brain, and thus may have similar function to antidepressant medication. Not to mention the uplifting effect of sunshine and fresh air – it’s win, win, win! So get your gloves off, and dig those hands in the dirt.

From feeling completely paralysed with a sense of indecision and loss of faith, I have found myself reconnecting with the simple wisdom of daily disciplines. I picked up the book that inspired this blog, The Wishing Year, by Noelle Oxenhandler, and reread it.

What I always loved about this book was the author’s deep scepticism about much New Age thinking – or its lack of critical thinking. And yet, she practises wishing, setting intentions and following them up with the practical hard work it takes to allow them to happen. Noelle writes that magic starts where the practical leaves off – providing the conditions, the synchronicities that allow our practical actions to take root and flourish.

There’s no point wishing for my garden to be weeded, but somehow by creating a beautiful space for my classes, by gardening and painting the studio, it seems to create a shift in my attitude and an energy around my creative space, and suddenly I was receiving calls and bookings for my classes.

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Noelle had three wishes – a house, a man and her soul. Whenever I read her intentions they strike a chord so deep inside me. Yes! That’s what I want too!

So…

Inspired and spurred into action, I set my seven intentions for 2016. They may look familiar to some of you…

1. A home

2. Community

3. Purpose

4. Vibrant health

5. Abundance

6. Joy

7. Love

Ah, see they are lovely intentions? Aren’t they? These are the original seven intentions for this blog. And as I write them out and reflect on where I was when I wrote them and what’s happened since, well, I feel a bit teary. Because there’s been massive growth in all those areas.

Last year I got so excited by going to Bali and studying shamanism. It was such a pivotal experience, it showed me I really could do just about anything if I set my mind to it. It seemed so unlikely as a single, working mum that I could disappear off to Bali for three weeks to study shamanism. Bali, the land of the gods, that mysterious paradise that always seemed open to others but not to me.

Intoxicated from my foray into this cocktail of travel and esoteric study, I thirsted for more. I got myself really confused, there were so many appealing possibilities. Should I study shamanism or druidry, should I do this course, or that workshop? Should I travel back to Bali, to Ireland, to India, to Uluru? Should I quit my day job and put all my energy into Chakradance? Should I quit Chakaradance and take a big promotion at a work?

This kind of thinking becomes so all-or-nothing, black-and-white, and yet life takes place in the spaces in between the extremes.

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In the end I wound myself up into a tight little ball. A couple of people who know what they’re talking about suggested that if I was serious about commiting to a spiritual path, it didn’t really matter which one I chose, the important thing was discipline and practice. In particular a daily meditation practice. I desperately needed emptying out from this mental maelstrom. 

Getting so wound up in future plans that you can’t be in the present moment is the great trap of the modern lifestyle. Life begins in the now, in this present moment, every moment, surrender to this moment and you find your flow. Otherwise you have abandoned your body in the now, whilst your spirit is tripping off into the future, and there’s no wholeness in that.

I’m not saying don’t make plans, but a plan is just a rudder to plot your direction, then you live the journey out in the succession of now moments.

Hence the daily to do list. Bring it back, keep it simple, do what’s in front of you. The basic Spiritual 101 I learned in my early days of 12 step programs. 

Since then, the storm has passed, some degree of sanity and clarity has descended. I decide to finish what I have started, namely my Druidic studies and my studies and practice of the chakra system, and shamanic dance. I have settled on a meditation practice, with regular times to engage in shamanic dance and journeying. I’m doing regular exercise. I’m making time to socialise and have some fun.

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Oh I know this all sounds paradoxical, making plans and writing lists, setting timers and intentions, yet being in the now and in the flow. And there’s no exact science to it. Some days I’m anxious and out-of-sorts trying to do my list and meditate with a million thoughts raging – a million opportunities to return to God as Cynthia Bourgeault would say. Yet I have found it’s just not possible for my monkey mind to ‘just be’ outside of a certain degree of disciplined practice. ‘Just being’ ends up just lounging around procrastinating and feeling bad about myself for doing so. Or the paralysis of indecision, where to start?

So it is a paradox, but I have also found that sweet spot where it all just works. I’m in my day, I’m following a plan and yet somehow I’m in the flow, things become effortless and enjoyable, my mind becomes quiet. When unexpected things crop up, I allow them space in my day. 

Honestly though, I just don’t believe spiritual practice is meant to feel good all the time, I don’t think that’s the end in itself. Feeling calm may be a pleasant by-product at times, but the end itself is that constant intention to return to God, or source, or whatever you call that deep presence, the rest is icing on the cake.

I am rather fond of the icing though…

I have set the intention to go to India at the end of the year, it seems financially prohibitive, but if the last two years have taught me anything, it is that when I set a clear intention, act is if that’s what’s happening, and work towards that reality, it usually happens. 

Well, I’ve put it in writing now, so let’s just wait and see…

Blessings!

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Over-amped and insecure? Get into your body

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You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Mary Oliver

I love this quote. Reading Mary Oliver feels like lying down on lush, damp grass, taking a deep breath and sinking in. But how often do we take the time to sink in and really inhabit our body?

The modern lifestyle creates a disconnect with the body, we become like a head with hands, thinking, thinking, doing, doing. Unless we habitually stop and practice meditation, dance or yoga, or spend time in nature, we may never really arrive in our body all day.

The wisdom of the body – with its endless and varied cacophony of signals and mechanisms – is our projection of spirit. This is our vehicle for incarnation. And like any vehicle, our body provides a stream of signals to guide and inform us. It provides the physicality, the flesh, the medium though which we interact with our physical, emotional and spiritual world.

From the soft lub-dub of our heart beat, to our churning guts, our racing pulse, our cold feet, the body conveys a series of messages, if we would only listen. 

From the cold knife-to-the-heart sensation of heartbreak and shame, to the butterflies of excitement, the soft animal of our body knows what it loves. It feels our pleasure and our pain.

The body contains truths unique to our being. Just as one person may enjoy eating peanut butter by the spoonful, another may fall into analphylactic shock at the smallest trace of nuts. We are similar, but not the same and neither are our bodies. As you embrace this, you can settle into a beautiful relationship with the unique body, the exquisite system of flesh and senses, that is you.

The yogis have always known this, that the stresses of the body must be smoothed out and soothed with yoga poses before the mind can be still and spirit can be heard. The yoga tradition is all about purifying the vessel to achieve union of body and spirit.

The spirit likes to dress up like this: ten fingers, ten toes, shoulders and all the rest… It could float, of course, but would rather plumb through matter. Airy and shapeless thing, it needs the metaphor of the body… To be understood, to be more than pure light that burns where no one is. Mary Oliver

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The first chakra, located at the base of our spine, is called Muladhara in Sanskrit, meaning root support. Like the root system of a tree, our root or base chakra energetically grounds us in the physical world.

Linking the chakras are a series of energy channels that, in their purest and unimpeded form, constantly flow and spiral up and down the spinal column, keeping our energetic system in connectivity to both the earth and ethereal energy above, with the chakras like little hubs in between.

Caroline Myss describes these channels and the chakras as our ‘energy anatomy’ and a ‘blueprint for managing spiritual power’ and that the purpose of most spiritual teachings – though often misunderstood – is to teach us how to manage this system of power.

Anodea Judith calls the chakras the ‘architecture of the soul.’ She says a chakra is a centre of organisation for the reception, the assimilation and the expression of life force energy. The chakras are the portals, the mediators, between the inner world and the outer world. 

Chakras can be described as processing centres of energy and information, as well as gateways for this energy and information to flow into, out of, and through. Note that when I refer to ‘energy’ I use the term to describe the concept used in many esoteric traditions of the vital life force energy, or spiritual energy, also known as prana or qi.

Many of us have sustained emotional and physical traumas in life which may have affected the formation and flow of our chakras. This biography of experience is energetically recorded in our chakra system (as well as the cells in our bodies.) This can cause our chakras to compensate by either restricting energy flow, becoming deficient or under active, or by becoming over active and excessive. Or even a combination of both. 

‘So what?’ You ask, ‘it’s only energy,’ read on, and I’ll tell you why this kind of imbalance can have deep and far reaching effects on your life.

Your biography becomes your biology. Caroline Myss

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Linked to physical realities of life – security, shelter, sustenance, family, tribe – Deedre Diemer writes that the first chakra is associated with primordial trust. It is the chakra associated with our basic instincts for food, shelter, sex and survival.

Developmentally this chakra emerges between conception and eighteen months, and is informed by our environment during that time. If we felt safe and nurtured and our needs were taken care of, if we were held lovingly by our mothers, and picked up when we cried, chances are this chakra is embedded with a core sense of security.

However up to 50% of people report that they either suffered birth trauma or there were significant stressors in their family of origin or community – war or poverty, for example – to inhibit this secure bonding from occurring. Not mention subsequent life trauma that can affect our sense of security. As such, we may have an overreactive first chakra, that is out of balance and causes us to compensate in a variety of ways.

If we are imbalanced in this chakra it can manifest as a lack of physicality, being underweight, spacey and anxious. Or it may manifest as an excessive physicality in being overweight and overly attached to the physical by hoarding, over eating and indulgence in pleasure, or over-accumulation of stuff.

I often wondered how I could be both spaced out and have a tendency to over-indulge. Anodea Judith points out that as these extremes are both compensatory behaviours to address an issue in this chakra we may experience symptoms of both.

This very body that we have, that’s sitting here right now… With its aches and pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive. Pema Chodron

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If you imagine the root chakra like a plant in a pot, it needs a degree of support to keep the soil and moisture in, but too tight a restraint will not allow it to grow.

In the same way a deficient base chakra contracts too tightly into its core, not allowing enough room for energy to come in, to have, to hold, to manifest. In this scenario we are literally strangling our energy flow, the earth energy that needs to flow up and through our base chakra is restricted and bottlenecked, creating blockages that may literally prevent us from manifesting or maintaining physical things, including our own healthy robust body, as there is no room to receive. This kind of person can be literally disembodied, spacey, anxious, ungrounded.

The person who compensates for an unbalanced base chakra though physical over-indulgence, allows excessive earth energy into their system. They may feel heavy, lethargic, they may be overweight, overeat, hoard and covet possessions, money and power. It is as if they use physical things, including their own body weight to compensate for deficiencies in this chakra, perhaps to literally compensate for a lack of maternal holding in their formative years.

Again this results in a blockage. Too much energy, when it is held and hoarded in this way impedes the flow just as much as constricted energy. It’s akin to the Buddhist concept of attachment, it is the attachment to our desires that causes suffering. It causes us to get stuck in a unmanageable mess of our own making.

As Albert Einstein once said, the most fundamental decision we make in life, is whether to see this world as inherently good and beneficent or not. This worldview informs everything we think, feel, and do. How we perceive and thus operate in the world. The base chakra question, is this world safe for me to embody?

Erik Erickson wrote that this first stage of psychosocial development – from birth to eighteen months – is a time when either trust or mistrust of the world around us is established. This informs our behaviour at the most fundamental level. If I can trust the world, I can allow myself to have it. I’m not suspicious. I am accepting.

If something is not safe, we won’t allow ourselves to have it, you wouldn’t drink poison, in the same way if your inherent world view is of an unsafe place, you won’t fully allow yourself to engage in it. You may stay detached, non-committal, risk-avoidant, and fearful.

We either master the fundamentals of survival or we become one of life’s victims. Ambika Wauters

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So much of our sense of our body and our self comes from the initial holding experience provided by our parents. Anodea Judith says that this initial holding wires up our brain body interface, it literally teaches us awareness that we have a body, we are in a body. This all comes through touch. Here we get imprinted with a cellular message of safety and security. Our instincts are quietened, not alarmed. This is a good grounding in the first chakra.

But what if you didn’t get this. What if you grew up in fear uncertainty, violence, instability? What did you have to do to yourself in order to survive this fundamental stage? If our needs are not met, our survival instincts start freaking out, our central nervous system is wired in a permanent state of anxiety, our body gets over-amped. We become over-vigilant, fearful, unable to settle, insecure. This kind of person doesn’t know how to calm down.

This may explain why so many people depend on alcohol, drugs, sex, food and shopping to self-soothe. They simply have no mechanism to return to a state of calm without external stimulus. Hence researchers into addiction like Gabor Mate suggest there are significant and demonstrable links between unresolved childhood trauma and addiction. His TEDX talk is a fascinating insight in the causes of addiction.

Nothing records the effect of a sad life as graphically as the human body. Naguib Mahvouz

The lesson of Muladhara chakra is grounding, a full inhabiting of our physical bodies as the embodiment of our connection to the element of earth. To cease existing primarily in our heads and inhabit our bodies. To cease grasping onto people, places and things as the source of our security.

Here we can experience pleasure and pain, connect with our feelings, and release these accumulated emotional energies through our connection with the physical.

Movement through our bodies allows energy to flow, it can trigger blockages to shift and cause accumulated energies to be released or redistributed and balanced.

Movement brings us into our physicality, brings our energy down from our heads into our roots, allowing a real connection with not only our physical selves, but the physicality of the world around us.

For those who, like myself, have a lifetime’s accumulated negative body issues, this takes patience and self-compassion. Making peace with the body I have despised, abandoned and abused for many years is a process that does not come overnight.

After two years of Chakradance practice, alongside many years of yoga and mindful meditation, I have found a degree of peace and comfort in my own skin that I have never before known. At times my body even brings me immeasurable joy. 

Here in this body are the sacred rivers, here are the sun and the moon, as well as all the pilgrimage places. I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body. Saraha Doha 

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To encourage our vital energy to flow freely we must let go of our attachments and defences. The chakras can be blocked by our learned defences, either something we want to keep out or something we don’t want to let out. What kinds of things would cause these defences? Toxic energy, fear and violence are all things we may shut down to avoid. Similarly we may repress our own ‘negative’ emotions – anger, sorrow, exuberance – having learned it was unsafe to express these. 

Sometimes the residue from trauma gets stored in our body and our energy system. While traditional psychotherapy may assist at a mental and behavioural level, we also need to release these wounds energetically, in order to release the attachments and defences they cause us to act out – often unconsciously – in our lives.

As in all things balance is the key. An over-amped base chakra may cause us to be frozen in fear or rushing about in a heightened state of anxiety. What we ideally want is movement that is grounded and purposeful. We need to reconnect with the nurturing aspects of Mother Earth.

To ground we invite this energy back down through our body and reconnect ourselves energetically with the earth.

Traditionally humans spent most of their lives in direct contact with the earth, walking, living and sleeping on the ground. In the modern world we are so disconnected from the earth in layers of buildings, shoes, vehicles. 

I thought the earth remembered me, she took me back so tenderly, arranging her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds. Mary Oliver

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In Chakradance we reconnect our base chakra to the earth by dancing to earthy tribal beats, moving powerfully through our legs and feet. We may visualise ourself as a seed planted in the earth, provided with all the sustenance, support, and security it needs to grow. We see ourselves setting down strong roots as we grow into the world, like a giant majestic tree firmly rooted in the soil, so our branches can safely reach up and out into the sunshine.

Anodea Judith says that the best way to restore balance to the base chakra, is to open the leg channels. The legs connect us to the earth and the energy flows up through our feet and legs and into the base chakra. Our legs are like two prongs of an electric plug – we need to plug in to the earth energy to ground, receive and release.

Grounding exercise by Anodea Judith

This exercise will work whether your base chakra is deficient excessive or both, even if you feel your base chakra is balanced, grounding is always energising and restorative.

1. Stance

Stamp your feet a little to get the energy moving, then stand with your feet shoulder width or even a little further apart.

Make sure your feet are pointing straight or even slightly pigeon-toed, bend your knees slightly so your knee sits directly above your second toe.

Press down and out with your feet, as if you are trying to push apart two floorboards with your feet. So you want your feet firm and active.

2. Exercise

As you inhale gently bend your knees deeper, keeping your upper body upright, shoulders above hips.

As you exhale, slowly push down and out through your feet to straighten your knees, ensuring you do not lock your knees at the top. Do this very slowly.

Remember to keep the tension and engagement, the pushing sensation through your legs and feet.

3. Visualisation

As you exhale and push down, visualise energy from the base chakra in your pelvic floor pushing down through the core of your legs and feet and down into the earth.

(if your legs begin to tremble this is a good sign – you are shifting blockages and allowing energy to flow. If there’s any pain, stop)

If you feel you have deficient energy visualise drawing energy up through your legs and into your base chakra. 

If you feel you have excessive energy, visualise pushing that excess down into the earth.

If you’re not sure, just visualise both. Releasing in the exhale, receiving on the inhale.

4. Affirmation

As you exhale say ‘I am in here’ then ‘I am in here, and this is mine’ – really feeling yourself in your body.

You can do this up to 10 times. Trust your body, stop when you’ve had enough. You will build up your strength over time.

Practise this exercise daily and notice the difference after a week. Ideally this exercise will clear your channels, allow you to ground, release and receive energy through your base chakra.

I am one with the source, in so far as I act as a source, by making everything I have received flow again. Raimon Panikkar

Blessings!

Getting spiritually naked

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Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself. It is healing to know all the ways that you’re sneaky, all the ways you hide out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticise people, all your weird little ways… by knowing yourself you’re coming to know humanness altogether. Pema Chodron

It’s been a while since I posted on here. Actually WordPress tells me it’s been three months – I’ve had dry spells, but never that long before. There’s many reasons for that.

I suppose I’ve been having some sort of spiritual identity crisis, which is nothing new, I know, it’s pretty much the stuff of which this blog is made. And yet, I didn’t feel like writing about it, or more to the point I felt I had nothing to say. Or anything I did say would seem false and obsolete within days of writing it down. The sands were shifting beneath me, I couldn’t find a solid base to stand upon.

The only thing I was sure of was my complete and utter doubt.

This crisis has been less of a exploration, as I have tended towards in the past, and more of an excavation. It has been a removal of certainties and matters of faith, an emptying out. A spiritual curette, of sorts, and no less painful.

I felt myself being invaded through and through, I crumbled, disintegrated, and only emptiness remained. Stanisław Lem

I found myself at odds with almost everything I read or heard about spiritual matters. Having subscribed to many e-lists and Facebook pages over the years, which in the past used to fill me with a sense of community and belonging, I now found myself feeling more and more alienated from ideas that once served and inspired me.

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There was no particular reason for my alienation, aside from a complete incomprehension of the degree of certainty expressed by so many of my peers in their spiritual identity. It was a little like being at a party that everyone else was enjoying, but to which I couldn’t connect at all. I’m standing there in the midst of all this euphoria and love and I just don’t get it. Did someone forget to put something in my kool-aid?

Knowing that there’s no way out of a spiritual crisis but through it, I hunkered down with some great mystical writers and waited it out.

Then, reading my friend’s doctoral exegesis, a statement jumped out at me,

It is interesting to note that if identity, like persona, is something we attach to the inner self, and spirit is, by its very nature thought to be free, detached, and undefinable, how can we form a construct such as spiritual identity? I would argue that by definition they cancel each other out.  Margi Gibb

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Reading this seemed to articulate my angst. Isn’t that exactly what I have been doing all along? Searching for a spiritual identity? Am I a twelve stepper? A tantrika? A shaman? A Druid? A mystic without a monastery? A witch? A pagan? A Hindu? A Christian…

What I keep coming back to is that in the whole ‘spiritual but not religious’ movement, which I have subscribed to for many years, there is a lack of the very structures that support effective spiritual growth. It seems to me that real spiritual progress comes from discipline, practice, and mentoring. More so than religious feelings and experiences.

While I agree that many established religions have veered from this simple path of guiding the initiate on their own path, the elements of a spiritual community should be able to provide the initiate with a basic practice, an accountability to be disciplined in this personal practice, and access to others further along the path of this practice, to assist with the crumbling sense of self and inevitable dark nights of the soul, that arise as the ego tries to resist the change.

To be alive to be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to always be in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. Pema Chodron

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The path of the spiritual person outside of a religious community is one that is almost necessarily hampered by the ego. Take me for example, I wonder if I have been using various spiritual practices to create adjustments in my attitude to manage stress and to process uncomfortable emotions. In short, as a form of self- improvement.

In this way my spiritual practice has been very much about eliminating the undesirable and enhancing the desirable elements of my life. While there has undoubtedly been growth along the way, it has still be very much dictated by the ego. There has been a degree of control and desire over the outcomes that has been the polar opposite of a true surrender. There has also been the focus on abundance, on manifesting the good stuff, as a by-product of spirituality.

When life has been disappointing – which it invariably has – I have taken it very hard, and very much to heart. Almost as if the universe itself was reaching down and slapping my hand like a naughty child.

The very things we wish to avoid, neglect, and flee from turn out to be the ‘prima materia’ from which all real growth comes. Andrew Harvey

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In the past few months I have really had to sit and process these feelings of disappointment. Being spiritual actually doesn’t get you anything. It doesn’t get you love, or a thriving business, or a trip to Bali. It doesn’t even get you world peace.

And I think I thought I had already accepted that fact, but like Pema Chodron says, those sneaky, weird little ways of mine had tricked me into thinking I had let go of something that I really hadn’t. So when disappointment came I was like a child who cried “But I was being so good, this is so unfair!”

Being spiritual, it seems to me at this moment, is more about letting go of all of those needs, of every need, no matter how noble, as attachments of the ego. It is about emptying out entirely.

But I wonder how to do that outside of a discipline? It just seems like a recipe for madness to empty out with no idea of how to manage the inevitable ego backlash that will surely come at the crossroads of any spiritual evolutionary process. Besides how could I trust myself? How would I know I was really emptying out and that I wasn’t being seduced by yet another sneaky ruse of my ego self?

For the first time in my life I feel ready to follow a disciplined path, teacher and all. If only I knew which one.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible within us be found. Pema Chodron

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Andrew Harvey says that what we are really asking for, when we pray to embody peace and love, is the death of the little self, the ego self. It is a sacrifice to the greater whole. And like most sacrifices, feeling good is not high on the list of its qualities.

Emptying out self in this way is painful. And tedious. It really just goes on and on, and as the ego fights for supremacy it constantly throws up new and ever more subtle and seductive ways of reasserting itself.

Surrender is beautiful, the process of emptying out to a point where surrender can happen however, is often quite traumatic. Especially when we cling to a sense of identity that bolsters our ego, whilst simultaneously trying to detach from our ego. For anyone who has experienced the excruciating highs and lows of an on-again/off-again relationship, it’s a lot like having one of those with your various aspects of self.

‘This time I know better!’ We cry, only to find ourselves in the same bind all over again.

Just let go. Let go of how you thought life should be, and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness. Caroline Myss

imageI think freedom of belief is a wonderful concept. As is ‘spiritual but not religious’ and ‘mystics without monasteries,’ I just wonder if it’s truly practical. I was listening to a New Age speaker the other day, talking about how we all need to make up new labels for ourselves, because we all have unique healing gifts to share and I though ‘jeez…’ That’s a lovely sentiment but how does that actually benefit anyone?

Where’s the wisdom and experience in us all pretending to be gurus? Shouldn’t we at least all pretend to be novices to start with if we are going down that path?

It just starts to feel like our spirituality is a naming and branding exercise for our Facebook healing pages. And yes, I am fully aware of the obvious hypocrisy here, as I do have a business running dance meditation classes and a Facebook page. And no, I don’t think it’s more spiritual to ask for a $35 exchange as a opposed to a $35 payment. To my mind, that’s just window dressing.

I’m not trying to antagonise people here, or be all preachy or self-righteous, I mean I’m not saying it’s wrong to say or do that, to talk of money as ‘energy exchanges’ and such, as long as we don’t mistake it as something deeply spiritual. As long as we don’t get caught up in semiotics and identity issues, believing that in itself is how we define our spiritual path.

And I guess that’s what I’m seeing, a whole lot of window dressing. Every one is a healer, every thing is spiritual, and I although on one level I actually think that’s true, just not in the way we are generally doing it.

Facing personal truths and purging yourself of addictions or manipulative habits requires strength, courage, humility, faith, and other qualities of a soul with stamina, because you are not just changing yourself, you are changing your universe. Your soul is a compass. Change one coordinate in your spiritual compass and you change your whole life direction. Caroline Myss

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I think it’s true in the sense that we all have the potential to use our consciousness in the way the great spiritual masters speak of, but I don’t think it has anything to do with marketing ourselves, or manifesting material wealth, or how many likes we have on Facebook.

It seems to me the true spiritual message is often very unpopular. Because it demands discipline, autonomy, and accountability, loneliness, and a large amount of existential pain.

And for me, like many others I see, at the first sign of pain we are scrambling around trying to get a healing, do a journey, finding the astrological explanation, anything to distract ourselves from actually sitting with what is happening and learning something about ourselves and the way we operate. The embarrassing, the uncomfortable, the shifty, and undesirable aspects of ourselves. The emptiness.

Emptiness which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities. D.T. Suzuki

There is no impetus to growth and evolution in complete security and certainty. All my life I’ve been afraid of being empty and uncertain. I look around and see many attempts by well-intentioned people to ‘fill up’ on the good stuff, be it love, light, healing, or the like. Not to mention all the not-so-good stuff we escape into, addictive, compulsive, and obsessive behaviours.

And I understand the fear, Caroline Myss asserts that we all go a bit mad on the spiritual path. Losing our connection with our sense of certainty, which provides a state of mental balance, ensures that.

But we sell ourselves short by avoiding the uncomfortable, the uncertain, the empty void within, because that’s where the power is. That’s where the resilience and strength comes from, the places that scare you.

I just wonder if we should go there unaided and alone. Or if the time has come to resurrect the wisdom teachings and spiritual communities of the past to support us on our paths.

Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to require the most from you. Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it? Caroline Myss

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Blessings!

Artwork by Christian Schloe

 

 

The Happiness Trap


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We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T S Eliot

It is always fascinates me watching how my blog posts unfold. It feels like a force beyond me is involved.

At first there is nothing, no ideas, no words. I don’t tend to force my writing anymore. I don’t set targets to write a certain amount of words or publish a certain amount of posts. I know that the ideas come when they come.

This post began with the recurring theme in my life of presence, of the power of now.

Then the magnetic force of intention comes into play and suddenly related ideas are being fed to me from everywhere. I see books, have conversations, things pop up online.

This is a kind of synchronicity. The coming together of meaningful events or ideas that provide significance or guidance. Events that occur coincidentally and with meaning, that cannot be explained by the usual conventions of causality. To me synchronicity is the meeting of intention and attention.

I read a wonderful story about actor Anthony Hopkins and synchronicity. Anthony was seeking a copy of the book of the movie he was making, The Girl From Petrovka by George Fiefer. The book was out of print and so you can imagine his surprise when he sat down at a London Underground train station and saw that very book sitting on the bench.

Years later as Anthony was filming the movie, the author George Fiefer dropped into the set and was lamenting that he had lost his only beloved copy of his book that he had painstakingly annotated. Anthony pulled the found copy out of his coat and asked, is this the one? It was. The very same copy.

Not only had Anthony found the book when he needed to read it, but the author’s notes in this copy had significantly helped him to prepare for the role.

Another powerful example of synchronicity was described by Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was deliberating on whether to get out of Vienna during the Nazi reign. He had a young pregnant wife, but was also concerned for his parents who did not have visas to leave for America with him.

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Feeling conflicted he went to a cathedral and prayed for guidance. Returning home he found a marble slab that his father had rescued from a destroyed synagogue, it contained a fragment of the Ten Commandments “Honour thy father and mother.” So he stayed.

Frankl helped untold numbers of people during his time in the concentration camp, and after with his powerful work on the importance of life’s meaning.

In the end he lost his parents, wife and unborn child, but he had made the choice based on what he believed his life meaning was, to help others through their trials.

Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfil or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself, by giving to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is. Viktor Frankl

I read this story in an article in The Atlantic on Frankl which posed the question of whether meaning is more important than happiness. It suggested that happiness can be a rather selfish pursuit, always focused on our own comfort and needs, and that when these needs are fulfilled there is little incentive to care about anyone else.

Meaning, on the other hand, tends to make us search for our place in the web of life, and on how we can contribute for the wellbeing of others. As a recent psychological study in the U.S. found, the pursuit of happiness is associated with being a ‘taker,’ while the pursuit of meaning corresponds with being a ‘giver.’

So what does all this have to do with my theme of presence and the power of now?

Well, to start with, I think we can only appreciate meaning and synchronicity when we are fully present, in the moment, not rushing around preoccupied with past worries and future fears. And…

Oh well, I may as well just tell you the whole story.

A few weeks ago I was at work, in the library. I found myself in the not-unfamiliar position of finding a task I could do at the back of the library away from everyone as I was feeling pretty upset. Yet again I was trying and failing to have a relationship with the man I love. Yet again I was left confused, gutted, and distraught.

As I wallowed mindlessly in my heartbreak, the stocktake scanner beeped at me, alerting me to remove a book from the shelf.  A book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

This a book that so many people have told me I should read over the years, and I had tried, but it never really resonated with me.

This time I started reading and it was like a life-support system. I know that sounds dramatic. But the reality is, after decades in and out of suicidal depression, I have some pretty well-worn neural pathways that take me to that dark place very quickly. The only way out is through extreme mindfulness, but it’s not easy to be mindful when you feel that bad.

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There was something quiet and simple about the Power of Now. Tolle wastes no time in telling the reader how to be mindful, so I just kept doing what he said.  Then the dark thoughts came back, then I’d do what he said, then… Well, you get the idea.

Focus attention on the feeling inside you. Know that it is the pain-body. Accept that it is there. Don’t think about it – don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyse. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you. Become aware not only of the emotional pain but also of “the one who observes,” the silent watcher. This is the Power of Now. The power of your own conscious presence. Then see what happens. Eckhart Tolle

It’s no overstatement to say I was amazed by the contrast between how I felt when practicing presence or mindfulness and how I felt as soon as I slipped back into my pain-centred being. And it wasn’t that I was avoiding the pain I felt, I was feeling the pain, I just wasn’t adding to my pain by dredging up all the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’ of past and future focused thinking. In the now I was just very sad. And then I just was. And it wasn’t that bad. To just be, now.

This is not the first time I’ve used mindfulness techniques, and Tolle is by no means inventing anything new here. It was just the right messenger at the right time.

I was reminded of reading a book called The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. Also focusing on mindfulness, the book describes how our thinking, as tied up as it is in fight or flight parasympathetic stress responses, can add significant suffering to our lives, particularly in the form of anxiety and depression.

Harris advocates using mindfulness to accept and create space for our feelings, whilst allowing our actions to focus on our core values. For example I may feel sad and fearful, I can acknowledge those feelings, breathe and be present, yet still act with dignity and do whatever I need to do today. That may be work, or taking care of children, or even taking care of myself.

Happiness is not a goal. It is the by-product of a life well lived. Eleanor Roosevelt

In a follow-up book The Reality Slap, Harris describes his grief at hearing his son’s autism diagnosis, and his journey back to finding worth and joy in life again. Harris is adamant that his approach is not about avoiding feelings, or affirming away challenging emotions.

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In yoga class, the teacher is taking us through the five niyamas. Last week’s theme was santosha. Santosha is contentment, but not the contentment that comes from getting what we want. Rather santosha is the contentment we find within, that enduring inner flame that continues regardless of outside circumstances.

The second ‘limb’ of yoga, the niyama are contracts with oneself. The practice of these niyama: self-purification (Shaucha), contentment (Santosha), self-discipline (Tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and self-surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana), ideally create an environment of positive discipline in which to pursue the path of yoga.

Santosha implies a total acceptance of what is, with a particular focus on what is to be appreciated in any moment. It is unconditional contentment. It is an acknowledgement that underneath the hurly burly of life’s ups and downs is a true self that is always okay. The same self that Eckhart Tolle refers to. The self that exists only in the now, not thinking of the past or the future.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl

Try it for a moment. Take some deep breaths and bring your awareness onto right now. Feel the weight of your body sitting on the floor or a chair. Feel the air around you, listen to the sounds close by and in the distance. Just feel how it feels to be in your body, without judging your body, feeling the heartbeat, the breath, the blood pulsing. Feeling into your senses, into the experience of being alive.

If you feel any discomfort in your body, just breath and allow the discomfort. Observe it. Where is it in your body? Is it large or small? Does it feel hard or soft? Warm or cold? These may sound like strange questions, but it is amazing when we become fully present with our pain and observe it in this way how it does become a tangible thing, just another thing that is a part of us right now, it doesn’t have to totally define us though.

If you had a moment there where you managed to be present and stop thinking about the past or present, how did it feel? Did you feel that you had tapped into a real sense of living in the moment? Of being truly alive?

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So here I am.  Finding myself heart-broken, sad, angry, and all that is around me indicates a focus on presence, on meaning. On contentment. As much as I want to rail against this, experience shows me it’s the way. We always have a choice, life circumstances may be beyond our control, but our attitude towards them is not.

We need much less than we think we need. Maya Angelou

Wayne Dyer says that what you carry around inside of you is what comes out when life puts pressure on you. Like an orange that when squeezed will only ever produce orange juice, because that’s what inside. So the sadness and anger that comes out is from within me, it’s not anyone’s else’s.

Alternatively, those of us who can be present, contented, mindful, and centred in our inherent peace, will radiate that.

We become what we focus on.

When our goal in life is to be happy, anything less that that is a failure. All we can see is what we don’t yet have.

It is also fleeting. While we chase after that person, job, possession, or even that spiritual ideal, which we think will bring us happiness, we make our contentment external and conditional.

We also set ourselves up for a neverending cycle of chasing the ‘next thing’ to make us happy, we may even experience anxiety and depression when these things don’t work out, or don’t bring us the feelings we crave. This is the happiness trap.

When we focus on what meaning our life has, it is possible we can be quite unhappy with our external life circumstances, and yet by living a value-driven life, we can experience the true contentment that comes from doing something meaningful and lasting. Acting from values tends to create a lasting sense of worth, which in turn positively influences our inner contentment.

I learned this… That if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours… In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. Henry David Thoreau 

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Mindfulness is certainly the buzzword du jour. Its benefits continue to shine in research studies. Yet just how easy is it to practice?

My experience is that it’s only when my thoughts are problematic that I have the incentive to detach from them. Hence my mindfulness practice can wane somewhat when I’m feeling good.

Somewhat paradoxically, if I do not maintain a mindfulness practice when I am feeling good, when the bad times hit, it can be harder to start practising then. Who wants to be mindful of painful feelings? Like any practice, it takes time and consistency to train the mind. Being fundamentally lazy, I tend to fall back into old habits and well worn neural pathways pretty quickly.

Happy thoughts and projections for the future seem harmless and often quite pleasurable. It’s only when my thoughts turn to the dark side, as they have this last few weeks that I really recognise the need for me to be the master of my own mind.

Stuck at home with the flu, no TV, and very few distractions, I began to see how desperately I wanted an escape from my own mind. Social media was filled with the disasters of the world, which I felt both devastated by and powerless over.

Instead of escaping the present, I stayed with it. Left with little distractions, I made that choice to stay present, even though the present seemed pretty crappy.

What I found there was my true self. My essence. That part of me that is unchanging, unaffected by the external. The observer, the witness, my spirit. She goes by many names. I call her home.

For when we tap into this presence, all else falls away and our power, our awareness is brought into a state of oneness. We are centred and it truly feels as if all our disparate parts have come home.

We are fragmented into so many different aspects. We don’t know who we really are, or what aspects of ourselves we should identify with or believe in. So many contradictory voices, dictates, and feelings fight for control over our inner lives, that we find ourselves scattered everywhere, in all directions, leaving nobody at home. Meditation then, is bringing the mind home. Sogyal Rinpoche

I realise I have not been meditating so much, or journeying, of late. My spiritual practice has been entirely about my classes. Somewhere along the line I had lost that fearlessness that allowed me to delve deeper within.

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By attaching myself to external needs, I had neglected the internal ones. When those external needs weren’t met, I was left alone in the awareness that somewhere along the line I had abandoned myself.

What seemed like an external crisis became a necessary wake up call to reconnect with the power within. The power of presence. The power of now. It’s time to come home.

Little by little as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice, which you slowly recognised as your own, that had kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper. Mary Oliver

Blessings!

Sources:

There’s More to Life Than Being Happy from The Atlantic

The Mysterious Power of Synchronicity

Images from Facebook. Sources unknown.