So what? Now what?

Your battles inspired me – not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead. James Joyce

I have been listening to a lot of podcasts recently. It’s something I do when I’m struggling in life. When my head is messy and I’ve said “Not this” to my thoughts so many times I feel like my brain is wound up like a pretzel.

I find listening to other people talk is a calming distraction from my own thoughts.

Podcasts are amazing, there’s so many on every subject imaginable. I listen to podcasts on Vedic meditation and yoga, but also I just find people who are kindred in their outlook on life, and who are willing to talk authentically about this living condition.

Because that’s how it feels to me. Life is a condition I’m experiencing. I have this body and this nervous system, and through these vehicles I experience life. Through many years of meditation and spiritual experience I have come to understand that I also have a consciousness that is far more subtle and powerful than I may ever truly comprehend.

But when I am afraid, when I am overwhelmed by this physical experience, my consciousness snaps back to fear, and I am left with the monkey mind and a freaked-out nervous system.

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions. Hafez

All of my practice is geared to develop mastery over my self, and meditation is a sweet relief when I feel this way, the problem is my mind distracts me and tells me to do anything else but practice. Yet I persevere, I am nothing if not persistent.

I need to be around people who also experience life this way, who, when faced with struggle or challenge or difficulty, are consumed with a curiousity as to how to master themselves under any conditions.

I tend to listen to podcasts the way I surf the ‘net. I just find one randomly that I like, and then there are a range of similar suggestions, or a guest on a podcast may have their own podcast, and I just let serendipity flow.

So this week, in addition to my regular vedic podcasts, I have listened to actor Dax Shepherd and TV personality Osher Gunsberg, not people I would have normally gravitated towards, but both really interesting, insightful, authentic men.

I have always found Osher Gunsberg really likeable, I had a huge crush on him 20 years ago when he was a long-haired music presenter. What I didn’t know is the depths of his struggles with addiction and mental illness. I won’t tell his story, I’ll pop the links in below and you can listen for yourself, I highly recommend you do. I can’t remember hearing someone share so authentically about mental illness and recovery, alongside such deep intelligence and humour.

Anyway, all this is just a supremely long-winded way to acknowledge that the title of this post and my new favorite soundbite to arrest my stinking thinking “So what? Now what?” is attributed to Osher Gunsberg. I’ll probably quote him some more in the future, he has lots of good stuff to say.

So I mentioned that listening to podcasts helps when I am struggling, what also helps is finding these little soundbites that help me arrest unhelpful thinking. My mentor has gifted me “hands off” (meaning stop trying to control everything) and “not this” (meaning not this line of thinking.)

You yourself are your own obstacle, rise above yourself. Hafez

Osher explained that his mentor (he is also in recovery from addiction) had gifted him “So what? Now what?” Meaning that rather than getting stuck in the story of what is ‘happening’ in my life, accept what is, defuse it with “so what?” and then ask what action I can take “now what?”

Now let me be clear. I do not mean glossing over hard stuff, or being falsely positive and upbeat. What this means to me is the end of ruminating and worry over things that are out of my control. It means a gentle self-enquiry into what I can do right now to move through the conditions I find myself in.

This last few months has been really challenging. I knew it would be. My beautiful, intelligent, sensitive son, who is an amazing human being, who happens to be ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Who has always experienced high levels of anxiety and emotional distress from this living condition, is doing his Year 12, his final year of High School.

It’s a stressful year, constant assessments, pressure from the school and peers as to scores, and subjects, and what are you going to do with your life? Er, live?

Add to that being a 17 year old with all that goes along with that, I mean I think we can all remember what a confusing and topsy-turvy time that was.

Add to that experimenting with alcohol and drugs, taking the first forays into sexuality…

I mean, shit, could we pile more existential angst on our kids?

And I feel for him, I really do. But living with this rollercoaster of ups and downs and moods and heavy emotional outbursts has been taking a toll on me too.

I think every Mum probably feels the same thing. You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, “This is impossible – oh, this is impossible.” And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible. Tina Fey

As I have written before, I am a solo parent. My son’s dad is currently moseying around Asia, but as my son said, “What’s the difference when he’s here anyway?” I don’t say that to be harsh, it’s just how it is. How it always has been, I’m the one who’s always here for him.

So, hence the need for podcasts and snappy soundbites to quell the ever-growing tidal wave of freak-out that is brewing in me.

Some of my son’s behaviour scares me. I’m scared for him, but also for me as his ‘meltdowns,’ which freaked me out when he was seven, become really terrifying now he is a six foot, nearly 18 year old young man.

I watch his drug taking with great concern, as someone who wasted (pun totally intended) her teens and twenties getting high, I don’t want that for him.

When he came home the other night, unable to speak, and passed out, I checked on his breathing every hour until 4am. I finally fell asleep only to be woken at 5:30am with him having a freak-out at the end of my bed. Then I meditated, then I went to work, and moved through the day, like so many days right now, like a zombie.

Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t meditate because I was trying to be a good role model or super-spiritual (I was way too tired for that kind of BS). I meditated like a drowning person grabs for a life-raft. Because I was losing it.

Forever is composed of nows. Emily Dickinson

At least my son can talk to me, and although it’s super uncomfortable at times for me, I’m glad we have that. I can offer support, outside help, but I can’t force solutions. He has to choose his own way.

And I won’t pretend I am handling all this well. It’s really, really, fucking hard. And I am really, really fucking scared.

And I am so full of shame. I don’t want to tell anyone what is going on. I don’t want them to think less of my son, or of me.

That’s why, as I listened to Osher Gunsberg talk so candidly about his mental illness, his psychosis, his alcohol and drug abuse, his suicidal thoughts, and say that he knew he needed to talk about it, because otherwise how will people know? How will people know that when you are at the lowest point, that suicidal thought is not a dark thought, it’s a relief. It seems like the best idea you have ever had.

Yeah. I thought. How will other people know if I just pretend everything is okay.

The biggest mistake I made, other than staying in an abusive relationship so long – it was complicated, it’s always complicated – was keeping it a secret. Secrets keep us stuck and sick and in shame. So I am not doing that anymore. I am just speaking the truth as best I see it of what is happening in my life.

Many people will judge me, I know. They will think I am just not spiritual enough, if I was a better yogini or meditator, a better mother, none of this would be happening. I know because that’s what I tell myself.

But I also know that someone reading this will be crying with identification, because they will be going through this stuff too, and they might be too scared to tell someone, but as they read my words, they will know they are not alone.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t know what’s going to happen. What I do know is that I am responsible for keeping myself as sane and well as I can through this. I do that for me, and I do it so when those around me need me, I have the strength to show up for them.

So today I am not worrying, or sitting in shame. I am telling it how it is, but I won’t keep thinking about it today. Today is a good day. My son is safe, he is happy, we have talked about what we needed to talk about.

Now is the time to know that all that you do is sacred… Now is the time for you to deeply compute the impossibility that there is anything but grace. Hafez

So now what? I ask myself what I would be doing if I only had myself to think about. What am I doing with my life? Well, I would be writing and reading, practicing yoga and meditation, preparing myself physically and financially to go back to India in November and do the next round of my yoga teacher training.

So I do that. And I strip the beds and vacuum the floor and do the laundry and prepare food. I do all the “Now what?’ stuff that needs to be done.

I’m not going pretend it all magically goes away, but I do see how I can carve out some moments of calm and respite for myself. I see how my life can still go on in spite of outside conditions.

And when my son comes home, I’m not stressed or freaked out. I am loving. We have a nice interaction, except for some pretty standard “where’s my shoes?” type stuff. He goes out again.

I know I have choices, I can spend the time he’s out worrying, or I can appreciate the calm. I turn up my music, burn incense and decide to sit for some more meditation. All these things nourish me. That’s what I can do for now.

And if the dreaded “phone-call” comes, the crisis, the drama, I can deal with it then. Hopefully with more ability to respond than react, to act with love and not fear.

Life can be really, really hard, but “So what? Now what?”

Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Mother Theresa

Hari Om Tat Sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Christina

❤️ Podcasts I love

Osher Gunsberg

Osher Gunsberg sharing his story on Seize The Yay

Anand Mehrotra with Rachel Hunter

DAX Sheperd and Elizabeth Gilbert

The Vedic Worldview

Tommy Rosen Recovery 2.0

 

 

Are we there yet? The end of seeking

It is my experience that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. Its very pressures, pains, and risks can wake us up – release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast, true nature. For some of us, our love of the world is so passionate that we cannot ask it to wait until we are enlightened. Joanne Macy

Listening to a podcast recently, the presenter talked about how it is only when we stop being a spiritual seeker, and we become a spiritual student, that the real work begins. For many the distinction may seem moot, but it resonated with me. I have spent years seeking, I think truly, my whole life.

From my childhood star-gazing and pondering the big questions, to my love of psychedelic music as a teenager, to a deep plunge into mind-altering substances as a young adult, The common thread was seeking. Seeking what? Meaning, purpose, the answer to the big “why are we here?” The question that has, in equal parts, fascinated and plagued me since the age of five.

Seeking, and the curiousity that drives it, has probably saved my life too many times to count. That quest for something deeper and more profound, that had driven me into the depths of drug addiction and periods of dark depression, has also pulled me out. It was impossible for me to imagine that the answers to my profound life questions could amount to the sum total of a fifty buck fix. Always I was searching for more.

img_20181005_232801_1136685260166130338350.jpg

Waiting is but a thought. It will not lead you anywhere. Anand Mehrotra

The solution I was offered for my addictions was to live “life on life’s terms” with the aid of a “higher power” who would restore me to sanity around my addictive choices and then be my constant guide. It was testament to my desperation that I was even willing to contemplate such a radical turnaround in thinking and living, but I did.

This path led me on a very focused, sometimes fanatical search for this “higher power.” How could I know what was my will and what was this higher power’s will? Would he/she/it speak directly to me? And if so could my drug-adled mind be trusted?

Most spiritual seekers will know that this early phase of seeking is often one of trying different spiritual paths and seeing what fits. For me, initially each path would bring amazing revelations and awakenings to my self and my purpose in life, but in time these peak experiences would settle and I would find my old thinking returning, a sense of “well, is this it, then?” Often followed by a period of depression, until I discovered some new practice and the cycle would begin all over again.

This very blog is testament to my ups and downs with spiritual seeking. Each practice being “the one” answer to all my problems. Followed by a period of intense research and development, by workshops and courses, by rituals and the highs of amazing experiences, and then the inevitable crash.

Let me be at pains to emphasise that the fault did not lie in any of the practices or paths I had pursued, most of which are still in my life today, but in my expectations of what a “spiritual life” looked like.

You see, I was still searching for something outside of myself to fix me, to take care of me. When in fact, I see now that spirituality is really about self-mastery. The spiritual master finds their strength and stability within them.

img_20180923_114417_5322868439529852489757.jpg

There is in all things…a hidden wholeness. Thomas Merton

At some point in the last couple of years I kind of experienced “spiritual seeker fatigue.” No longer was there the elation at the prospect of the “next big thing.” When other seekers around me kept saying “the shift” was coming, I kept thinking, when? I had worn myself out getting healings and readings that assured me my breakthrough was coming in the next six to twelve months. Only to return a year later, sad and lost, to be told the same thing.

Now again, this is no criticism of the healers and readers here, it’s just that a healing or a reading can’t do the work for you. I probably could have had a “shift” in six to twelve months if I had actually stuck with anything consistently instead of flitting around and scattering my energy on too many things (as one of the readings actually told me.)

But don’t you know, when the student it ready the teachers appears.  A cliche, yes, but cliches only get to be cliches because they contain some truth.

I’ve written before about the serendipitous events that led me to India, to discover Sattva Yoga and my teacher Anand Mehrotra. And to begin with it was the same old all over again. All the “this is it, I’ve found my guru, all is going to be well now for ever and ever, amen.” I was elated. The Beatles had a guru from Rishikesh. I had always wanted a guru.

Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself. Hermann Hesse

When I started practicing Sattva Yoga with Anand, even online at home via video, I experienced really profound shifts in my body, mind and spirit. And I still believe it is absolutely the path for me, a path that incorporates all the practices that came before that had proved so beneficial to me. It is a full spectrum yoga, with meditation, breathwork, postures, ancient Vedic and Tantric wisdom teachings, shamanic and nature-based ritual, ecstatic dance, chanting, devotion, the chakra system… I mean I could go on, it’s such a rich practice that I have only begun to scratch the surface of, but still… It hasn’t magically fixed me. Nor could it, seeing as I’m not broken. I’m just a human being having a plethora of human experiences. There’s no cure for that.

Which, as embarrassing as it is for a grown woman to admit, is what I have always wanted. Respite from the realities of life. A magic bullet, a total transformation into a mind and body that I feel comfortable in ALL the time. I mean it’s fantasy-land stuff, but it was a deep need in me. That’s why people take drugs, by the way, to feel comfortable, ALL the time. As a buffer from all the slings and arrows of living. And no, it doesn’t work long-term, but just getting clean and sober hadn’t changed that as my modus operandi, now I was using spiritual seeking as a way to feel good. And not just to feel good, but more to the point, to avoid feeling bad. To avoid facing the uncomfortability of life.

Now in fairness, my heart and mind has always been in the right place. I have always been very, very respectful of any path or practice I have followed, I have always conducted myself with as much grace and integrity in my pursuit of spirituality as I could. But my subconscious was still like a frightened child wanting everything safe and fixed for good “Are we there yet? Can I relax now? Am I doing it right? Are we good?”

20181012_0907217365682450947759126.jpg

Self-restraint, self-mastery, common sense, the power of accepting individual responsibility and yet of acting in conjunction with others, courage and resolution—these are the qualities which mark a masterful people. Theodore Roosevelt

Anand’s teachings were anything but light and fluffy or comfortable. His focus is on self-mastery. Self-mastery attained through self-discipline and commitment to practice. Pushing through our comfort zone, transcending our fears. I practiced daily, becoming stronger physically and spiritually, and yet that inevitable streak of self-sabotage seeped back in. Or maybe it’s just garden variety laziness. I didn’t want to get up two hours early to practice. I would rather watch Netflix and eat snacks in bed than do my evening practice.

So inevitably, at some point the gloss wore off my daily practice, life got busy, grief hit me hard like a locomotive train – actually three trains, one after another after another – and again I found my practice waning. I was phoning it in, “half-assing” as Anandji would say.

My dad used to say I had no “stickability.” Great starter but no follow through, no commitment. Blunt, yes? But totally on the money.

Cultivate body awareness. A yogi is energy-rich and enhances any environment with aliveness. Anand Mehrotra

When I went back to India to study Sattva Yoga with Anand I asked him what I could do to overcome this inability to stick with the practice. I was waiting with bated breath for his response – finally the answer to all my problems. And look, in fairness, it was. He told me I needed to develop staying power, which could only happen through consistent practice, especially working with my navel centre, my solar plexus chakra, the seat of personal will and power.

And really it is his answer for everything, because it IS the answer for everything, to just stay with the practice. No matter what life dishes up. To paraphrase an old AA saying, “even if your head falls off, pick it up and go do your practice.”

Develop some backbone, stop giving in to comfort and honour your commitment to yourself.

And for the most part I have. I have maintained a twice daily meditation practice and daily Kriya yoga practice, and although at times I will admit to half-assing it, I haven’t given up. And the changes I see are (mostly) less electrifying than at first, but more consistent. Less highs and lows, more generalised focus and calm. An ability to recognise when I am disturbed, when I am out of my integrity and power, and to use the techniques to bring myself back to centre.

Open yourself to discomfort. Meet it with mercy, not fear. Recognize that when our pain most calls for our embrace, we are often the least present. Soften, enter, and explore, and continue softening to make room for your life. Stephen Levine

Anand tells us that consistency takes time, it is normal to fluctuate when our practice is new, we can’t be instant Zen masters. But, the more we can consistently maintain a higher energy vibration through the practice, the more we will begin to embody that in every aspect of our being and every area of our lives.

Anand emphasises the importance of developing a strong navel centre or solar plexus chakra. Sattva Yoga focuses on activating this energy centre, as it is the key to our staying power, our will and our vitality.

He talks about cultivating an “energy-rich environment,” in this high pranic (life force energy) state we are less likely to succumb to old patterns and self-destructive habits.

Enlightenment is not a static, utopic state. It is a consistent journey with greater and greater degrees of awareness. With really no end. For why are we interested in an end? Only when we are in suffering in life, when we are in conflict with ourself, with life, are we looking for an end where ‘this’ doesn’t exist. You are still using life as a waiting room. So the very thing you are looking for is keeping you from that which you are looking for. Anand Mehrotra

Caroline Myss, in Anatomy of the Spirit, describes the solar plexus centre as the centre of our honour code, especially with self. Do we respect ourselves? Do we keep the promises we make to ourselves? Do we honour our commitment to self?

What is a commitment to daily practice if not this kind of personal honour code? As Anandji says no one really cares whether we practice or not, ultimately we do it for our own growth and evolution. And yes, developing self-mastery and discipline, raising our energy, will undoubtedly have flow on effects for our family, our community, our world. But we do it out of a sense of self respect. Out of a sense of acknowledging this great gift that is a human life and desiring to make the very best of this opportunity, this lifetime.

Carolyn Myss goes on to say that it is her belief that the epidemic of depression and anxiety in the modern world is due to a generalised inability to honour ourselves. We make promises to ourselves that we don’t keep. We promise to change our diet, our lifestyle, our job, our relationship but we don’t follow through. As a result we don’t trust ourselves, we lose confidence in our self, just as we would in any person who consistently lets us down.

Anand describes the energy of the yogi in a similar way. There must be a basis of trust and consistency in our self. We must be able to honour ourselves by turning up to our practice without getting flaky or “half-assing” it.

Half measures availed us nothing. Bill Wilson

In the yoga tradition Svādhyāya or self-study is a two fold concept. It invokes a sense of self -inquiry or studying ourselves, our habitual patterns, our mental traps, as well as the self discipline of studying by oneself, the teachings and texts and applying them directly into our lives.

A key part of being a student is that you have a teacher and teachings. There’s a significant distinction in the level of humility required here. My experience of teachers and mentors is that sometimes I don’t like what they have to say. As a spiritual seeker I can go from practice to practice cherrypicking the bits I like and ignoring the rest, flitting off when things gets uncomfortable, but as I student I cannot. And I cannot always be the ultimate authority on what will serve my growth. Sometimes we need people ahead on the path to encourage us not to give up on the practice when it gets hard. To show by their own example that, in fact, the real gold is to be found by plumbing the depths of our discomfort.

The woman who was my greatest mentor and friend, my AA sponsor for nearly 20 years, always said that her role was not to play God but to show me how to have a relationship with a power of my own understanding. To my mind this is what all great teachers do, they offer you a map and a kit of spiritual tools. Whether or not you take them is up to you. As Anand says, nobody really cares if you meditate or not. Carolyn Myss talks about our honour code, it’s between you and God – or you and yourself – what anyone else thinks, what you look like to others, is irrelevant.

Yoga is powerful. Realise yoga is not a path for the weak. It is for you to overcome your self-imposed limitations. Anand Mehrotra

There are times when I feel great resistance towards my teachers, I felt it with my sponsor Jane, I feel it sometimes with Anand. There’s a saying in AA that “if you don’t have a resentment on your sponsor, they’re probably not doing the job properly.” Why? I think because to be a good teacher, you will be a challenge to your student. Growth is uncomfortable, even painful when we are really resistant to it. Nobody likes someone who asks them to be uncomfortable and in pain. But the teacher knows that pain is the touchstone to spiritual growth and a great motivator. It’s unavoidable. Nor should we attempt to avoid or escape it. Because the discomfort is showing us EXACTLY the stuff we need to look at, and transcend, in order to evolve.

For me, right now, it’s my commitment to self and self-discipline. I’m disciplined for three weeks, then I’m flaky for a week or two. And it’s making me really uncomfortable because I can undo three weeks discipline in a few days. Well, not really but it feels like that. I feel as if I could be ‘miles in front’ – there’s that striving again – if I could only be consistent, well, more consistently. My mind tells me to just give up, that it’s hopeless, that I’m just chasing my tail. But Anand’s words ring in my ears. It’s normal to fluctuate at first, be patient with yourself. Keep coming back to the practice…

There are certain powers that go with an internal honour code. One is integrity. The capacity to give your word and keep it. The other is the power to endure. In order for our spirit to thrive, we have to develop integrity and endurance. Carolyn Myss

These mental fluctuations are part of the path. Either we can avoid them, or we can pick them up, examine them and see what’s really going on. Carolyn Myss believes that our inability to stay with spiritual discipline is a deep-seated fear of our own power and potential. We play small because it feels safe. But in the process we sacrifice our integrity, our honour code, our inherent and deep-seated commitment to our evolution.

At some point we have to just be with life as it is, and just live it enthusiastically, no holding back, fully present and committed. I think I have spent my whole life waiting to be somewhere else, someone else. But life is always lived here, it’s always lived through me, and it’s always lived now.

This was the greatest of lessons my mentor and friend gave me, and all who knew her, to “just be.” Stop striving and grasping and waiting for a moment and just take a breath. This breath is the miracle. Being alive is pretty special, and totally beyond our control, and yet most of us fritter that gift away with self-doubt, worry and fear. Always seeking more, or trying to hang on to an ever changing reality.

Your purpose here is to evolve, to transform, to experience your radical aliveness, to awaken to your true nature. You are the path. The path is you. The time is now. Anand Mehrotra

Instead of self-flagellation, I try to practice self-acceptance. So maybe a week per month I get a bit flaky. That’s better than four weeks a month. Sometimes I just turn up on the mat with zero motivation. As long as I turn up. Progress is the goal, not perfection.

And this is where I see the growth. I’m not looking around for something else, something new. I’m not distracting myself with new people and shiny new things. It’s very uncomfortable at times but I am staying with the discomfort, trying to develop some curiosity about it. Because I know consistency of practice is the answer and any resistance is fear. Even though it seems crazy and counter-intuitive, often when we are in bucketloads of pain, we resist the very thing that is the solution to our pain. I know I do.

Hence the shift from spiritual seeker to spiritual student. At some point the time comes where we must stop distracting ourselves by looking outside for answers and learn to sit quietly and make peace with what’s within. To make a commitment to self that we keep, even when no one else is looking. Even when there’s no trip to Bali or India attached. Even when it’s just sitting wrapped in blankets, meditating at a cold dawn in our own apartment.

20181017_1749267587109789778662333.jpg

Since it’s so counter-intuitive to touch unpleasantness, it’s a gradual process of getting used to, of becoming familiar with, opening to whatever arises. And it’s the unpleasant part, the painful part, the insecurity part, the uncertainty, the really distasteful part that we are not accustomed to being open to. But these three qualities, openness, open-awareness and warmth, living in a way to uncover these, they provide the support, or the container, or the atmosphere, that allows us to become more and more fearless and embracing all of our experience. But it really takes time. And I think all these teachings, you could take them and brand them, and make a lot of money with workshops where you did, A, B, C and you got results… fast. But it isn’t like that. Trungpa Rinpoche used to say that it was like walking from San Francisco to New York rather than flying in an aeroplane. It took a long time but you really knew the territory well. Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron talks about “discomfort resilience” I think meditation does this. We keep bringing our attention back from thoughts, from distractions. We develop the capacity for our nervous system to get used to discomfort. Over time, we are developing new habits, new neural pathways, new cellular memory, that allows us to stay in some degree of calm and presence even when facing challenging emotions and experiences. We get to know ourselves, our little cognitive blips and cheats, the ‘terrain’ really well.

Meditation teaches us to be present with what is. To just breathe. Not react. Not grasp or panic. That’s a valuable skill in life. In the end that’s what life teaches us, if we are willing to learn, to be open and available to every moment. To be curious. To be a ready student.

Being a student and developing self-mastery may sound like contradictory concepts. But I don’t think so. I think it is arrogant to assume we have all the answers or even the sophistication of consciousness to intuit all the answers on our own. We need teachings, practices, guidance, support and community to evolve.

A commitment to study is a commitment to do the work, to go deep into our selves and to not run away or seek distraction from what we find there when it is displeasing or uncomfortable.

As we so often hear, to the point I think we often ignore it, life is a journey, not a destination. There is no place to rush to, to strive for. That doesn’t mean we don’t have things we would like to do or places we would like to go. But none of that will fulfil us if we haven’t learned to “just be” with what is.

Without the ability, the discipline, the practice to be here now, we just keep missing it, missing life and the experiences we have often yearned so long for, caught in a perpetual trap of “when I get/have/do this, then I’ll be able to stop and enjoy life.”

The most important practice is the one you do in your aloneness. As you go into your own sadhana, the world starts to fade, and what starts to happen in you is the celestial glow of self starts to get established. And it is of paramount importance that we really cultivate this self-practice. Anand Mehrotra

In yoga tonight the teacher talked about a mindset called ‘Be. Do. Have” Loving the synchronicity with what I had been writing moments before, I listened as she described it.

Most of us think we need to “have” a certain thing or set of things (more money, love, time, experience, etc.), so that we can finally “do” something important (pursue our passion, start a business, go on vacation, create a relationship, buy a home, etc.), which will then allow us to “be” what we truly want in life (peaceful, fulfilled, inspired, generous, in love, etc.). In actuality, it works the other way around.

First we “be” what we want (peaceful, loving, inspired, abundant, successful, or whatever), then we start “doing” things from this state of being – and soon we discover that what we’re doing winds up bringing us the things we’ve always wanted to “have.”

It’s a mindset used by self-help guru Tony Robbins, among others, but it’s been around for a lot longer than that. In fact, like so much self-help practice, I’m sure it has its roots in Indian Vedic teachings.

It acknowledges that we still want to ‘do’ and ‘have’ but instead of putting that first, we focus on the ‘be’ and act from there.

I love the simplicity – and the synchronicity. Be. Do. Have. For me it starts with my values. What kind of person do I want to be, rather than what do I want. It makes us question why we think we want what we want. What is it we think it will do for us? For me, fundamentally, I want to be present and loving and kind. I want to be the best expression of myself I can be. I want to thrive and enjoy my life whilst inspiring joy and value in others.

If on the day I die I can say, ‘To the best of my ability—cutting myself some slack for my human flaws and fallibilities—I was faithful to my gifts, to the world’s needs as I saw them,’ then I can take my final breath with a feeling of satisfaction that I showed up on earth with what I had and offered it up to the world. Parker Palmer

These are exactly the qualities that attracted me to Jane and Anand. They live that way.

When I search and push and strive in life I am not really here, not present. I’m trying to get ‘there,’ which is never here. The greatest masters, in my honest opinion, teach the same thing. Be here now. That’s it. So what if your practice is less perfect than yesterday, if you were up all night with a sick child and slept through morning practice time. It’s okay. Just stay with it.

In fact see THIS – whatever’s happening right now, as your practice. The sick kid, the rushed days that skimp on formal practice, as your practice. Can I be okay with imperfection, upheaval, discomfort? In short, can I be okay with this human gig?

Isn’t that why we seek? To find purpose and meaning for this life. Isn’t that the purpose of our practice, to learn to be in full expression of this life? In all it’s nuance, its shadows and light.

The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it. Bill Wilson

Many years ago I learned this. We have to live our practice. In every area of our lives.

Carolyn Myss regards our integrity of practice as including, not only our actions, but even our thoughts. She sees every challenge, every seemingly external situation or relationship, that comes our way as an opportunity to test our integrity and endurance. To test the commitment we made to ourselves. The commitment for spiritual evolution. Will we honour ourselves even when no one is watching? It’s a tough call.

I understand that a seeker and a student can be complimentary archetypes. A seeker has an openness and sense of wonder that is also beneficial to the student. Maintaining a beginners mind, as the Buddhists say, is the essential starting point for learning.

For me, the subtle distinction, the shift, is that as a student I have made a commitment to a teacher and a tradition of teachings – not even to the exclusion or what came before or what is to come, but most certainly as my first priority for my time and attention. For me, this has stabilised my energy from the more scattergun and less focused, ‘tasting from the smorgasbord’ approach that came before.

There’s also the sangha – the community of Anandji’s students who keep each other on track, who inspire, guide and support one another. These commitments, to a teacher and a community, help me stick with the practice when I find myself waning.

On a good day, I am inspired by my new ‘stickability’ and the shifts I see in my physical, mental and spiritual being. On a bad day, I just stay with the practice and let it carry me through. Knowing that really there are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days, these are just stories, positionalities created by the mind.

Life moves in cycles and I’m sure there may come a time when I become a seeker again. But for now, I find great solace in sitting still, at the feet of my teacher (literally or figuratively) and immersing myself in these teachings, knowing that their depth and weight would be enough to sustain me for a thousand lifetimes, if I let it.

20181012_1120292048503498472912506.jpg

Having loved enough and lost enough, I’m no longer searching just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain but trying to be a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land. Mark Nepo

Hari Om Tat Sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Christina

The guru who ran up a mountain

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.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.

Mary Oliver

The dappled light through the trees is the burnt orange of the setting sun. The taxi driver speaks no English, nor does he seem interested in talking, so we travel in companionable silence.

This road from Dehradun to Rishikesh seems familiar now, even though in reality it is only my third time traveling it.

Sighing, I stare wistfully out the window at the balmy twilight. I have such great hopes for the balm of Rishikesh on my soul. Familar vistas stoke memories of my first experience of this place, which seemed to open my heart and soul to the magical mystery of life.

We drive past the houses set so close to the road that you catch glimpses of people’s intimate moments eating dinner, sleeping, in prayer.

Past the downtown markets and shops, the makeshift shanty town under the bridge, winding up past the green leafy driveways to resorts and ashrams. Until finally my first glimpse…

There she is! Ganga Ma!

As a child I would coo in awe on summer drives as I caught my first glimpse of the ocean, “the sea, the sea, oooh look, it’s the sea!” I’d squeal.

Now, I whisper to my heart “Ganga Ma, Ganga Ma, look, it’s Ganga Ma!”

The river who is a goddess. A divine mother. Bestower of shakti. Transmitter of Shiva’s wisdom. Remover of karma.

This river who called me here two years ago and calls me back now. The one who answers my prayers for a teacher, a path, a way back to life.

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

What is this power that calls us to a place?

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

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

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 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.

Again I come to her, this sacred river, heavy heart in hand, hoping for salvation.

*****

Tonight I feel happy. Not just, something made me crack a bit of a smile happy, but really, deeply happy, right down to my bones

As I lead some new yogi friends through a Chakradance Journey in the rooftop Sattva studio in Rishikesh, a crimson red sun is setting over the Ganges, sinking behind the foothills of the Himalayas, leaving a golden glow in its wake.

There’s a part in the dance, during the third eye chakra, where you visualise your life just as you want it, setting an intention for your life. But all I could do was bask in this glorious moment, happiness burbling from every pore, and just think “This. Just this. To have precious moments of blissful aliveness, just like this.”

The expression of individualised self is cosmic. It has infinite potential. At the base of the wave is ocean. As the wave develops greater access to the depth of the ocean it gains greater and greater power, greater ability, greater presence. Anand Mehrotra 

This moment is the culmination of four weeks at Sattva Yoga Academy in Rishikesh, practising Sattva yoga, eating simple, fresh food, drinking copious amounts of water and chai. Walking miles through the Himalayan foothills every day.

Laughing, so much deep, belly laughing.  Oh, it’s so good for the soul. Singing, chanting. Journeying deep into untouched aspects of self with Master Anandji’s powerful classes and wisdom teachings. Total immersion in the musicality and deep spirituality of the Indian culture has made my soul sing with joy.

It hasn’t been a happy year for me, truth be told it’s been one of the saddest years of my life. Back in March my beautiful first love died of a drug overdose, three weeks later my beloved dad died and then my precious friend and mentor succumbed to cancer.

It was more sadness than I could bear. I mean I did bear it, obviously. I kept going to work, doing the life stuff, but my heart was struck numb with loss.

If the self is like a tarnished or smudged up mirror, yoga is the set of practices that clean and polish the mirror so that you can see things reflected more clearly. Chad Woodford

Coming to India has been like regaining circulation in a limb that had gone numb. Except this wasn’t my foot going to sleep, it was my heart.  And the sensation returning to my being was just as painful and intense as pins and needles.

Landing in this place of sensory overload, the smells, the sounds, the visual kaleidoscope of India, heading to a 200 hour yoga teaching training with 15 hour days and intense practices, jarred my rusty nerves to begin with. But over the weeks, something shifted in me.

India is a place that permeates everything, your eyes, your ears, your nose, your hair, your clothes, and your soul. Those hot and steamy smells, a mix of various types of smoke, incense, spicy cooking, cow dung, rotting garbage, and diesel fumes.

Those strange, exotic and sometimes obnoxious sounds. From pre-dawn the cattle herders moving their herds through the streets, cow-bells toning across the bridge and through my window. Calls to prayers, chanting, music blaring. 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. India is perpetual motion.

You can be angry here, blazing, wild, ecstatic and in rapture, but one thing you cannot be is numb, is asleep.

So India has once again demanded full immersion from me. Instead of holding back from life, watching, waiting for some perfect moment or opportunity.

The beauty of India is she triggers you. Anand Mehrotra

The first thing to arise on any spiritual deep-dive into self, in my humble experience, is resistance.

This resistance may seem to be coming from places beyond your control, but be very clear even these seemingly random and external events are usually projections and manifestations of your own shadow fears and feelings of inferiority and lack of self-worth, writ large, Indian style, to trigger you.

How will you react? Will you run? Will you howl like a baby? Will you beg and plead with invisible forces “Oh why, oh why?” (Probably option “D” all of the above.)

For me this arose on my very first night in Rishikesh. Fear and self-doubt had been brewing for a while, but I had hoped that Rishikesh would have the same magically transformative effect it had on me the last time I was there. It didn’t.

I even stayed at the same place overlooking the Ganges river, ma Ganga. Yet there was no magic. I didn’t like my room. The bathroom flooded with water and I spent the night tip-toeing through toilet water to pee. Where was my pink cloud of fluffy Ganga awe?

This first night I put this black cloud down to jet lag and exhaustion.

It became quickly apparent to me the next day that no magic pink cloud was descending. I was seriously doubting myself and my ability to do the 200 hour yoga training. The fact that the therapist who has treated my back for 10 years said to me days before I left “Do you think your body is up to this? I mean how old are you again?”

That night, deep in a state of gloom, I received an ambiguous message from my son “Mum, I just can’t take it anymore!” He wrote.

I’m thinking, what are we talking about here, school, work, life?

A horrible sense of dread descended over me. When you lose people like I have this year, one after the after, it primes you for more loss. Your heart is almost waiting for the next sucker punch.

Fearful thoughts spiraled from the sublime to the ridiculous.

What was I doing alone in this hotel room in India when my son needed me? What kind of deficient human being was I? And what was I doing yoga teacher training for anyway? How old was I? 45? Nearly pushing up daisies really…

When we speak of the infinite potential that rests at the base chakra, we are speaking of the kundalini, that’s what the kundalini represents, infinite potential. As the kundalini lies dormant at the base chakra we are not yet awakened, we are in the grips of our reptilian brain which is dominated by fear. But here is great possibility  this seat of existential fear is also the seat of our infinite potential, waiting to awaken. Anand Mehrotra

My teacher, Anand Mehrotra, or Anandji as we call him, says that you can tell the degree to which you are primed by primordial fear by the way you react when life gets challenging. At the root, literally the root chakra, of our being we act from fear or trust.

It was apparent I still have a long way to go to evolve to a state of complete trust. Despite the barrage of fearful thoughts, I did remain calm enough to help my son navigate the issues that were upsetting him. Crisis averted, test passed, all good. I thought.

That night I headed to the evening Aarti by Parnath Niketan. But I was fractious still. I felt keenly the attention of being a lone Western woman. To take a moment I walked down to the beach beside the river. I wanted to bless my dad, and my friends who had passed. Outside a Kali temple two young boys approached me selling Aarti offerings, baskets of flowers, incense and a candle wick. 

They accompanied me as I went to the river and performed my own Aarti. I shed some tears, made some offerings and said my goodbyes. It was spontaneous, heartfelt and perfect.

When we have the intention to evolve and grow we often find the pattern of the mind is not supporting this intention which is to evolve. For the mind, when you look at it, is a creature of habit. So every day we wake up, and we remind ourselves to play the predictable roles that we have, it keeps us in a loop. That is why in yogic teachings we are so fundamentally interrupting these patterns. But in this process of interrupting these patterns we find a resistance arises and it is very important that we become aware of this resistance as a natural aspect of growth. Anand Mehrotra

The next morning I headed off to the Sattva Yoga Academy. We were to meet a the Sattva Hotel in Rishikesh town and ride together in jeeps up the mountains to the Academy.

As I landed in the lobby I met the group that would be my little posse. The five of us were such a diverse mix it put lie to my fears of being too old or not enough of a yogi. I took a deep breath and thought “It’s going to be fine.”

We rode over bumpy dirts roads, my head hitting the roof on every bump, until we reached Sattva. Nestled in the Himalayan foothills, by the Uley river, a tributary of the Ganges, known affectionately as “Baby Ganga.”

The views were majestic, deep drops away from the road into verdant green valleys and the river, mountains as far as the eye could see.

As we pulled into the prayer-flag lined driveway of Sattva Retreat, the energy was palpable. It felt both uplifting and soothing. It felt like home.

In a state of deep contentment, I queued up with all the others waiting to sign in. I got my passport out of my bag and looked for my credit card to pay the fees. I had planned to transfer the thousands of dollars for my course and accommodation but I hadn’t received the banking information so instead I transferred the money onto my second credit card, which was to be safely kept only for that purpose, so it didn’t get lost or stolen.

There’s a kind of running joke in my family about putting things in such a safe place that they are never to be found again…

Disbelief flooded my body first, then panic. The credit card was nowhere to be found. Did I lose it? Did someone have it? Was the money still in there? Shit, shit, shit…

To spare you the longwinded details, despite being hampered by, as the Sattva staff kept apologising “the internet not working today” (it nevers works!) I eventually after 30 tense minutes on the phone with my bank, and several aborted attempts to download apps and security codes, got the situation sorted and transferred the money.

What was interesting to me was what arose in the pressure of that moment. As I said there was fear and panic, but it was as if my mind split into two and there was another part of me encouraging me to be calm and just do what needed to be done to solve the problem.

I stayed (relatively) calm. I didn’t descend into blame or misdirected anger, my absolute go-tos to deflect fear.

Funnily after this things were pretty smooth for the rest of the trip. Except for a few times when fear and worry seeped back in. I really saw that these two eruptions were manifestations of my resistance to the potential transformation ahead of me.

It was almost as if some subconscious part of myself was testing my resolve with the two fears most likely to trip me up, fear of something terrible happening to my son, and fear of losing my money, my security, and for now I had risen to the challenge, faced my fears, and stayed steadfast to my course.

******

The body is a multilingual being. It speaks through its colour 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 centre, and rising hope.Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Wherever you are at Sattva, you can hear the river. The energy here is phenomenal. I close my eyes and all I see and feel is water flowing through mountain. The elements are powerful when there’s no noise to distract us from them. Even my mind has quieted to point of subtle perception of trees breathing up to a smiling sky, mountains shifting ever so subtly as the river flows humming through…

Anand says our senses are designed to focus outwards, rightly so, so that we don’t walk in front of a bus or get eaten by a bear. The first thing we must do is learn to draw our senses within, draw our attention within. We close our eyes to shut off the visual stimulus, and draw our mind within where it can rest in our own essential nature, the pure field of silence.

This is pratyhara, this withdrawal of the senses, is the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. A text we will come to know very well through Anand’s daily wisdom talks and satsangs.

Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear. Lao Tzu

I met Anandji for the first time only a few months ago. Yet he has been a strong presence in my life for nearly two years. The first time I was in Rishikesh and did a Sattva Yoga class, my teacher Amy talked about Anandji and showed me his photo, which just seemed luminous.

After rekindling the idea of returning to India to study with Anand over a year ago, I tried dipping my toe in the water by studying an online course in Self-Mastery with Anand, watching and practising with him daily via video. Increasingly I saw the power of the Sattva practice and wanted a deeper immersion.

As I expected, actually being physically in his presence daily at Sattva Yoga Academy was a whole other level. Anand is extremly generous with his students. We started each day with a two hour sattva Yoga Journey, and had another two to three hours a day with him for wisdom talks and satsangs (question and answer sessions.)

I have a habit of placing people I admire on a pedestal and being devastated when they show their fallibility, their humaness.

Anand is very human, he loves coffee, he likes some people more than others, he has moods and opinions and tastes. Yet, he is also extraordinary, his wisdom seems bottomless, his ability to tap into the zeitgeist of the group and deliver journeys and wisdom talks that seem to answer the unasked needs of seventy people is mindblowing.

His story of growing up in Rishikesh, surrounded by yogic masters, including his own guru. His insatiable thirst for knowledge, for wisdom, for practice which led him from a forest monk to a yogi meditating in a cave for months. To emerge at the ripe age of 21 with the organic body of teachings, which back then had no name, but drew people to him by the power and authentic expression of his intelligence.

He is a master yogi, and yet he is physically so present. He embodies two worlds, often handling his mala beads, imperceptibly reciting his japa practice while delivering a wisdom talk of great presence and relevance.

He is both in silence and in the worldly clamours of physical life.

He ride motorcycles. He runs up mountains, while most of us huffed and panted our way slowly up to the waterfall near Sattva, Anand and a few superfit yogis, ran up the mountain and scaled over the rather large rocks in the river on the way down.

I have never seen someone both so physically incarnate and completely tapped into the cosmos simultaneously. He is the embodiment of tantra, spiritual intelligence embodied in the physical, shakti flowing into form.

“Whose life are you living? Your life is meant to fulfil you. Life is calling to you in the very intimacy of your heart. You will keep fighting, hoping that somewhere in the future you will find yourself. Wait no more. You are the very being for which the non-being turned into being. Wherever you are is the starting point. You have come so far, go all the way.” Anand Mehrotra

When I initially researched Anand, oh yes I did, I was concerned that he didn’t have a clearly defined lineage. Then during my time at Sattva I realised he has THE lineage, the direct transmission of Himalayan wisdom transmitted to the yogis of that region though Babaji. The same lineage that created Paramhansa Yogananda.

Like Yogananda, Anand understands that our whole physiology must support our spiritual practice, in order for us to evolve. This is the purpose of yoga practice, and in particular, the kriyas.

The first step required is to develop greater awareness of the energy and thoughts that are vibrating you. Most of us are deeply programmed with limiting thoughts, fearful thoughts. These thought create our behaviour which creates our life, which then influences our future behaviour, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of our most subconscious beliefs. 

The key to busting these beliefs are the kriyas. Kriya yoga practices are the technology which creates this shift.

Kriyas as taught by Anand are focused, repetitive movements with breath and/or mantra that have three main functions: to cultivate the energy required to shift deeply held patterns, to clear stuck issues from our tissues (literally clearing the physiology of stored emotions and traumas) and to rewire the brain and create new, healthy patterns and maintain this vibration.

In Autobiography Of A Yogi, Yogananda says that kriya is the most effective practice in yoga for personal evolution, transcending limitations, the expansion of consciousness, and self-realization. But how does it do this? In short, kriya works by increasing access to subtle energy and then channeling that energy in different ways. Chad Woodford

Anand uses kriyas as part of powerful yoga journeys, aptly titled as two hours becomes forever and yet no time, as he guides you into sacred space, into your deepest self, into the pure field of silence, into totality.

Some days the two hour journeys were filled with warrior poses and holding Shiva Kriya for 30 minutes (just 30 seconds more, Anand would insist) other days he guided us in partner work where we gazed into another’s eyes, hand over heart, before amassing in a group hug and leading each other down to the river. 

Some days we chanted and pumped our lower belly, degenerating into moans and howls as we cleared our sacral chakra of shame, past memory, and programming of limitations and discontent. Every journey was new and different, every journey powerful and transformative.

A restless mind cannot locate bliss. Anand Mehrotra

Here I became fully present. Every moment demands awakeness and awareness from me and I can’t operate on automatic pilot.  Anand demands our presence, “Stop half-assing it!” He cries when he sees we have checked out of our practice.

Anandji has that levity of many spiritual masters, he laughs a lot, but don’t be fooled, he has razor-sharp intelligence and despite the lightness of being, a great reverence for life. He trusts completely in nature’s creative intelligence, in the flow of life. 

Often when we hear “go with the flow” it sounds wishy-washy, like saying “whatever” to life. But really the flow is nature’s intelligence, her flow of information and energy, her cycles, her seasons. So tapping into this flow is the most intelligent and resourceful way to live, because we are no longer wasting energy fighting against natural forces, instead we align effortlessly with them. How do we achieve this flow state? Meditation, yoga (they are really the same thing by the way.) Tapping into that field of silence, of infinite intelligence, Hiraṇyagarbha “the great cosmic womb,” every day gradually aligns our nervous system with a more expansive consciousness.

At this moment infinity is available and why you are not accessing infinity is because of the idea of who you think you are. And where did this idea come from? From a history that has been woven into your psyche, a narrative as to who you are. Anand Mehrotra

The colloquial term “whatever” displeases Anand, with it’s combined suggestion of apathy and anything goes. There is a sharp distinction between being in a flow state, in harnessing the immense intelligence of nature, and just doing “whatever.” A flow state arises from great discipline and dedication, whether to meditation, science, art, mountain-climbing or surfing.

At the end of my training, I receive my guru mantra from Anandji. This mantra is personal to me, and is divined by Anandji after looking at my birth day and time in accordance with Jyotish astrology. A guru mantra is whispered from guru to disciple, never written done or shared aloud with anyone. This is to preserve the sanctity of the sounds from any cognitive associations.

After he has transmitted my mantra, I go down to the river and meditate with it. The mantra takes me deep into a place that is neither within me or outside of me. Everything is in this space, the river, the trees, the mountains and beyond. I sit silently vibrating with the totality of existence.

At our graduation ceremony, we receive hugs from our teachers along with a bindi (sacred spot over the third eye) and our official certificate. Anand gives us a mala – sacred beads used to aid japa practice, the repetitive reciting of mantra for devotional and meditative purposes.

When I approach Anandji to receive my mala and a hug, I see those compassionate brown eyes, I see that despite the personal sacrifices to his own desires, all he wants is to guide people towards their own evolution. And as I embrace him the tears come. Tears of joy, gratitude and relief. Tears of release of pain, grief and karma. Tears of homecoming. Tears of all of totality and total silence. I mean I am bawling like a baby, and he just holds me, meets me there in my moment of surrender. He says “This is just the beginning for you.”

And I understand this to mean something that I have come to witness over my time at Sattva. That this yoga is not a self-improvement course. The purpose of this evolution is to be a game-changer, to take it out into the world and really make a difference, in whatever small or large way we can.

With great bliss, comes great responsibility.

Far from looking to you like an opportunity for escape, a call feels more like a compelling need to walk into the mouth of a whale, or out into the night and into a storm. Bill Plotkin

When I returned to Rishikesh after the training it was once again my magical place. I realised the change was in me, any place can be a fear-filled hellhole or a font of magical synchronicity. It’s about the person experiencing it. The experiencer is the experience. The observer is the observed.

It may seem that having a spiritual awakening is some kind of blissful, cosmically-orgasmic experience, and I think in fairness, there’s a lot of images and stories in our society, especially around new age circles, that that’s the case. 

For many “running off to India” sounds like an escape, rather than what it has always been for me, which is a full-blown letting go of everything familiar and coming face to face with the deepest parts of myself, parts that often never see the light of day in my “real life.” Or if they do arise, they are often suppressed by busyness, by the habitual familiarity of life, and by the identities I maintain in my daily life, mother, employee, teacher….

Sometimes beautiful, blissed-filled experiences certainly have been part of my journey, I mean just look at my photos. Sattva looks like heaven, a tropical paradise nestled between green hills, by the river. After class we would swim in the pool or river, scantily-clad and beautiful bodies would run through a practice yoga session on the grass, with the sun setting behind them. Oh yes, it could be glorious at times.

Learn to take your own narrative less personally, your opinions less personally, the thoughts less personally, learn to get more and more impersonal with the false self. The more impersonal you get with the false self, the more intimate you get with the true self. And in there you will find great connection. Anand Mehrotra 

But I think it’s really important to recognize that essentially a spiritual awakening is a breakdown of the ego to create an opening, to create space, to create a surrender, which allows the grace and awakening to come in. And breakdowns by definition, are generally not all sunset vistas and good feels.

I ponder if there’s any way around this suffering for our awakening. Perhaps the more we surrender, the softer it feels. The unavoidable fact is while the ego is in total control, we can’t awaken beyond the ego. So the ego has to be broken, or else we can’t see past it, we are still in that limitation of ego-consciousness. And like any breakdown, it is often associated with a degree of fear and sometimes pain.

I think that the degree of fear and pain is relative to the degree to which we struggle against this breaking-down sensation, and the more willing we are to just let go and trust it, probably the less painful and fearful it is. Definitely easier said than done in my experience. Rather like the dentist with a giant drill in her hand telling you to “relax, it won’t hurt as much then…”

I think it’s important to recognize that pain can be a sign of positive growth. Sometimes when we look at other people’s journeys, it looks exotic or romantic, but that’s just the wrappings.

The reality is that for a lot of us, definitely for me, by the time we find ourselves on that doorstep of awakening, we have found ourselves in a position where we’ve seen enough that we can’t go back to living the way we were living.

We can no longer believe that our ego-mind has all the answers, or is the be all and end all of our existence. Yet there’s an understanding that by moving forwards towards the awakening, into the awakening, that we’re moving away from a lot of things that are familiar and known. We are often moving into a place where the majority of people in our lives will not understand what we are talking about, or why we are doing the things that we are doing. (Or not doing the things we used to do.)

It can be quite lonely. All this breaking down, breaking away, breaking through. Which is the beauty of the Sangha, the spiritual community.

I see the importance now of having teachers, of having mentors, of having people who are ahead of you on the path, and of having people who are with you, buddies, compatriots who are with you as you learn and grow. Because there’s a lot of experiences that come as this ego breaks down that are quite challenging, but the call is strong and I really feel that once we start on this journey there’s no going back, not in any kind of meaningful way.

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

When it comes to having a full life, once that doorway to the infinite has been opened, there is no other choice but to go through it. And really that door has been open all our life. So really our lives have been moving towards awakening into a more expanded experience of life.

I think that a fundamental part of this journey is that we are not expanding purely for our own benefit. 

This quintessential energy of nature that is opening through us wants to express itself, wants to be expressed in many forms, is seeking creativity through us.

Creativity, not just as painting a picture, or writing a song, but creative living. Living in a way that has busted out of old patterns of conditioning, of habitual ways of doing life and responding to the world. Creative living is spontaneous, it is being open to each moment, responding not reacting to life.

How do we live like this? Through selfless service, in love. Once we have opened ourselves up to this, we’ve become a channel for nature’s intelligence to flow through. When we are no longer in the delusion of being an isolated individual in a life with a bunch of other isolated beings, when we realise we are part of the whole, part of the unifed field, we become a channel, an open channel for this evolutionary energy of nature.

Anand talks a lot about love, but it’s not a wishy-washy love, it’s fierce, it’s like Mother Nature herself. It’s totally pro-life, pro-evolution, it’s a creative force. Anand says yogis should be industrial strength, with a strong spine, a soft heart. If they are weak they are not doing their practice right. Love isn’t weakness, it is strength. Have you ever seen a mother bear when her cub is threatened, that kind of love? Fierce love. The love that is generous and giving, but can also stand its ground when needed.

It can be exquisitely beautiful, it can also be absolutely terrifying because you know the ego is so attached to “I. me. mine” My life, my space, my stuff, my time, my energy…

As you let go of the idea of who you thought you were, you might feel a sense of pain, of loss. This is an essential part of the journey. There is attachment to that identity because it has been so deeply ingrained in our psyche. And this identity, this conditioned self, using its self-destructive desires, keeps you in a loop and keeps using the desire in a destructive manner. All our shame and guilt and issues around intimacy, issues around addiction, is all unresolved energy. So it becomes important to be become aware of these self-imposed limitations which arise from our conditioning that we have received in our linear history. Anand Mehrotra 

The ego resists the thought that there is no I. Me. Mine. That I am a beautiful, but ultimately temporary expression, an individualised expression, of this great, cosmic energy.

This call isn’t gentle for most of us, it isn’t smooth and it involves a lot of letting go, a lot of surrendering. For me, because I’m so stubborn and I fight it at every turn, a lot of that surrendering has been, you know, curled up in fetal position crying snot-tears because I’m hanging on to something that is not serving me, but I’m too scared to let it go.

I have been scared to walk into the eye of the storm. But at the end of the day the call is strong enough that my fears do not crumble, so much, as they are just not enough to stop me.

As you look back, you see it was just FEAR, false evidence appearing real, and you will walk through the fear and realise that it was a Wizard of Oz type illusion. Not a great power at all, just a scared little ego with a big, booming sound machine.

******

As I iron my freshly washed India pants, I ponder all the differences being ‘home.’ In India, I wore these pants straight off the street, caked in a layer of street dust. They still smell a little of that, under that fresh clean smell.

The lighting is different here, the florescent lighting and airless buildings make me dizzy, there’s less dirt and sun in everything. Things are quieter, cleaner, more contained. It’s not bad, just different.

I’m practicing what Anandji would teach, to just observe without judging or assessing the situation as good or bad. It’s a beautiful practice that gently disciplines the mind away from discontent and towards curiosity.

“Just stay with the practice,” Anandji would say.

Wherever I go there I am. I am the path, and the path is me.

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

Hari Om Tat Sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Christina

For more on Kriya Yoga
https://woodford.yoga/blog/2018/6/9/what-is-kriya

For more about Sattva Yoga
https://sattvayogaacademy.com/

For you

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make sense. Rumi

This is not a regular blog post.

This is for my friend, my love who passed away this week.

Why am I posting it here? I suppose because this blog has always been the way I process things in my life.

I was writing another post, but it felt wrong somehow to just slide this in there, amongst all my navel gazing. So this is just for him.

We met when I was 18, we were both 18, and lived together for four years. Even amongst all the craziness of those years, he was the sweetest man I have even been with.

I hadn’t seen him for a very long time, but I guess I always just thought I would again, sometime. Like so many people from that time of my life, they hold such a special place in my heart that even after years of not seeing them, the connection is still so strong.

That said, nothing could have prepared me for how devastated I feel. Both sadness and probably a sense of guilt that I could have done more somehow.

But that’s life, it rolls on and we move with it, just always thinking there’s more time. But I like to think somewhere in a parallel universe that he got clean and moved to the country and had his own studio and maybe a family and was as happy as such a sweet soul deserved to be.

******

How I wish I could crawl back into bed with you, in 1992. Just for a little while. Knowing what I know now.

No one has ever loved me like you did. Made me feel so safe and held. You fixed everything for me. Remember that time my knee got caught in the doona and dislocated and you just popped it back in, like it was nothing. It still aches sometimes, reminds me of you.

You always held my hand, but never held me back. You had my back.

We were young and silly then. We took too many drugs and drank too much. We got in trouble. We thought life was long.

And yet. With many years experience and hindsight, I realise you and I were like an old couple. We loved sitting up in bed, talking, laughing, it used to drive our housemates bonkers. How well we got along. We were friends above all. Companions. How I long for that comfortability with someone now.

We enjoyed the comfortable silences, you drawing, me writing. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t very silent, you’d draw and listen to me prattle on. I have often thought you were a natural yogi, so calm, so gentle, so present with people.

Remember the night we met? At the Duke of Windsor. The pub shut early because it was Anzac Day, so we all went back to my place. As you leant over to kiss me, a stereo speaker fell off the bookshelf and hit your head. We often joked that it was not that you’d fallen for me as much as had the sense knocked out of you. 

I hadn’t seen you for the longest time. I guess like many people from that time of my life I just assumed the revolving door would swing around and one day you’d be there again. And although I knew you had a special place in my heart, I didn’t know how very large it was until I got that call, and our friend told me I’d better sit down.

It was like a trapdoor opened up inside me and all those years came pouring out. The most beautiful memories. That smile. The way you looked at me like I was the best thing you’d ever seen in your life. The way I had to stand on tippy-toes to kiss you. The way your long arms almost wrapped around me twice.

The most banal memories.

Like how I would spend two hours spiking your hair and mohawk, and your friend’s mohawks… And then after five minutes of me getting ready you’d all be hassling me to hurry up, like “C’mon, Nini (my pet name) we’ll miss the gig…”

I hope there is a photo somewhere of your hair in all its glory. At one stage you had a mohawk and spiky cones along each side. You were about seven foot tall with your hair up.  Spikes in your hair and spikes on your jacket but always so cuddly with me, I was forever being spiked.

Do you remember how we made you write a ‘poo chart’ on the toilet wall? So that, if any of us were actually interested (we weren’t), we could read about your bowel movements, instead of the daily recount that turned our hungover stomachs inside out.

Geez. You loved a good bowel movement.

You weren’t a musician, although your friends tried to force you to drum in their band, you always looked like you would rather be standing in the crowd, with your arms around me.

You were an artist though. So prolific. You drew all the time, it was your meditation, your passion. That’s how I remember you, cross-legged on the floor hunched over a drawing pad, bleached hair flopping over your eyes. I wish I had something of yours.

I don’t even have the photos. I left them behind with everything else as I ran for my life from that sweet-talker I left you for…

And here it really hurts. Because there’s been so many times over the years where I wanted to tell you how I know what an fucking idiot I was. And how selfish, and how could I have hurt you like that?

I don’t think I was running away from you so much as the whole scene at Baker St and the grief.

People who came and stayed often thought Baker St was a squat. It wasn’t, but it was an easy mistake to make. There were five of us who paid rent on the sprawling Richmond house. You and I shared a room, and then there were three other guys who lived there. It was a house with lots of nooks and crannies and a giant living room.

On any given night, or day for that matter as time is pretty relative in the punk-rock lifestyle, there were bodies curled up everywhere. I would have to tip-toe my way through overlapping limbs to get to the kitchen. After a while I didn’t bother. The kitchen and bathroom were both feral. If you have ever seen the Australian movie Dogs in Space, you get a pretty close idea.

It was fun at first, always something happening, plenty going around to imbibe. But it was unsustainable for me. I needed space and quiet. And there was none to be had.

I have only recently fully understood that you can’t fix your messy insides with a new relationship or by moving somewhere else. Back then I sought any escape from pain.

Mother I feel you under my feet.

Father I hear your heartbeat within me.

My spirit flies free.

Carry me home. Akaal.

I wrote you a letter once, after I got clean. I don’t know if you ever read it, I never heard from you again. I think I thought staying away was a safe way to not cause you any more pain. And in the early days I was protecting my fragile new life. I regret that decision now.

I am sad. And I am ashamed of the silly girl I was, and how carelessly I threw away your love.

I just always thought I would see you again. You would be a greying artist, living in a simple shack in the country, you never needed much. Just a studio and your animals, or maybe you had a family. Either way you were content.

We would sit on your verandah with a cup of tea. You, being you, would see in my eyes that I was still torturing myself for all the things I had, and had not, done. All the things you had long forgiven and forgotten. You would look at me with those kind grey-green eyes and say “It’s okay Nini, let it go. It’s ancient history.”

And just like that we’d be friends again. As if we ever weren’t.

But you’re gone. So that’s never going to happen now. So I have to tell you all the things I am sorry for and you’ll just have to roll your eyes at me from heaven. Because that’s where you’re going, no matter what you think, because there has never been a sweeter soul than you.

I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate you more. I was young and full of delusional romantic fantasies about Heathcliff and Darcy. It’s that sad old story, you were too kind and good to me, at a time in my life when I didn’t value that. I wanted high drama and angst, and boy did I get it. I appreciate you now, you were everything I would wish for in a partner.

I am sorry that after we saw our friend die I didn’t know how to be there for you. I was so used to you being there for me, being stoic and solid, I didn’t know what to do when you fell apart. I know now we were traumatised, and all needed serious help, the type that is not found at the end of a bottle or needle or bong. But you do what you know.

I’m sorry that in the last few weeks, when you were so on my mind, I didn’t try to find you. I’m not saying I could have changed anything, I am not that arrogant, but I am sorry I didn’t listen to that intuitive knock on the door of my consciousness.

One of my dear friends told me that he is sure that I still held a special place in your heart. I hope so, and I hope that you remembered me fondly and laughed at my silliness, because hell knows there was plenty of it, and that you smiled as you reflected on the good times we had. And I don’t mean the slam-dance parties and gigs, and the stupid pranks, I mean the Sunday mornings spread out on the floor, or in the garden at Stradbroke Avenue, talking, drawing, reading, writing, laughing, and of course, kissing.

I have to trust how things are. Maybe you just couldn’t dig yourself out of that hole, and you’re at peace now. So many people are seeing you in light. I know that’s where you’re going, and I know she’s come to take you there, so you won’t feel alone.

Goodbye Lachy my love, Godspeed x

Karma karma karma chameleon

Screenshot_20171118-101709

Life has its own essential nature outside of your own preferences. Anand Mehrotra

I often look at people I know on social media, people I have met at various spiritual courses, who live these seemingly charmed lives flitting from one exotic locale to another, islands off Thailand and Indonesia, ashrams in India, mountain villages in Peru… And I wonder how I ended up with my life.

When I first started seriously meditating, committing to a daily practice, it was because I had read Buddhism for Mothers, by Sarah Napthali, and I wanted to be a more serene, mindful mum, with three young boys, *snort* yeah right.

My morning ‘silent’ meditation would begin with me seated peacefully on my beautiful meditation cushion, all quiet in the house and slowly, one by one, I would have a toddler climbing all over me, then a seven and eight year old giving each other shoulder punches and fighting over the TV remote.

The author of the book suggested making all this part of my mindfulness practice, letting the sounds (read noise and fighting) be part of my practice. Just keep breathing, keep still, which is possible up to a point, usually the point where the 14 month-old is trying to ride his trike head-first off the coffee table.

Flash forward fifteen years and I am still working, parenting, juggling commitments and responsibilities, and still trying to make a place in my life for my yoga and meditation practice. In the last few years, I have been blessed with two lots of three week stints in Bali and India, where I have been able to live that exotic life I see on social media, if only temporarily.

In the tantric system they feel, they believe, the mind is not something against which you should start a war. It is in this context that tantra developed a system by which you didn’t have to worry much about the fluctuating tendencies of the mind. You just went on with your tantric or yogic practices and found that, through certain techniques, the mind became quieter and exhausted all its potentialities. This set of methods is known as kriya yoga, the basis of which is tantra. Swami Satyananda Saraswati

swadhisthana___2011_by_karmym-d4fiovk

Part of me has always thought that my ‘real’ yogic life would start once I was free of these responsibilities, free to run off to an ashram in India and immerse myself 24/7. So I have been really interested to discover that the yogic Tantra path, was originally called ‘The Householder’s Path.’ The whole point of it being that you didn’t need to renounce the world and meditate 12 hours a day to be a yogi. You could have a life and a spiritual practice. In fact, for most people, given the relative importance of the continuation of the species, mixing work, family and yoga was a valid option.

And it occurred to me that while my life is not as glamorous as the jet setting yogis I see, it may be more helpful as a power of example. I mean most people are not in a position to live a gypsy existence, they have jobs and families and by the time they wake up to the feeling that some crucial part of themselves has been neglected, and they start looking for way to enliven their spirit again, well it is just not feasible to run off to India for a year, much as they might wish to.

So as I come to the end of another year, a time of reflection and planning for the year to come, as I embark on more yogic studies, I find myself asking, to what end? I know I have a burning desire for the kind of self-mastery and freedom from the bondage of the monkey-mind that these practices bring me, but do I have anything to offer others?

It is not our natural state to be constantly focused on our own thought-stream, and obsessed with our own story, and our achievements. Rather our natural state is to be open, expanded and aware of the full beauty of life unfolding moment by moment. Where your own personal biography is just a thread in an incredible tapestry of awareness. To open up to the whole of our experience and to sense the sacredness that is present all the time, everywhere just waiting to be sensed. Christopher Hareesh Wallis

YogiBhajanYogaPostures_8

And I realise that yes, what I have is my experience. Which is how to incorporate these hugely effective spiritual practices into our lives, while still living in the real world. Jobs, families, financial responsibilities, these are things that most of us must live with. But that doesn’t exclude us from a spiritual life.

A spiritual life is an ‘inside job,’ it doesn’t require a certain locale. Just a commitment. There are ways to develop self-mastery while changing nappies, paying a mortgage, and meeting deadlines at work. So I got to thinking, this is what I can do, offer these amazing techniques to people so they can fit them into their lives, not have disrupt their lives or wait until they get a decent stretch of ‘me-time.’

When the yoga Tantra tradition was emerging, it came from a backlash to traditional Brahmanism, where only a certain caste of holy men, Brahmins, could engage in spiritual practices. Other people could worship but to access the tools of meditation and deeper practices, one had to be a renunciate. Tantra brought practices to the people, so that anyone with a desire for self-mastery and enough intelligence and self-discipline to apply themselves to the teachings could participate.

Another difference between Tantra and classical yoga is Tantra’s body-positive view. Since the body exists in the material world, the classical viewpoint was that it is inferior to the transcendental Self or spirit. Tantra views the body as a manifestation of spirit. By purifying and strengthening the body through asana and by balancing and uniting the universe of opposites within our body, it becomes our vehicle for ending suffering and attaining liberation.

This means we can practise anywhere that our body is present. Like the author of Buddhism for Mothers was trying to tell me all those years ago, our spiritual practice begins where we are. The only equpiment we need is our own body, our breath, our awareness.

The most important practice us the one you do in your aloneness. As you go into your own sadhana, the world starts to fade, and what starts to happen in you is the celestial glow of self starts to get established. And it is of paramount importance that we really cultivate this self-practice. Anand Mehrotra

buddha___2011_by_karmym-d4e0g9v

Why did Tantra come about in the first place?

Yoga scholars believe it was a response to a period of spiritual decline, also known as Kali Yuga, or the Dark Age, a period governed by greed, dishonesty, physical and emotional illness, attachment to worldly things, and complacency.

Tantra’s comprehensive array of practices, which include asana (poses) and pranayama (controlled breathing) as well as mantra (chanting), pujas (deity worship), kriyas (cleansing practices), mudras (seals), and mandalas and yantras (circular or geometric patterns used to develop concentration), provides the powerful measures needed to counteract the many obstacles to spiritual liberation in the modern age.

Yoga is powerful. Realise yoga is not a path for the weak. It is for you to overcome your self-imposed limitations. Anand Mehrotra

I want spiritual liberation. Who wouldn’t? I have had profound mystical experiences but they have not been lasting. What I have wanted is not an experience but a total transformation, an inner rearrangement that weaves through my life. So there is no boundary between the me that is meditating and doing yoga and the me that is driving, working, parenting.

For me I want to be free of the tyranny of my thinking. Obsessive thoughts about my love. Where is he? Who is he with? Does he think of me? Obsessive fears for my son. Worrying about his future, worrying I havent parented him well. Obsessive negativity about myself, my body, my life, aging, what am I meant to be doing? It just goes on and on, round and around like a broken record. It wears me out and gets me nowhere.

This is karma. Being trapped in a loop of self-obsessive, fearful thinking. Thinking based on the past. Thinking that can only produce more of the same. All that can ever arise from this state is more of the same conditions. As Einstein said, we can’t solve the problem with the thinking that created it. We can’t think ourself into right thinking, action has to proceed thought, that’s what yoga, true yoga not just the bendy poses, is for.

Enlightenment is not a static, utopic state. It is a consistent journey with greater and greater degrees of awareness. With really no end. For why are we interested in an end? Only when we are in suffering in life, when we are in conflict with ourself, with life, are we looking for an end where ‘this’ doesn’t exist. You are still using life as a waiting room. So the very thing you are looking for is keeping you from that which you are looking for. Anand Mehrotra

yoga-art-6

In my recent yogic studies with Anand Mehrotra, I was reintroduced to the concept of karma, I say re-introduced because it was apparent that I had previously misunderstood the term.

The concept of karma has long been misunderstood in the West as a kind of universal law of returns, the golden rule in reverse. What you do, comes back to you. I really like how my teacher Anand Mehrotra frames karma and dharma.

Karma is both a state of will from which we act, the actions we take from this state of ego, and the results of those actions. So when we are stuck in our ego mind, our so-called rational mind, we must draw upon memory, upon past experiences to make choices on how to act or react to life.

Karma is an identity based on conditioned memory, the cause of our state of consciousness is based on the actions of the past and the effect is how we perceive ourself now. Karma is a state of consciousness from which any action is karmic in nature, that is producing actions that are more of the same. Giving birth to further karma. In this limited awareness we experience life as a conflict, trapped in a mental narrative of separation and suffering.

It is said that humans have around 80,000 thoughts a day, and most of those thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday and will have again tomorrow. So it’s a very limited field of intelligence we are working with here. Yes, we can read books and learn, but we are always seeing life through this filter of the small ‘me’ with our various experiences and prejudices.

Reality validates the nervous system from which it is observing this reality. Reality will manifest only as consciousness, as our nervous system, as our sensory awareness will allow. Because reality is infinite it can show up in the perception of the experiencer. Anand Mehrotra

6acd946a2cd1833b4790eb2111987532--yoga-painting-meditation-painting

The role of yoga, and in particular kriyas – powerful cleansing practices – is to break out of this limitations of the small self and to begin to access the infinite intelligence of the creative life force that flows through all life. When we think, feel and act from this intelligence we can live in dharma, the path of our highest self, the path that the ever-intelligent nature of life intends for us.

This is our natural state of being, not to be trapped in a limited sense of self separated from the nature of reality, but to be aware of our self as an integral part of nature, of the totality of existence.

To move from karma to dharma, our higher purpose, we must use a technique to break through karma. This is the purpose of yoga. Yoga practice allows us to move towards a more unified consciousness, an expanded sense of self. Where our experience of life profoundly shifts, as we become more aligned to the state of nature.

Anand Mehrotra describes kriya as “an action that is helping you evolve and transcend. Focusing your attention on certain centres along your spine and moving your energy to help you get to a meditative state.”

Dharma is really not about what to do, what is the ‘right’ action, what will make me feel good, or what is my ‘purpose.’

When we seek that out from a desire for security and self-esteem, we are still in karma, no matter how good our intentions may be.

Through yoga and meditation practice, our nervous system and our mind settle into a less excited state. We settle into the field of eternal silence, which is wordless and concept-less. Here we transcend our false identity, into a state of consciousness not dominated by ego or victim consciousness, to a state where life is happening for us and though us, this is dharma. Actions arising out of dharma will be effortlessly aligned with the greater evolutionary flow of life.

When you are in karma, your identity is isolated, locked in, separate from the whole. Dominated by ego, still experiencing life as happening to you, experiencing a sense of victimhood, limited by every experience you have. Or even the desire for experiences you want to have, they all function in limiting your sense of self and creating a sense of isolation. That is why when you look at humans beings, whatever it is they get, somehow they find a way to suffer with it. Anand Mehrotra

yinyang___2010_by_karmym-d2ttyaa

For much of my life I have been a chameleon of sorts. Searching desperately for the ‘real’ me, I tried on continuous parade of personas.

In my teenage years I was a hippie 60s fanatic, then a goth, a punk, and a weird hybrid of them all. As a young mother, I softened my look to blend with the other mothers. I never felt truly comfortable in any of these guises.

In my mid-late twenties my search went within, experimenting with wicca, and New Age Spirituality. I became a fairly regular meditator. After my divorce I discovered yoga, druidry, shamanism and Chakradance.

While all of these practices have revealed aspects of me to me, there always came a point where I felt like an imposter or a failure. I wasn’t serene enough, or bendy enough, or New Agey enough.

Each time I found a new practice I thought I had found the key to unlocking this neverending sense of longing and searching. At some point I would be confronted with the reality that I was still me. Still flawed, essentially unchanged.

Attachment and detachment, nervous welfare, nervous imbalance, nervous breakdown, everything is subject to the state of human consciousness. The moment you change your consciousness, everything is gone. All of these things are experiences, they are not permanent realities. Swami Satyananda Saraswati

kundalini-766x1024

All these years, each time I thought I had found my dharma, my true path, I had just found a new guise for my karma chameleon. Not because of any flaw in those practices, on the contrary they have all brought me to this point, but rather because of my expectations of them. Of what they would do for me. Because I was still trying to find myself, find some self-image, something about myself I could love.

In some way, I was still that young girl trying to abandon and escape from myself. Yoga and meditation, dance and energy work have always brought me home to myself through my body. Yet, there was the split between the ‘spiritual me’ practicing yoga or Chakradance, and the ‘real me’ out in the world, getting pent up and frustrated, trying to control everything.

I have been a karma chameleon, I have tried on many skins in an attempt to transform myself. But lasting change has to be more than skin deep.

Much of my karmic patterns seem to revolve around looking externally for validation, especially from other people. What I keep being brought back to, through Chakradance and through yoga, is how essential it is to be self-sufficient. To be able to get everything we need from our own vital energy and connection to the greater flow of energy, the divine source. Anand says those who cannot generate their vital energy are weak. My weakness has always been this tendency to look without instead of within for my source of strength, power and love.

Yoga has always been a great training for my mind, but the yoga Anand teaches transcends all thought and goes straight to the innate inner intelligence that is bound to all intelligence, to all life. The practices are instantly revolutionary, they bring immediate effect on the energy body and over time, transform consciousness in a way that would not be achievable in a lifetime by many other means.

The spine and the brain are the altars of God. That’s where the electricity of God flows down into the nervous system into the world. The searchlights of your senses are turned outward. But when you will reverse the searchlights through kriya yoga and be concentrated in the spine you will… charge the body with the life current from universe. Paramahansa Yogananda

flat,1000x1000,075,f.u3

Anand’s practice, called Sattva yoga seems to be helping me see the difference between my unhealthy desires, my attempts to control and manipulate people, places and things to suit my needs. While I have seen this before, I never had a solution that seemed to work at this level of my inner programming.

I find these practices really exciting because they utilise the chakras. This means Sattva yoga is an complimentary extension of my Chakradance practice, and my other subtle energy work. I am also seeing very profound before and after effects of doing the kriyas. From feeling anxious depressed and lethargic to a total flush-out of energy – being filled up with fresh prana, or life-force, feeling switched on, optimistic, calm and energised.

Pranayama, life-force control via our breathing, essentially brings us back to the emptiness from which all beingness arises. When we hold our breath, we play with that nexus between being alive in a body, and alive in spirit. Holding our breath pushes our ego self to it’s limits, what could be more challenging to the ego than the hint of non-survival that cessation of breath suggests?

The Kriya technique emphasizes the relationship between breath and mind. Breath influences the mind and vice versa. This reciprocal relationship reveals the secret of controlling the mind. Breath control is self  control. Breath mastery is self-mastery. Sally Kempton

realization___2011_by_karmym-d4e3kn0

The renunciates, and the spiritual gypsies, who take these practices across the world have an important dharma. But so do those of us trudging the householder path. It doesn’t matter what our dharma is, only that we find a way to live it.

Acting from karma produces a Groundhog Day existence, where every day is more of the same. Where our actions, based on our limited awareness and obsession with our own desires, bring unhappiness to ourselves and those in relationship to us.

Disciplined action is required to break through karma, through a commitment to awaken our vital life force, to be free of attachment to selfish desires, we can move into a life where we live in alignment with the source of life, where we live from our true heart’s desires, in union with life and manifesting our dharma into the world.

I have been trying so hard to get somewhere, to be someone, to have someone, to find my purpose. To look a certain way, to feel a certain way. This year my intention is to let that shit go. It’s exhausting!

Instead to just be disciplined in my practice, but to then let life unfold. To just live. To enjoy the ride. See what happens. How free would that be?

Action sets us on the right trajectory but then we have to be open to what life is bringing us, open to pure receiving. Yoga literally means to “yoke” ourselves to what is, the is-ness of is-ness as the gurus say. This requires an enormous surrender and allowing everything to be just as it is. Letting go of our agendas, our attachments and softening our edges. No longer wasting our precious life force trying to bend life to our petty plans and designs.

deep_consonance_digital___2015_by_karmym-d8ceu73

All action that arises from a divine state of consciousness is dharma… You have no purpose. Just be quiet for a while. Anand Mehrotra

Blessings of the New Year to you all!

Hari Om Tat Sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Christina

Art by karmym.deviantart.com/art/

Sattva Yoga www.sattvayoga.com

The grit that makes the pearl

Maybe enlightenment was just the booby prize. The thing you went after when what you really wanted didn’t work out. Anne Cushman

Why is life hard? Why don’t we get want we want? And when we do get what we want why does it so quickly become unsatisfactory and we start wanting something else?

I guess that’s the quandary for anyone who has ever investigated the spiritual side of life or ever asked themselves the ‘big questions’ or contemplated life to any degree.

Because, in my experience, we often ask those questions when the going gets tough. Curled up in foetal position. Wailing, “Whhhhyyyyyy?” Or even if you haven’t gone to that extreme. (Me neither, I was only asking for a friend…)

If we are these spiritual beings, made manifest in physical form, why is life so fucking hard sometimes? Why not make it easy? Why not just be these floaty, peaceful people, you know, being at one with everything? Wearing fabulous boho-chic clothes. Meditating and doing yoga, radiating peace and swapping organic vegetables. Raising our children with perfect patience and grace. If that’s our true nature, why do we struggle so?

I’m not going to answer that question, one, because it’s silly, two, because I’m not an enlightened one – and there are many beautiful texts written on the matter which would do far greater justice to it than I ever could. (I mean in regards to the meaning of life, not the boho-chic, floaty people.) And mostly because I don’t know.

I guess the thing is, even those great spiritual texts don’t have all the answers. Not one everyone can agree to anyway…

But what they all tend to point to, is that there is something in the nature of this physical reality, this physical incarnation, that is in itself part of the spiritual evolution of a human being.

The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials. Seneca

I was reading about pearls, because the idea just kept popping up, and the analogy of how a pearl is formed seemed particularly apt for me.

A pearl is formed as a reaction to the irritation caused by grit, like a piece of sand getting into the oyster’s shell, and in order to stop the rubbing, the irritation of this grit, the oyster starts to deposit this pearl substance, as a buffer around the source of irritation, and this creates a pearl.

A pearl is one of the most beautiful and highly prized jewels of nature, but it comes from agitation. From the agitation of the grit, that gets into the oyster, and irritates it enough to deposit pearl stuff around it in a ball.

In a similar way,  many cultures use the analogy of the lotus, the lotus that grows out of the mud. It grows its way up through the mud, through the water, through the murky depths, to become this exquisite flower, that is magnificent once it blooms.

In this analogy, as human beings we are in the mud. Right? We are incarnated into these dense, heavy three dimensional forms, and yet, there is something inherent in us that wants to get in touch with another aspect of our being. You can call that what you like spirit, the soul, the essence, self-realisation, whatever it might be. But it’s not a physical thing, it’s not a tangible thing.

A lot of what is most beautiful about the world arises from struggle. Malcolm Gladwell

Often what pushes people into wanting this relationship with the intangible thing, and what deepens this relationship once they are in it, is this sense of irritation or agitation, so the grit that makes the pearl.

There seems to be a belief in many New Age Spirituality circles, that we are all born with spiritual gifts that our modern life has blocked us off from, and if we just do some yoga or breathing or bang a drum or take some weekend courses, we can tap into this inner bliss and live in ecstasy, like, always and forever.

Now, while this idea is extremely appealing, and I like many, have fallen under its spell at times. It seems to me that whatever spiritual path we choose, the only lasting results – that will actually bring about the kind of inner transformation that won’t collapse under the pressures in day to day life, once we return from the bliss of our retreat in Bali – come from commitment, discipline and years of practice. The degree of self-mastery required is a lot of work.

I know, it’s not the best marketing pitch. You can see why “Seven Days to Complete Transformation” sells better.

We can embody the essential teachings of yoga and have a life that is full of divinity. The yogic path is to help us explore and embody that divine nature. But we can only experience this dependent on our own capacity. Have we corrected our intellect? Have we refined our understanding of life? And are we in tune with the value of truth? Only the one who has mastered themself can live a life truly worth living. Otherwise it is a struggle. Anand Mehotra

Recently I disovered an Italian writer called Julius Evola, who wrote very well and extensively about Eastern esoteric paths and all kinds of spiritual practices. He is very much out of favour because of his political beliefs, but he was an amazing scholar.

There’s a wonderful story about why he wrote about Buddhism in the first place. He believed that a Buddhist text that he came across after World War I, when he was suicidal, had saved his life. And to repay this debt, in gratitude, he used this text to write his book about Buddhism, The Doctrine of Awakening.

The text Julius read was a translation of the Theravadan (Tibetan Buddhist) text Majjhima Nikaya. Reading this inspired a deepening interest in Eastern spirituality, especially in techniques that strengthen the will, foster the power of concentration, and promote mastery over thoughts.

Evola believed that the translation of ‘dukkha’ as suffering, one of the most pivotal concepts in Buddhism, is a bit of a mistranslation. To his mind, a closer translation would be ‘agitation.’ It’s not suffering per se, in the sense of a great pain we must bear, although it can be for some. For many of us though, is the relentless monotony of desire and disappointment, the myriad of small and sometimes petty ways that life does not go the way we want it to. It is the agitation of rubbing up against the unsatisfactory nature of life that propels us into action.

We suffer because we cannot accept the true nature of life, of being. And this is the source of our irritation and agitation. We suffer because we are attached to the outcomes of our desires, which inevitably fail to satisfy, even when we get what we think we want.

The grit that makes the pearl.

Life isn’t easy-going. There’s sand in the sea, and it’s going to get into the oyster shell and be an irritation. Physical life, the body with all its groans and complaints, the mind and all its dissatisfactions, these are the grit of life. There’s no bypassing it, So where are our pearl-making abilities?

We look at it as something complex, as something far-fetched, to live a life of enlightenment, a life of brilliance. It’s not for us, it’s for somebody else. But at the core of our being we are looking for this, we are looking to have the most expansive experience of life. Anand Mehotra

I think I am still looking for the great insight, the one that changes everything. A magic bullet. Consciously I know that is silly and it doesn’t work like that, but subconsciously? Yeah. I still want quick and easy. I see how this belief sets me up for disappointment.

For the last six months, I have had a daily yoga (asana) practice. Before that I was practising probably five or six times a week, but there is a shift that happens when we commit to doing something every day, no matter what. It’s the discipline of practising regardless of how we feel about it.

Some days we battle against it, some days it is effortless. But if we do the practice regardless, we see that over time how we felt about it on any given day is actually irrelevant. It is the fact that we did the practice that counts. For me, this daily discipline saw me through a particularly lengthy and dark depression that lingered for months. I was proud of myself that I stuck with it.

And it was a reprieve. Anyone who has practised yoga over a long period of time will understand the psychological respite that we can feel even by rolling out and lying down on our mat. It’s that knowing that for the next hour or so there is no need for thought beyond this little space: the mat, the body, the breath.

During this dark phase, I found myself feeling very disengaged from my practices. There were many tearful moments where I literally begged for the will to go on. It all sounds rather melodramatic, but let’s face it, depression is an absolute fucker. It saps all your energy, any enthusiasm, any desire for connection or engagement. And when it just goes on and on like that… I was seriously struggling.

Into this gloom came an email from my dear friend Tanya Allison, who I met in India last year. Tanya was on her way to honour the Hindu goddess Durga at an ashram in India during Navaratri. Navaratri is the nine day festival that honours the various forms of Durga, the fierce mother goddess of the Hindu pantheon. Tanya was offering a daily online sadhana (practice) for the festival. The first three days honouring Kali, the next three Lakshmi and the final three Saraswati.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that. Joko Beck

So I devoted my altar to Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, and Sarawati and began a daily practice of mantra, offerings and prayers to the goddess. A few days in, when we had moved onto Lakshmi, I took a long walk by the river.

During bouts of depression I often find myself unable to sit and read or do any of the things I normally enjoy, walking is a way I can get out of the house and it seems to settle me. Being in nature, particularly water, is always soothing to me.

I found myself missing India at this time, longing to be there. I have written before about the deep sense of connection I felt in Rishikesh, being beside the river Ganga. Especially the experience I had of being in her waters.

The power of this experience was not so much what Ganga Ma (the Ganges river as shakti or goddess) gave me or even took away, though both were palpable. It was the sense of being held in her unconditional, maternal love. I was seen completely, nothing was hidden, and yet everything was perfect.

I know what you are thinking. This is a river we are talking about, yes? For now, let’s just say you had to be there… (I wrote about the experience in this post…)

How could it be? Whatever power flowed through her, flowed through everything. I felt deeply, completely, unconditionally held and nourished in her grace. Loved and supported to a degree I had never known possible before.

I had glimpses of this all-encompassing divine love before, but this experience was overwhelming, it washed over and through me as her waters held me. In that moment, I came home to myself. I felt at home, fully embodied in my body, in the world. Like for the first time I actually belonged in the scheme of life. I wasn’t a phoney or an imposter or a failure. I wasn’t even trying to be anything, I just was a part of everything. I know it sounds wild, but that’s exactly how it was.

Everywhere one goes in India, one finds a living landscape in which mountains, rivers, forests and villages are elaborately linked to the stories of the gods and heroes. The land bears the traces of the gods and the footprints of the heroes. Diane L Eck

Now as I gazed at the Yarra River, feeling so very far from that state of grace, I played a video of the view from my room in Rishikesh, the 13-storey Tryambakeshwar Temple overlooking the Ganges, the chanting from the temple audible. In this way I could tap into that experience.

I sat by the river chanting the Gayatri mantra. I had a sense that I was simultaneously meditating by the Yarra river, but tuned in to the Ganga, into that divine maternal energy.

Maybe it was a trick of the light, my mind misfiring, I don’t know, so I will just describe the experience as it came to me.

As I played videos of the Ganges at Rishikesh, with the chanting from Tryambakeshwar temple in the background. I felt into that first experience of great Mother shakti love, of Ganga Ma. My heart expressed a longing to feel that grace and love again.

The sun was shining a great orb on the river’s surface. And there she was, all light and golden grace. Shri Lakshmi.

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. John Steinbeck

So before we all get too carried away that Goddess Lakshmi herself appeared to me, hovering over the Yarra River. I would like to add that what I saw was an orb of light, what I felt was a presence of power.

In the Tantric tradition shakti (or feminine power) is the force that creates and animates all life. There’s shakti in you, in me, in the sky, in the river.

I felt it inside of me and I experienced it outside of me. So what I experienced, to my mind was a connection with shakti. Because it was such a lovely, beautiful, uplifting golden energy, because I had been honouring Lakshmi in daily practice, I am happy to call this shakti shri.

Lakshmi, or shri in her ancient name, is the truly delicious aspect of shakti. She has 108 names which all mean beauty, wealth, abundance and worth. Lakshmi is said to be one of the most accessible deities, as connected as she is to worldly desires.

According to legend, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Vishnu’s wife, or shakti energy, visits her devotees and bestows gifts and blessings upon each of them.

Lakshmi is depicted as a beautiful woman with four hands, sitting or standing on a full-bloomed lotus and holding a lotus bud, which stands for beauty, purity and fertility. Her four hands represent the four ends of human life: “dharma” or righteousness, “kama” or desires, “artha” or wealth, and “moksha” or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

She is often represented as sitting on a lotus flower. The lotus’ unfolding petals suggest the expansion of the soul. The growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise. Particularly Brahma and Lakshmi, the divinities of potency and wealth, have the lotus symbol associated with them.

Of course as the intensity of this experience faded, I fell back into my dark mood, but there was a spark of something. I had connected with shakti, that power, and so I committed to 21 days of Lakshmi Pūjā, a daily practice of chanting, burning incense and candles and offering flowers and food to the goddess. 21 days has just become every day now.

It is from the intention of self-mastery that yoga arised. It was the desire to find a meaning for life. The base of the yogic teachings is the exploration of the meaning of life. Through exploration the early yogis realised that this is only possible through a level of self-mastery. Otherwise we are like a weak twig in the storm of life trying to hold on for dear life. We fight the very process of life. Anand Mehotra

Over this time of daily yoga, pūjā, chanting and prayers to the Hindu goddesses, my depression has shifted, my voracious appetite for reading has returned and I am devouring books on Tantra and Yoga.

There is copious evidence of the use of mantras and chanting to relieve depression, anxiety and to focus the mind. So much evidence I will need to devote an entire blog post to it.

What has become apparent is that whether you engage in these practices in a devotional way, as I tend to do, or in a very practical way, they are a system of self-mastery.

The word pūjā comes from Sanskrit, and means reverence, honour, homage, adoration, and worship.

This can be simple, a candle, a flower, some chanting of divine mantras. For me, creating a dedicated altar is important. It is both an act of devotion and a visual doorway to connection with the divine.

I feel the inner shift when I kneel before my altar, light the candle and ring the bell. My altar is also a reminder.  Have I prayed today?

Chameli Ardagh, who runs online Sadhanas (practice) to honour various goddesses puts it beautifully.

First create your altar. On the days you feel inspired, you will infuse the altar with your willingness and attention. On the days you feel resistant, busy, or disconnected from your practice, the altar can be your anchor to a deeper truth. It will remind you why you embarked on this journey. It will root you in your commitment to embodied awakening. Chameli Ardagh

Tanya’s emails provided a sadhana to connect me with intention of Navaratri, a daily practice of connecting with goddess or shakti. Tanya who I met in India. Who shared a blessed moment with me in the waters of Ganga Ma.

And I feel all this is connected. That intention I cast, like a red thread that brought me to India, to Diwali, the festival of Lakshmi worship, to these women. That thread continues to guide me.

I am guided, yet so blind and stubborn that I suffer too much to see. And still in the darkness, grace found me.

We don’t know what we do, the light we carry to others. We just seek connection to our divinity, and when we find it share it with others so they can find it too. We don’t know if they do or how profound a simple email or message can be.

So I had my breakthrough, I had another experience that at some deep level I am of value. I have worth. I am surrounded by grace. But what’s the real rub?

Sometimes, in fact much of the time, I won’t feel it. I won’t be walking around in a constant bliss state, overflowing with shakti. The world and all its agitations will continue to deplete me, to rub away at my skin. But I can make my pearl.

How do we make the pearl? Do the practice. Be disciplined. The temple, the shakti is in you. It is you. And in everything. But you just get to deal with this little package of everything called you.

So this is what I tell myself. Get up and meditate – practise the yogic techniques that strengthen and energise my body and mind, foster my power of concentration, and provide mastery over my thoughts.

I don’t need to live in an ashram. I have been in an ashram, I know what they do. I just need to bring those practices in my daily life. Make my real life an ashram. Bring my practice into my world instead of escaping from the world.

Moving my body into different shapes [through yoga], I became a different person. Creating more space in my joints, I made more space in my mind as well. Twisting and bending and arching my body, I broke up the ice floes of self-judgment that had frozen in my muscles. I squeezed out the anxiety knotted between my shoulder blades. I melted the anger in the pit of my stomach into tears. Anne Cushman

img_4393

I realise this all sounds very far-fetched and magical, so let’s break it down.

Finding myself bogged down in the mud of depression, I committed to a daily discipline of practice. The yoga asanas are only a small part of the yogic path. Meditation, prayer, chanting, pranayama (breathing practices) and lifestyle are also vital. I am only just starting to understand the full scope and power of these yogic practices, when used correctly.

The yogic path that I follow is essentially about clearing the vessel (the body, mind, emotional state) in order to allow the shakti, the life force to flow. To be able to embody this force, this power in every aspect of living.

In the tantric tradition, this shakti is represented as goddesses. Each goddess bring an aspect of wisdom and divinity which is transmitted through dedicated practice.

I believe no prayer goes unanswered. A prayer is a devoted intention. A year ago I made a pilgrimage to Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga. I wanted to find a teacher.

When I arrived In Rishikesh – the most magical place on Earth. I stood on my balcony overlooking the Ganga (a life-long dream to be near her) and looked at the Tryambakeshwar Temple. I had the intention to find a place to practise yoga and as my eyes scanned the buildings opposite I saw the sign Sattva Yoga. I walked over the bridge and met Amy Love – a recent graduate from the Sattva Yoga Academy – and began practising daily with her.

She showed me a photo of Anand Mehotra, her teacher, who seemed absolutely luminous, and told me all about her wonderful experience learning yoga with him.

After coming through this latest depression, having attributed this to the yogic practices I had been so diligent in during that time, I felt a renewed passion to continue my yogic studies. But which teacher?

Nobody out there can do it for you. No teacher, no leader. It is only through self that the self can become realised. We have the radical responsibility for our own life. It is nobody’s fault. We have to realise for ourselves the great magnificence of this life. We have to embody the essential teachings of yoga so it is not just on the conceptual or emotional level. Anand Mehotra

I watched a fantastic series on the Yogic Paths on Gaia, which featured Anand Mehotra as one of the teachers. I found his words and his presence captivating, so I signed up to his newsletter and then two days later I was thrilled when the opportunity arose to study online with him.

Coincidence? Maybe. Synchronicity? Definitely.

Anand teaches that the yogic path is about exploring reality to see that we are an expression of nature, we are as much an expression of the divine and creative forces, the shiva and shakti, as the trees, as the rivers.

As this is the ever-creative, ever-expanding, ever-changing force of life we can either embody it, harness it, or face the struggle of trying to fight against it.

When we can master our mental chatter and allow this life force to animate us, we cease to suffer. Life will challenge us, yes, but we can meet those challenges as beings embodied with a creative and evolutionary force.

We can meet those challenges, not with disappointment and petulance, but as the grit that makes the pearl. Then we can grow, then we can master our limiting thoughts and behavioural patterns, to continually evolve as a human being. And surely that’s what life is all about.

I guess for me the real challenge is to let go of how it all looks. To put my faith in the practice, to develop the discipline to carry me through the dark times, the lonely times, the truly gritty times when I want to scream “Fuck this! It’s not working!”

It’s unlikely I will ever master the ‘floaty, serene yogini’ thing, so I will have to just accept the ‘gritty, imperfect and agitated but keeps practising anyway, and has a moment or two of spine-tingling grace every now and then’ thing.

Having loved enough and lost enough, I’m no longer searching just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain but trying to be a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land. These are the irritations that rub into a pearl. So we can talk for a while but then we must listen, the way rocks listen to the sea. and we can churn at all that goes wrong but then we must lay all distractions down and water every living seed. And yes, on nights like tonight I too feel alone. but seldom do I face it squarely enough to see that it’s a door into the endless breath that has no breather, into the surf that human shells call god. Mark Nepo

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.


Artwork by Elena Ray https://elenaray.photoshelter.com/index

Tanya Allison http://www.tanyaallison.com

Amy Love Yoga https://www.facebook.com/amyloveyoga/

Anand Mehotra/Sattva Yoga http://mysattva.com/

Letting go… and go… and go…

Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it. David Foster Wallace

Some days my life is measured in numbers. At work I negotiate in library card numbers, the Dewey decimal system, due dates, how much is it for 23 photocopies? The currency of the material world is numbers.

My mind is a whirring calculator “dit, dit, dit…” Not an efficient one, it has to be said, maths was never my strongpoint, I am more a word girl. Word Woman? Sounds like my kind of superhero.

At lunchtime I shop for groceries and keep a mental tally, budgeting as I go, trying to remember PIN numbers and log ins. The self checkout machines echo the inner workings of my brain, “Dit, dit, dit…”

At home I constantly conjure like a magician, trying to bend the numbers this way and that, to etch out an existence for my son and I, juggling bills and payments and expenses.

Not surprisingly at the end of most days my mind is a frazzled, whirring machine, and my body is a long forgotten appendage, dragging around after it.

It wears me down, this mental maelstrom. The attempt to control and manage all the minutiae of life. Life measured in dates, times, dollars, scores.

I have written many times about trying to make peace with myself, my sensitivity, my over-amped mind, my anxiety and depression. It’s not an easy thing to do when it is so obvious that life would run so much smoother without those aspects.

The last few months have had me on a pendulum swinging wildly between heart-clenching anxiety and depressive lethargy. It really feels like each day is a marathon, yet when I get to the end of the day, I haven’t really achieved much except lurching from one thing to the next.

So I try to find the points in these extremes where they are assets and not liabilities. Anxiety at its mildest gets me up and moving, propels me into action. The lethargy is a much needed reprieve from all the mental chatter. It forces me to rest.

I try to smile from the inside, a Balinese practice. To imagine all my organs smiling. Something about this very simple practice seems to centre me. And to be perfectly honest, simple is about all I can manage right now.

Yet it’s only a temporary reprieve, and rather like my experience when diving without enough weight, I feel groundless and tossed about by the elements around me. I can’t keep my equilibrium.

Let go or be dragged. Zen proverb

At the moment I don’t feel in integrity. I feel ungrounded, unhinged, as if I am being blown around in life’s storms.

I have, surprisingly for me, not written much about my fears surrounding my son’s imminent school trip to America. He leaves tomorrow, and although I am attempting to stay calm, circumstances seem to be conspiring against me.

There are of course, the usual fears a parent has letting their child go off in the world without them. I have had some preparation for this, as my son has travelled overseas with his dad several times since our divorce.

But letting your child go off with a loving parent who cares as much about their wellbeing as you do, and sending them off with a bunch of, albeit responsible, hopefully caring, near strangers is quite another.

Then hurricane season hit. As anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock would know, the US and surrounds have been hit by some horrific hurricanes. Are being hit, I mean it’s happening as I write.

And the two worst hit areas, Houston and Florida, just happen to be my son’s destinations. So yep.

Did I mention I was already anxious? Did I mention I can whip up a worry fest over nothing? And now this, mass destruction, natural disaster, thousand-year monster storms. Hells bells.

So I just need to send my kid, my life, the person I love more than life, into that? Is this some kind of test? King Solomon you can quit hiding now…

As if my own fear wasn’t enough, my ex, my son’s father, has become a tabloid news junkie, sending me – and I’m not exaggerating here – hour-by-hour updates on the worst horrors of these cataclysmic events.

So that’s easy right, you just pull the pin on the trip?

But no. After ringing the school, the travel company and then the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – who only have an emergency line with a very sweet young man who took pity on my stuttering “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m supposed to call this number but can you help me find out some information because I’m totally freaking out here…”

That was before Irma hit… And Maria…

So at this stage, the trip is going ahead. The travel team are very experienced, constantly monitoring the situation and ready to amend the travel plans as necessary. I know you don’t need to know this, it’s myself I’m reassuring.

Oh, and did I mention how excited my son is? He helped pay for the trip with his part time job and has saved a thousand dollars spending money.

And the whole reason I talked his dad into agreeing to this trip – and that took a lot of talking, it is very expensive – was that 18 months ago my son was depressed and struggling. Really badly struggling. I mean, that was scary.

And when this trip came up, to NASA and the Kennedy Space Center and Disneyland. I thought “Hello Carrot!” I mean if Disneyland can’t coax a teenager out of their doldrums, I don’t know what can.

You are given life and it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight. Elizabeth Gilbert

And it has been. A carrot, I mean. This trip gave him a goal and a purpose, he got his first job and I have watched him butterfly right out of that adolescent gloom into a bright and confident young man.

I think I have alluded before to the feeling that I have been parenting solo for many years. My son’s father has his own issues, which have no place here, but I feel I have had to hold the lion’s share of providing emotional support and guidance for my son.

I find it exhausting to hold a safe and loving space for my son, whilst holding space for my own fears and struggles, and detaching from all the missives from his father. It’s managing this on my own that makes me feel most lonely and despite wonderful friends, mostly unsupported.

Last week the school contacted me to say we had been nominated for a scholarship. It’s a hardship scholarship aimed at keeping kids in school to complete their VCE.

While on the one hand I felt grateful that the school has obviously seen how hard it is to do this solo parenting, there was a fair amount of shame at being singled out as needing help. I’m proud like that. I struggle, but I don’t want it to show.

I often wonder how my son will look back on this time. Will he see me as failing to provide a family and financial affluence for him? Or will he remember the love and that I was always here for him. That I tried to provide the best life experiences I could for him. I hope the latter.

Having a child has been an exercise in letting go from the start. From the moment the doctor told me I was pregnant, once the room stopped spinning, that is – I thought I had the stomach flu!

I worried about protecting my child. I gave up smoking, I fussed over food, I poured over baby development books, hoping and praying that all the myriad of organs and parts were forming correctly. I worried about labour, with good reason, labour was hard, hence the name I guess.

When he was finally born I worried he would stop breathing at any moment – the baby of a family friend had died in her sleep and it had affected me greatly.

Then comes the time when you actually LEAVE YOUR CHILD WITH SOMEONE ELSE. I imagine this is what is feels like to have a limb amputated. I read once that having a child was like giving birth to your own heart and then forever having it walk around without you. I used to peer through the fence at daycare (and then school – it’s a wonder I was never ever arrested.)

Then comes the hard bits, when a doctor tells you there is something wrong with your child and you think “I knew it, I knew I would stuff this up. How could I have dreamed I could be a proper parent? Me? World’s greatest screw-up?”

There’s the sleepless nights where you worry, will they be okay? Will they go to a normal school, get a job, have friends, find love, have their own family? Tossing and turning even though he is only three and just wants to play Thomas the Tank Engine.

During the years you monitor their moods, is it normal, is it depression? WHAT AM I MEANT TO DO?

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. Kahlil Gibran

I often wished life came with a user’s manual. And the closest I have ever come is reading other people’s spiritual biographies. My favourites are The Wishing Year (by Noelle Oxenhandler, which inspired this blog.) And, don’t judge, don’t judge, DON’T JUDGE… Eat, Pray, Love. I know you are judging me!

I must have read Eat, Pray, Love at least ten times. I often think what I love about it is not the same as what a lot of people love about it. Yes, it’s romantic and she gets the guy in the end, with a Balinese backdrop and all, and yes, I am a hopeless romantic. But that was never it for me.

The first time I read that book I was trapped in a miserable and destructive marriage. I understood the three am anxiety wake up calls, the crying to God for help, the begging for the courage to leave, and for leaving to not be a total nuclear disaster.

After I left my marriage I read it again, and related to that all consuming depression, where it felt that all the passion for life had been sucked right out of me. The feeling that I had self-imploded my life and hurt people and things would never be okay again.

I read it again after meeting my soul mate, and every few years after our relationship soared and then imploded like a painfully recurring reenactment of the Challenger space launch.

The gods envy us. They envy us because we are mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again. Homer (The Iliad)

There’s a line from the book where she’s at the ashram in India, crying to Richard from Texas about how she can’t get over her ex. “But I miss him.” She says. “So miss him.” Replies Richard. “But I love him.” She says. “So love him.” He says.

There’s something so profound in this. That sometimes that’s all we can do is feel it. It can’t be changed or fixed. We cant go back in time for a do-over. But something may shift in us by just feeling what we feel.

As a side note when I spent a few days at an ashram in India I met a guy who I dubbed ‘Richard from Texas.’

I never found out his true name because we were in silence the whole time, but through a combination of charades-style signalling and gestures he helped me through the unspoken, but very strict, etiquette of meal times. Sit there, not there, take this, wash that. He was very kind to me and I giggled to myself that he was my Richard from Texas. Even though we didn’t get a chance for more profound communications, he stays in my mind as a friend.

Anyway, I digress. What the book always gave me was an understanding that my suffering was a rite of passage, a portal to some part of me I had been to afraid to embody. A part of me that could only emerge after all the other stuck-on parts I thought were me had been stripped away.

And that meant pain. Lots and lots of pain, and fear and anxiety, and guilt and shame. And then repeat…

Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain. It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately trying to fill up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness. Pema Chodron

This sense that pain was a portal to my deeper self, and not just a pointless suffering, was the same reason I was so attracted to my shamanic teacher, Sandra Ingerman. She talks openly about her battle with depression and how finding shamanic journeying helped her through that.

In the same way, my spiritual practices have given me a spaciousness around my depression. It’s not that I don’t feel it, I think it’s an integral part of my personality, but I don’t suffer so much with it. Well, mostly. Except when I can’t motivate myself to even do my spiritual practices.

Today I awoke with that heavy feeling. Of course my first thought was “Oh fuck, not this.” Nobody welcomes depression. I mean, if you’re feeling welcoming at all, it’s probably not depression.

But then I just went okay. I’m feeling depressed. What now? I need exercise, sunshine, good food and to throw away my to-do list for the day. But first some social media, because seeing other people’s fabulous lives is so helpful when you feel like a loser…

In my email account up popped a blog post with a link to this video. It’s about a woman and her journey with depression and how it led her to believe that depression is a portal to spiritual awakening.

Lisa Miller is a psychologist so she studied the brains of people who had overcome depression. She found that precisely the same areas that atrophied and withered in people with chronic depression were the same regions that thickened, the cortex strengthened like the trunk of a tree, in people who had sought a spiritual solution to their depression.

Lisa found when she looked at the brain scans of women who, through suffering, had come to a spiritual path, they had this thickened brain cortex, and they also had another quality. The back of their head gave off a certain wavelength of energy, that we call alpha, and it’s also found on the back of the head of a meditating monk. Alpha, has another name, it’s Schumann’s constant, it’s the wavelength of the Earths crust.

Her research caused her to conclude that depression can be core to our development. It is a rite of passage at pivotal stages in our lives.

Depression often occurs at times of transition, both natural like puberty, after childbirth, menopause and old age. As well as other transitions divorce, retrenchment, loss. She believes depression is a reaction to a call to become something. The problem is our culture has dismantled all the rituals of passage that might help us navigate these transitions with more support and less suffering.

I knew this journey was more than a disease. This depression was opening a path, a path of becoming. A spiritual path. Lisa Miller

Whenever I have been truly lost, truly without faith or hope, in retrospect I see it is right there that I have been standing at an unseen threshold into some deeper understanding.

This happened before I found God in AA, before I found Chakradance, before I found shamanism and druidry. Before I went to India.

All I can hope and pray is that this same process of emptying out everything I think I know is happening now, to make way for something greater or deeper or more substantial.

I don’t know, that’s the thing, I don’t know what’s coming – breakdown or breakthough? It feels awful, like a psycho-spiritual curette. I am being scraped clean of everything that I hold onto. David Foster Wallace wrote that everything he eventually let go of had claw marks in it. I mean I am a Taurus, for crying out loud, our motto is “I hang on.”

That’s me always hanging on, because I’m scared yes, but also because I don’t actually know what letting go looks like.

Is it the grand gesture? Quit my job, leave my kid, move to an ashram in India? If so which lineage because after four years of investigating I’m still no clearer on that.  Every time I find a guru whose teachings I like I discover they are under a cloud of sex charges.

Is it what I am doing? Staying here in this discomfort, with this crisis of faith and trusting that I will be guided to the next step when the time is right?

And I know this is the time when I should be embracing all my practices meditation, yoga, Chakradance, journeying but everything feels so empty and I feel so unmotivated. The best I can do is get my arse to yoga every day and run my classes. And I do get that temporary relief, that sense of calm. But then it just pours out of me like a sieve full of water.

I guess this is exactly where integrity comes in. Like the integrity of a building, can I hold myself without constantly being at the mercy of life’s storms? Can I provide a strong centre that is my anchor during shifting tides?

In savassana today – where all my truly sane thoughts arise, I realise I am in another rite of passage, as is my son. He’s becoming a man. He doesn’t need to be mummied so much any more.

And I wonder if, moreso than the hurricanes and my concerns over his recent problematic behaviours continuing while he’s away, if this is the deep root of my anxiety. I’ve defined myself in a large way as a mother for many years, and without that, who am I now?

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable. Kahlil Gibran

I need to let go and he needs me to let him go out into the world without me fussing over him.

Parenting is a fine balance of holding and letting go. And I think mothers err to the former. So if you happen to hear of a hysterical woman who had to be carried out of Melbourne Airport tomorrow, just know that was me doing my best to let go.

I jest. I was the epitome of grace and dignity – well on the outside at least and right up until I waved him goodbye through the security gates, starting to cry as I ran into the arms of my friend who happened to be standing there, en route to Bali.

In the words of my beloved Beatles, I just have to let it be.

To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own. Jack Kornfield

I like that, what Jack says, letting be rather than letting go. Sounds less like losing something. While I can to some degree manage the numbers of life, people are another thing entirely. And who am I to deprive anyone of their journey, their portals, and rites of passage?

Not to mention the adventures on what my dear friend used to call this ‘exquisite journey’ of life.

If I can let go of trying to control all that, all these people, places and things – and just let it all be – maybe I’ll  see what is trying to emerge in me.

I think that what I have been truly searching for as a person… A sense of liberty, the liberty that comes not only from self-awareness but also from letting go of many things. Many things that weigh us down. Jhumpa Lahiri

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

 

Reboot your body + recharge your life

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. 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.

base chakra

Your biography becomes your biology. Caroline Myss

In the Vedanta – the ancient Indian wisdom writings – it says that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Our body is what allows us to have this experience.

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 vehicle to achieve union of body and spirit.

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. This chakra balances our physicality, sense of security and stability in our body and in the 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.

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.

basechakra

The land is my backbone. Galarrwuy Yunipingu

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.

If we have ever experienced a lack in these needs being met, we may have an overreactive first chakra, that is out of balance and causes us to compensate in a variety of ways.

Natalie Southgate writes that when your base chakra is balanced, you feel connectedness with the world and those around you, in a state of safety and stability. The balanced base chakra gives you a focused sense of your place in the world. As it is your root chakra, it is vital to allow your other chakras to be in balance.

Like the foundations of a house, or the roots of the tree, the base is essential to the stability of the whole structure.

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.

MelinadelMarcobra

To lose our connection with the body is to become spiritually homeless. Without an anchor we float aimlessly, battered by the winds and waves of life. Anodea Judith

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.

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.

melinadelmar

Looking back you realize that a very special person passed briefly through your life and that person was you. It is not too late to become that person again. Robert Brault

The base chakra is very much about grounding, stability, and security, and I have learned the only lasting stability and security available is that which I provide to myself, through being present in the body, in the now. My intention now is for balance and health. I no longer want to shield myself in weight, nor do I want to starve, or define myself by some ideal so manipulated that not even today’s models actually achieve it. My intention is to love myself, to protect myself without needing layers of flesh to do so. To be whatever size and shape my true being is, healthy, comfortable, happy. My intention is to rediscover joy in my body, my life.

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.

gratitude-melina-del-mar

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

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.

melinadelmartreecrop

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

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.

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.

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.

Plenty of earthing, feet in the earth, sitting crouched on the earth, visualising mother earth’s energy cleansing, grounding, and balancing me. All very tribal, this earth-based, primal dance of the base chakra, and so liberating for a cerebral girl like me.

Join me on my next retreat (see below) if you feel inspired to reboot your base chakra.

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Upcoming events at Raw Mojo Chakradance

Base Chakra Journeying

Reboot Your Base Chakra Retreat

Chakradance – Rhythm for your soul

All Artwork by Melina Del Mar – all rights reserved

From words to world

Victor-NIZOVTSEV-mermaids7

The words you speak become the house you live in. Hafiz

Words have power. They can encourage and heal. Words can be a bridge between us and another that lessen feelings of isolation and loneliness in our life experiences. Words can also hurt, they can become darts that target each other’s weakest spots, they can wound and paralyse us.

The words we hear as a child form our sense of ourselves, they are our reference points to our perception of reality. As we get older, this house of words tends to influence what we hear in what other’s say and how we perceive the world.

This week my friend, a psychologist training in a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) took me through the technique on an incident from my childhood. I was about 10 or 11 years old. I had a very naughty friend without whom I probably would never dreamed of acting so wild. In fact she was such trouble that when she turned up unannounced at my house, I didn’t want to go with her but my dad shooed me along, to get me out of the house.

After being busted for our childish lark of throwing lemons on the road to watch cars run over them, I was severely reprimanded by my parents, and left alone in my darkened bedroom for the night, to stew in my father’s final words “I have never been so ashamed of you in my whole life.” Given that my dad rarely got upset, or even paid much attention to me, these words held power.

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being. Hafiz

I have always known I carried a deep sense of shame around this, even after I was old enough to understand what I had done was not so very bad after all, and even once I learned, as a parent myself, that sometimes you overreact and say things that are way overblown, out of frustration or fear.

It was one of those pivotal family vignettes that seemed to capture some deeper truth and always came out in therapy.

What my friend helped me tap into is that this incident, probably amongst many others, had left me with a deep-seated shame and belief that ‘I am unlovable.’

Probably not coincidentally, the very next night my current lover vehemently expressed his mixed feelings about our relationship, given that in his words, his mind was saying of me, “she’s not the one.”

The words themselves were not a shock, we have been pretty clear about what we are and are not to each other, but the vehemence hurt. Not any less by the fact it mirrored my own feelings of loneliness as I prepared to go see him, a generally lovely, loving man, but not the one for me either.

Still reeling from letting go, yet again, of the man I have always hoped was ‘the one’ I find myself again wondering if it is just not my dharma this lifetime to experience that kind of love. Or am I just telling myself that and making it a self-fulfilling prophecy by choosing men who are not going to provide that kind of relationship?

I am never quite sure of myself with this love and intimacy stuff. I spent way too many formative years locked away in my bedroom with books and music that quite frankly warped my mind into some pretty fantastical ideas about life and love.

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? Nick Hornby

Viktor-Nizovtsev-mermaids5

When Darcy and Heathcliff are your romantic idols, doesn’t it make sense that the only men you would lust after are the unreachable and unavailable ones? Waiting for that magic moment – after years of neglect and rejection – when they realise that yes! they truly do love you.

I must say rereading Wuthering Heights as an adult woman with some actual relationship experience under my belt, I was horrified that my teenage self thought Heathcliff’s and Kathy’s torturous love romantic.

Explains a lot, really.

Like many, I have had a tumultuous relationship with romantic love. I have far too active an imagination to ever really see another person as they are.

As such I fall for the most beautiful and unavailable man I can find, and try to heal his wounds with my love. (As a side note to those who haven’t tried this yet, it doesn’t work.)

The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person. Chuck Palahniuk

In the past I have been severely burned by this weakness in myself. My last love broke my heart, not even by any misdemeanour of his – his faults were well advertised and I chose to overlook them all – but simply because he could not live up to the Mr Darcy fantasy I held in my mind.

I kept waiting for the revelation to hit him that he had it all wrong, and could I ever forgive him enough to allow him to marry me and worship me forever. (I blame Jane Austen and the Brontes entirely for this blind spot of deluded thinking…)

In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Jane Austen

Aw! Jelly legs… Right, where was I?

Love.

Is it possible in a society completely consumed with sex and romance, we have forgotten how to love?

Last week I attended an assembly of Druids, over five days we communed with nature, talked about creativity and natural cycles, sang, danced and played music. It was a gathering of like-minded people. I am sure once I have a chance to process and integrate the experience, I will have more to say, but for now what really touched me were the relationships, in particular, the marriages I saw.

They were gentle and loving and strong, each partner was their own person and yet supported and held by the other. These were true partnerships, and again it stirred a deep desire in me. I want that! Why can’t I have that? What’s wrong with me?

I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing. Neil Gaiman


Supposedly we learn from our mistakes. So as to not repeat them. As such I entertain the extremely optimistic position that I haven’t been making the same mistake repeatedly with my love the last seven years. Surely, at least, it’s a new mistake every time.

Oh I jest, they are not mistakes.

Relationships are like all things in life, impermanent. And while it is hard to let go of great love and passion, it is possible. Well, at least I hope it is. I write these words sometimes and then think, really? Who wrote that?

And because in each incarnation of our relationship I have learned some very valuable, albeit painful, lessons.

From the outside it would seem that we just get together and break up. Over and over and over again. It seems the same. Over and over and over again.

However I’m convinced that each incarnation of our relationship has brought different, and perhaps deeper, lessons.

A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master. Elizabeth Gilbert

I believe we are soul mates. In the sense that we both felt a sense of recognition and homecoming when we met, a feeling of knowing, an instant connection, deep intimacy, and attraction, followed by an ever increasing mirroring of our shadow sides as the relationship goes deeper.

(Although he would insist this kind of thinking is due to my frequent viewings of Highlander turning my brain to highland porridge.)

Our relationship seems to follow no regular trajectory, nor serve any purpose aside from triggering major upheaval and growth in each of us.

No one has ever hurt me deeper. No one has even taught me more.

And while I will admit to feeling foolish after publicly declaring our relationship (again) a few blog posts ago, only to find that my hopes for us have not manifested (again), I so want to understand.

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. Elizabeth Gilbert

While I know there are many, many people in my life who see this as a ridiculous dynamic, as one friend said when I told her that I thought we were really over this time, “Oh I have heard all this before!” I don’t agree.

You see I know that this man has triggered changes in me, profound, deep and necessary changes that may have not happened otherwise.

It was he that challenged me to write. During one break up he told me that I would never write because I was governed by a chronic fear of taking risks. Harsh? Maybe, but with a basic attitude of “I’ll show you.” I took a writing course, read my work aloud for the first time and then published this blog.

He got me started in yoga, introduced me to my Druid grove. Gave me a sounding board, an intelligent, honest and extremely well educated sounding board, to hash out my spiritual beliefs and my ideas for Raw Mojo.

It sounds like a list of the things he enabled me to do but it was so much more than that.

As Miley (yes Cyrus, c’mon that girl’s got pipes) sings, surrending to great love is like a wrecking ball crashing through your life, and this was the first time I really bared myself, body and soul to a man, was vulnerable, took risks emotionally.

I came in like a wrecking ball, I never hit so hard in love. Yeah, I just closed my eyes and swung, left me crashing in a blazing fall, all I wanted was to break your walls. Miley Cyrus

A few times I nearly went down with it, but it showed me what I am capable of, when I am willing to take risks. That I was capable of great passion, great surrender, true authenticity and deep connection. Nothing less than that will be satisfactory now.

The last time we broke up I was so devastated that I planned my trip to India to get me through. Having taken great emotional risks in love, it seemed I was opened up to taking other risks in my life, to following my passions in spite of fear.

I hope I have given in comparable ways to him. I always tried to honour and support his many gifts and talents. Sometimes I also resorted to a variety of tactics to get him to see his own value. Many times I missed the mark. I think for him, our relationship possibly tested him in similar ways to me. But maybe that’s my vanity.

Elizabeth Gilbert – who he despises with a passion – says that soul mates are not necessarily suited as life partners, soul mates are our toughest teachers, they mirror our most repressed shadow aspects in order to face ourselves in a way that a more gentle love could not.

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. Elizabeth Gilbert


This last incarnation has had me questioning love. I know I love him and yet my reaction when he turns away from me is angry and vengeful. So where’s the love in that? I am trying to stay present with the maelstrom of thoughts and impulses and emotions that are arising.

For many months now, well since we ended, I have had a daily yoga practice. Yoga is twofold for me, it releases held emotions from my bodily tissues and it also forces me to be in the moment with myself, with whatever arises. Recently savassana for me is a state of constant emotional weeping.

But this release is healthy. At least once a day I must touch upon my sadness. Then I tend to be able to get on with the demands of my day.

Everybody has an unmet need, something that they want just out of reach, It’s what makes the best movies, the kind of leading roles played by Meryl Streep. Jen Cloher

So I made the resolution that this time I will get the message. Instead of the wailing and indefinite grieving of the past, I will feel the pain, but also hold myself in the understanding that there is a great lesson here. A lesson that once learned might actually break this cycle.

So what is that? I’m not entirely sure, but I think something along the lines of self-love and self sufficiency. I think that although I am coming to see that I am actually lovable, that I keep experiencing the world as if I am unloved. It makes me seek instant ways to fill myself up on love. It makes me a little desperate, needy and codependent.

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us, break all our teacup talk of God. If you had the courage and could give the Beloved His choice, some nights, he would just drag you around the room by your hair, ripping from your grip all those toys in the world that bring you no joy. Hafiz

What has become apparent is that until I feel loveable and good enough in myself, I will always create this dynamic which painfully acts out my sense of deficiency. This is not about the relationship or this man. These deficiencies go much deeper.

Abraham Maslow believed that a self actualised person is self sufficient. Not in the sense that they isolate themselves from others, not with false pride. Rather this kind of evolved person doesn’t come to relationships with needs to fulfil that they should be fulfilling themselves.

What is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Stevie Nicks

So while having needs for intimacy, for giving and receiving love and compassion are completely appropriate, needing someone else to fill up our self worth, self esteem are not.

First, it doesn’t work. Second, it puts relationships at a transactional level of need fulfilment rather than an unconditional level of true loving.

It doesn’t work because ultimately these needs must be satiated within. Otherwise we become a vortex that drains the other person, all their love is squandered and ultimately the relationship is doomed.

Everything is impermanent. This moment passes. That person walks away. Happiness is still possible. Thich Nhat Hanh


So finding myself in this dynamic, I now must face the alternatives of either a lifetime of these soul destroying relationship dynamics or the courage to really do the inner work on myself.

My yoga teacher often reprimands the class. He says. “I ask you to be with yourself, in your own energy for two minutes and you can’t do it. Yet you expect someone to want to be with you, pay attention to you for a lifetime. When you can’t even be with yourself for two minutes.”

After years of meditation I can be with myself for two minutes, but his point is well taken. How can I ask another for love when I can’t give it to myself?

Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings. Anaïs Nin

So begins my next challenge. How do I love myself and others unconditionally?

I saw a picture of my love and I felt compassionate love. Not anger, not scorn or bitterness. I do love you. I thought. I do want you to be okay. Even without me.

I thought this was progress. But then it grew into longing. And I felt that tight black mass in my chest. Who are you? I asked the tight black mass? I really wanted to understand. As it’s black slimy clawed arms reached out it said “I am your need.”

Oh. It wasn’t nice. I wouldn’t want to be clutched in those arms.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly and wants to rip to shreds all your erroneous notions of truth that make you fight within yourself, dear one, and with others, causing the world to weep on too many fine days. Hafiz

So awareness is a great thing. And yet I’m not entirely sure what to do next. I’ve seen this rampant need. I think I’ve identified it’s origins in my life, and I see what it wants.

I am trying to be patient with myself. I’ve seen this cycle. I’m in the holding bay, waiting for him to make contact. Not really wanting him to on the one hand, because I’m pretty sure we are done and it will just be a sad conversation. Can we be friends? History, of which we have plenty, suggests not. But I find myself still wanting a sign that I meant something, that I still mean something. It’s a lose-lose scenario.

I swing between absolute certainly that we will never, ever, ever get back together (and yes listening to Taylor Swift and getting pulled up by teenage boys at the traffics lights wanting to know what I’m singing alone so emphatically to) And then finding myself off on ridiculous romantic fantasies. Well, not so ridiculous. I mean last time couple of times we got back together it was in Bali, once on a balcony with a paradasical view, after he drew me a flower to make me smile…

There is nothing at all that can be talked about adequately, and the whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said. Alan W. Watts

But never. Ever. Again. Like ever.

But my mind fixates. It wants a solution. But there’s nothing that I haven’t tried over the last seven years, it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel where I’ve selected every possible variable and the outcome has still been the same.

All that’s left is to accept and to not delude myself into the false hope of trying again, the battle cry of the addict “this time will be different.”

Because at the beginning it is intoxicating. There’s so much promise and hope. It’s so intimate and connected I always wonder how we could have stuffed things up. Then when things go off the rails, and I see the utter inevitability of our characters playing out the scenario they do, I wonder how I was ever insane enough to expect anything different.

This moment, this love, comes to rest in me many beings in one being. In one wheat grain a thousand sheep stacks. Inside the needle’s eye a turning night of stars. There is a light seed grain inside, you fill it with yourself or it dies. I am caught in this curling energy, your hair, who ever is calm and sensible is insane! Rumi

So I make the vow not to seek love but to be love. To embody love. What the heck does that actually mean? I don’t know. It sounded good when I wrote it.

I think maybe acting loving despite all the hurt. Keeping my heart open. Not losing hope in love, and its many forms.

I do get weary of always having to be strong on my own. For some time now my son’s father has not been well, emotionally or physically.  And for as long as I can remember the bulk of the parenting responsibilities have been on my shoulders. Not just financially or physically, but I feel it emotionally, in all those times where you have important decisions to make, where your child need guidance and support.

I think how I would love a partner that I could share this with, to say, “hey, what do you think we should do?” To share the load as well as the joys.

The Beloved sometimes wants to do us a great favour: hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out. Hafiz

At times I feel like I am completely running on empty, I give and provide support and love, but how do I fill up my own cup?

At the Winter Solstice, I began my year of holding space as the Mabon, the sacred child. My druid friend said she related this energy to the vestal virgins who held the spark of divine consciousness through their purity.

Can I trust right now? Can I be as a child? Open, curious?

It feels strange because at the same time I have so many regrets. I feel jaded, and that I have squandered the “best years” or my life, or “wasted my pretty” as the modern parlance goes.

But the child teaches of the infinite possibilities of rebirth. Of a rebirth in consciousness. Can I be grateful for the love and lessons, and let go of the attachments to pain and regrets?

My emotional pendulum is swinging wildly. Where’s the equilibrium. Where’s the peace?

Please come home. Please come home into your own body, Your own vessel, your own earth. Please come home into each and every cell, And fully into the space that surrounds you. Jane Hooper


The early Christian and gnostic mystics known as the desert fathers and mothers, wrote about these intense feelings rising out of personal issues as ‘passions,’ they were trained to spot these ‘land mines’ and be free of them before they did serious psychic damage.

The heart at the service of the personal, psychological self is not a heart at all, according to the Wisdom tradition. Finding the way to where our true heart lies is the great journey of spiritual life, and it crosses the vast, uncharted waters of our being. But making this passage has everything to do with the discovery of Wisdom. Cynthia Bourgeault

Meditation, prayer and sacred chanting were the tools they used – these are the time-tested practices for nurturing the heart and quietening the mind.

When this practice goes well emotion maintains it’s depth and power while losing that sticky sentimental and confused quality so characteristic of the ego self.

Rather than emotional storms wreaking destruction on our inner peace, Christian mystic Cynthia Bourgeault believes it is the emotional centre that carries the reconciling force. It is the bridge between mind and body. Earth, sea and sky.

As we wander in perpetual spiritual adolescence, attempting to fill the hunger in our hearts with our needs rather than the divine need, creation itself (all of life on this planet) pays the price. Cynthia Bourgeault

I realise I come across as self-indulgent. However I speak with absolute sincerity when I say I believe that part of the path to wisdom is self-examination. I see the messes I make in my life, I acknowledge the harm done to others in my quest to meet my own needs. If the only outcome of my life is develop into a human being who can walk this earth peacefully without blindly harming those in her path, I will be happy.

And I really believe that through understanding the mechanisms at work in myself, by transcending them to the best of my ability, I join with those who endeavour to leave a light and gentle footprint on this earth.

Now is the time for you to know that everything you do is sacred. Rumi

While we are blind to our own destructive natures, what hope do we have of turning around the destruction to each other or on Mother Nature?

My motive is to clear out all the sticky, entangled emotional behavioural patterns that are engrained in my neural pathways. In the modern vernacular “don’t go there.” Don’t go with the reactive response, stay present. Stay here. Observe the storm but don’t become the storm.

By staying present with my own shadow, my own darkness, by holding myself with compassion, holding that part of me that is still a 10 year old girl who thinks she has been abandoned by her father, that she is unloved and unlovable. By not allowing those ideas, those words to create her reality, there is the crack through which the light gets in and shows me another possibility.

You may be asking, what this has to do with seven intentions? Well, everything really. As I become more and more convinced of the interconnectness of absolutely everything, I realise I can’t turn away from this stuff, as much as I wish to. It affects my sense of the world.

How can I manifest my glorious intentions in a world where we can’t even stop people from hurting one another?

Peace and compassion are things I desire far more than a home or more money. I always said I never wanted to be bitter, no matter how battle worn or weary my heart might be, that it would remain loving.

Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold. Zelda Fitzgerald

And above all, I want to be free of this. I have so much I want to write about, the spirits of nature, my druidry and shamanism, so many new budding things in my life. But I know from experience I have to deal with what is in front of me before I can move on. As excruciating as I find it, right now, this is it.

On balance, there is always more love than evil happening in the world. I think. I know this is not what the mass media tells us, but it’s true. Even in a war zone there are people helping their neighbours, loving their children, creating beautiful art and music, and making love. I wonder what would happen if we could all hold this thought together. That the world and its people are more loving than hating, more loving than fearful, more loving than hurtful.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won.

There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always. Mahatma Gandhi

I try not to lose faith in love because without it the world seems impossibly bleak.

I try to be grateful for all the love I do have in my life, my son, my friends, my spiritual communities. These fill me up, and provide me with support and sustenance.

I also try to remember than I have a degree of freedom that is enviable to many. I can save up all my pennies and go to India or Bali.

I remember when I was unhappily married, with three (beloved) young sons, and a friend – who was then about the age I am now – was lamenting her lonely single life. I envied her. I vividly remember saying to her “Just enjoy it, one day you’ll be in a committed relationship and you’ll miss the freedom, the simplicity of single life.”

Ha. Karma is a bitch, eh?

So you may say I’m naive and impossibly romantic, but I am making an intention to stay open to love and to believe that I am lovable, that we all are, each and every moment, no matter what.

And as I believe we are all connected, at some level you will all feel this too, even if it’s just the lightest flap of butterfly wings along your cheek, that for one small moment makes you ever-so-imperceptibly smile.

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart). e. e. cummings

Hari Om Tat Sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Art by Viktor Nizovtsev www.facebook.com/victor.nizovtsev

Dancing in the shadow

The self of my dreams came the day I found out that there was gold hidden in my darkness, that there was light shining in my bad behaviour, and that there was power hidden in the traumas of my past. Debbie Ford

One of the less obvious influences on Chakradance, often overshadowed by the more apparent influences of the Hindu-Tantric chakra system and shamanic trance-dances practices, is Jungian psychology.

While the Chakradance facilitator is all too aware that his or her role is to ‘hold space’ for the experiences of the dancers, a very Jungian concept, as is the use of mandala art to ‘contain’ the numinous experiences and energy of the dance. These Jungian aspects are often not obvious to the dancer.

I often refer to Jungian archteypes that people may encounter in their dance journeys, these will often manifest as visions of scenes that play out as interactions between archetypes like mother and victim, warrior and servant.

I have written about archetypes in these other posts. 

The experience of Chakradance is described like a ‘waking dream’ where the dancer lets go of their conscious, thinking mind and allows the unconscious mind to communicate through images, feelings, colours and insights.

This week another Chakradance facilitator posted about Chakradance as a way to interact with our shadow, a Jungian concept for the aspects of self that we are either unaware of or actively suppress because we are ashamed of that aspect of ourselves.

At a time when my shadow, in the words of Led Zeppelin, looms taller than my soul, and having just read a truly awe-inspiring post by a Jungian writer – see here – I felt one of those lightning bolt moments.  (Like a lightbulb moment but way more dramatic.)

Something’s coming up. Let’s see if it can articulate itself here…

Chakradance is a journey within. Using the chakra system as a map to consciousness, we dance beyond the everyday, five sensory awareness into a deeper experience of ourselves. With our eyes closed and our imagination as a guide, during Chakradance we experience our inner world as a waking dream. Many people see visions in their mind’s eye, encounter beings, ancestors, animals, different landscapes which all tell a story about the disposition of our inner self.

In the new Chakradance cycle, called Freedom, we have a different guide for each chakra who takes us on this journey. But I have found many people intuitively find their own guides in the dance as well, be they humans, ethereal beings or animals.

After participating in a Chakradance cycle, many people are surprised at the visions and experiences, not to mention the insights and transformations in their real lives, that they encounter.

It is so astonishing to uncover this unconscious aspect of ourselves, and to realise our conscious, day to day self is like the tip of the iceberg in terms of the multitudes we all contain.

So when we immerse ourselves into the sound and movement of chakradance, what will often arise is aspects of ourselves that we have not been aware of. This can be visions, emotions or insights that are experienced in a loving and beautiful way. Sometimes we are ready to shift and release less attractive aspects of ourselves. These might be long buried memories, strong emotions, or even aspects portrayed as menancing creatures who come out of our subconscious dark zones. 

Like a deep-water diver, encountering sharks or other prehistoric and primal creatures that we may be afraid of, our first reaction to these is often fear or repulsion. But just as sharks have a vital role in the ecological wellbeing of the ocean, so our own shadow has a purpose. 

This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed. D.H. Lawrence

For me, when I began my Chakradance facilitator training, and I was dancing and studying the modality intensely on a daily basis, I had a number of powerful experiences. The most profound for me was an experience in the Solar Plexus Chakra, which not only happened in the dance but also in my dream life. This showed me something was shifting at a deep level in my psyche.

I was awoken from a dream, quite literally, with a bang. In my dream, a large metal pot or cauldron blew its lid with a loud explosion. As a result of reading Jung and experiencing Chakradance, I was becoming more curious about the messages my subconscious communicates to me in my dreams.

After waking from this dream, I felt quite agitated and unable to go back to sleep. There was the strongest feeling that this dream was an important message from my subconscious and I intuitively felt it was somehow related to my solar plexus chakra. So after discussing this with my Chakradance teacher, I moved on to this chakra. During the dance, I had a very powerful experience.

The dance of Manipura (the solar plexus chakra) begins with a flame, and as the music intensifies, the fire increases, and 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. Even knowing it was just in the dance, the emotional reaction was profound. 

I had flashbacks to memories of being hurt as a child, and a great rage rose within me. Ending up like an animal in all fours, I growled and raged, releasing suppressed emotions held within me since I was a powerfless five year old unable to fight back against her abuser. 

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster. Carl Jung

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, 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.

I would love to report that since then I have never been less than powerful in my life, but it doesn’t work like that. In my life aspects of my shadow, like that scared and angry child, the one who was unable to be powerful and speak up, are still there.

The difference is that I know she is there, and I can see when that energy emerges, when I get petulant or sulky, when I over react to perceived criticism or rejection. These days, I am more mindful, more aware.

And I have made a sacred place for her, where she can be safe to express whatever she needs to. It’s my way of integrating her, without annihilating her. Because she’s part of me. If she hadn’t taken on all that rage and shame for all those years I may not be here today. Today instead of wishing her away I try to honour her. She’s a feisty five year old who screws up her face when she’s not happy and I love her!

I have also tapped into an inner wellspring of power that I never knew I possessed. Now when I dance the Solar Plexus I embody the energy of a fiery God – Shiva Nataraj – or a powerful warrior and feel these numinous qualities flow on into my life.

We need more people who are not ashamed of, or embarrassed by their pain, but who can instead respond to their own and others’ suffering – as an unavoidable facet of the human condition – with love, patience, sympathy, nurturing and respect. True happiness, after all, does not exclude sadness, but rather embraces it within the living paradox which personal wholeness demands. Maureen B Roberts

So what is this shadow? And why do we have it. And yes, you do.

Renowned psychologist Carl Jung believed that on the journey to discover your inner secrets and mysteries, you will encounter the dark, hidden crevices within your psyche. He called this place the “shadow self.” It is also called the lower self, animal nature, the alter ego, or the inner demon – the place where the unowned side of your personality lives.

The shadow is the parts of ourselves that we may try to hide or deny. According to Carl Jung, it can be said to consist of energy patterns, known as selves or sub-personalities that were disowned — pushed down into our unconscious in childhood, as part of our coping strategies.

Jung created the Archetypes model, a concept to describe how our unconscious minds are fragmented or structured into different “selves” in an attempt to organize how we experience different things in life.

Your shadow self is the part of you that stays unknown, unexamined, and out of the light of your conscious awareness. It is the part that is denied or suppressed because it makes you uncomfortable or afraid. Whatever doesn’t fit your image of your ideal self becomes your shadow.

Jung asked, “Would you rather be good or whole?” Many people choose goodness, or more accurately ‘correctness’ as a means to belong in society, and as a result, are internally fractured. There is your persona, the part you want the world to see, and your shadow, the part that you don’t.

What we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost their contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion. This may be by means of physical symptoms in the case of a neurosis, or by means of incidents of various kinds, or by unaccountable moods, unexpected forgetfulness, or mistakes in speech… modern man protects himself against seeing his own split state by a system of compartments. Certain areas of outer life and of his own behavior are kept, as it were, in separate drawers and are never confronted with one another. Carl Jung

Jung believed that what you resist in life tends to persist and even become stronger. If you resist your dark side, it becomes more solid. Hence by trying to be good and suppress our shadow side we actually make it more powerful.

As Jung often said what we refuse to face in ourselves, we project into others and onto life creating an external world that seems to reflect our own worst nightmares. We create self-fulfilled prophecies of the stuff we least want.

I think I first became aware of my shadow 18 years ago. Having hit, in 12-Step parlance, my rock-bottom through alcohol and drug abuse, I found myself sober in a 12 Step program. Suddenly I had no Dutch courage, no medicine, no anaesthetic, and no buffer between myself and reality. I had started using alcohol to numb my feelings at age 15 so at age 25 I had acquired zero emotional maturity or coping mechanisms that didn’t involve a drink, a fix or a pill.

I found myself sitting in cold and dank church halls and community centres – where many AA meetings seemed to be held – with hideously bright fluorescent lighting – “ve have vays of making you talk.” Even though I had spend much of my ‘drinking years’ in dank bars, the veneer of alcohol always made everything sparkle, it gave me a warm inner glow, and the dim lighting covered a multitude of sins.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell

Now I felt exposed, transitioning from a creature of the night to an attempt at daytime normalcy, I found myself squinting and blinking at the brightness of the world, like a mole forced out of her hole. Supermarkets were particularly painful. The combination of the bad Muzak, over-lit endless aisles of stuff and people was pergatory for me.

Especially the people. Early detox from alcohol is defined by it’s combination of the physical shakes and extreme paranoia. I was sure every person in the place was watching me trying to wrestle control of my hand to pick up a packet of cereal or extricate money from my wallet. If someone actually spoke to me, it all became too much, the walls would start closing in and I had to abandon all my shopping and leave.

It was a shock to see what a ‘shadow’ person I had become, more comfortable in the dark, shadowy side of life, invisible, afraid of the most ordinary things.

In the AA program I was forced to confront my ‘defects of character,’ another ways of describing the shadow aspects of my behaviour. For someone who had meticulously avoided any emotions, or difficult aspects of myself, this was a hideously confronting process. On a daily basis I was faced with the choice of facing my shadow or facing complete annihilation. It was not a happy time.

We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. Sigmund Freud

But, through this process I learned to be increasingly more comfortable with myself, all of myself, and embarked on a path of self-awareness and self-acceptance as I had never known before.

It was to be my first of many experiences, where I discovered that facing my shadow, no matter how painful or undesirable, brought untold gifts.

Eventually though I found myself again at a rock bottom. Having crashed and burned emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually not long after my fortieth birthday, again I was searching for answers.

As appealing as it was when I was happy, from this depressed state I found much of the New Age stuff very shallow. Wishful thinking, affirmations, faking it until we make it, are sometimes helpful to get out of the rut, but they cannot be long term life plans. True authenticity comes from facing the shadow. That stuff that lurks just beneath the surface that we push down with a myriad of avoidance strategies from sedation to excess busyness.

I am highly suspicious of any practice which focuses only on the light or positive aspects of our being. We are all made up of dark and light. A really simple way to uncover your shadow self is to see what really irritates you in others, what drives you bonkers. Is it disrespect? Arrogance? Greed? Inconsideration? Guaranteed the stuff you most resent in others is stuff you deny or repress in yourself. This is called projection, we literally use others as a screen to project our shadow traits onto.

Our journey of Self-Exploration is a bit like Dante’s Inferno. Before making our way out of “hell” we must walk through the depths of our inner darkness. Many religions symbolize these experiences well. Two famous examples include the case of Jesus who had to face Satan in the desert, and Buddha’s encounter with Mara (the Buddhist Satan) before his “awakening”.  Mateo Sol

We all do this, so there’s a couple of options, suppress it and keep frantically chanting OMs hoping that no one realises our murderous rage within, or acknowledge it. Take a look at it. Next time you judge someone else, either for the positive or negative – even jealousy often is us projecting our unowned good qualities on another person – witness that.

Be curious. Dive into it. Ask yourself, can I be disrespectful, arrogant, inconsiderate? Maybe sometimes these qualities are actually useful. Especially when used consciously.

When I stumbled upon Chakradance, something lit up inside of me. Here was the best of the New Age. A practice that combined ancient wisdom with modern psychology. It drew upon the Chakra system, shamanic dance and Jungian psychology. All practices which resonated with me. And best of all, it was music and dance! I had always found great freedom and liberation from my difficulties by pumping up the stereo and dancing myself silly. Chakradance gave me a framework to use this for my healing.

Any practice which takes us out of the conscious mind and engages with the unconscious, be it dance, creating art or music, meditation, immersing ourselves in nature, will help this more primal side of ourselves to emerge.

In Chakradance we dance into our unconscious, and then we create a mandala drawing so we can express all this beautiful untapped energy, and all the powerful images we encounter which help us to recognise these hidden parts of ourselves.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age. Walt Whitman

Because the shadow is often made up of primal instincts and urges we have repressed, as well as tribal and ancestral traits we have rebelled against, I feel that the base chakra is particularly relevant to this work.

When I was in India last year I took the opportunity to see an Ayurvedic doctor. In Ayurveda all aspects of self, mind, body and spirit are addresssed. So as part of the consultation, he discussed the state of my chakras. He felt that my physical and emotional symptoms indicated my base Chakra was weak – almost non-existant! – and needed activating. I have been practising the mantras he gave me and the chanting practice. When the Chakradance Reboot Your Base Chakra eCourse came up I immediately signed up.

I am a great believer in divine timing. As my shadow self seems to be bursting out causing me to act, think and feel in ways I find very overwhelming and challenging, I have this beautiful practice of Chakradance to ease me back into my body, to help me integrate all these aspects of self. Chakradance is gentle like that, it doesn’t force things to come up in the psyche, Jung believed that could be counter-productive. But when stuff is ready, it rises, and it feels so good to be able to dance through and integrate my shadow work.

In the base Chakradance we connect with our power animal. Dancing our power animal is one of the most powerful shamanic practices to revitalise and strengthen our spirit. Each animal brings its own strength, wisdom or medicine, and a connection to our primal, instinctual nature.

Mine is an animal who hibernates seasonally, and as such as we head into Winter here, I am reminded of the restorative power of cave-time, time to withdraw from the world, rest, nourish and replenish the body.

The work of the soul is not always sparkly and full of surrender-gasms. As Caroline Myss said the truly powerful and great spiritual moments are usually accompanied by great humility or suffering, as the metaphor of the birth of the messiah in a stable illustrates.

In my eyes, indisposed. In disguises no one knows. Hides the face, lies the snake. And the sun in my disgrace. Chris Cornell

During this time of increased shadow rising, I became increasingly depressed. Perhaps instead of something rising up, it was a place I descended into.

Weirdly my darkest nights of the soul coincided with the tragic suicide of my musical hero Chris Cornell. I felt that right there was my shadow, I so empathised with the darkness that took him on that lonely night in Detroit.

I drew on my love for my son to get me through, like a candle illuminating the dark I knew I had to survive the darkness for his sake. It sounds melodramatic I know, but when you are hanging on by a thread, you use whatever power you can.

Depression can be seen as a descent into shadow. It certainly feels dark, and as though every negative and undesirable aspect of self takes front and centre stage. However there is also a palpable shift in awareness as if a doorway into a previously hidden part of life is opened.

Depression is a wilderness where nothing makes sense or has meaning. As long as it doesn’t take me out completely, this mental blackout can be helpful. It often forces me to challenge what truly has meaning in my life, what has substance, what brings vitality and joy. And similarly to recognise that which does not.

Leading up to this bout of depression I had done some work with a spiritual healer that included soul retrieval. In fact I could pretty much pin the beginning of my descent to that time. I became curious about this link between soul loss, soul retrieval, shadow and depression so I began to read more about it.

Soul loss is the idea that parts of our soul or spirit break away during traumatic life experiences, leaving us less vital. In psychology this idea is known as dissociation, where a person may have no memory of the trauma or seem disassociated or overly detached from their current life.

In psychology they are not concerned with where these lost parts go, but in many shamanic traditions, there is an understanding that these parts have gone to places in non-ordinary reality or the ‘spirit world.’ Shamans are experts in tracking down and coaxing back these lost soul parts to be reunited the body of the person they were splintered from. This is soul retrieval.

Many years ago when I was studying shamanism in Bali, I had a conversation with a friend about this. As a psychotherapist he pointed out that the mind is always trying to find balance or equilibrium, and as such rejects anything that threatens this. Bringing back soul parts after many years, especially soul parts that were splintered off on account of trauma, must throw this balance of the psyche into turmoil.

I wish that soul retrieval were safe, simple, and filled with the white light of love and light that people think it is. But something cannot be powerful and safe at the same time. Mary Shutan

Interesting alongside this deep suicidal depression, I also had other old dysfunctional behaviours crop up. And I craved cigarettes so badly I actually asked a drunk guy for one, fortunately he said no. I haven’t been a smoker for over sixteen years.

What I began to intuit is that some of the soul parts that had come back were pretty dysfunctional when they left.

Whether you see these parts as repressed aspects of self or lost soul parts, the effect of bringing them back into consciousness is the same, they are strangers to the psyche who has been getting along just fine – or so it thinks – without them. Sometimes it is not a happy reunion.

And seemingly they had brought some of their old dynamics back into my psyche, throwing me into turmoil. In a way my shadow selves were ignited and fueled by this process, and I was left in a frightening shadow world where all I could see was darkness and hopelessness. Much like the teenage addicted and suicidal me.

You will have to stand someplace you’ve never been willing to stand before. Go to places you have deemed off limits. This is the time to take off the shell of your past and step into the rich possibilities of your future. Debbie Ford

Fortunately, weeks ago I had signed up for a Spontaneous Transformation workshop on stress and overwhelm. Spontaneous Transformation is a beautiful technique that addresses this very issue by dialoguing with these soul parts and helping them address the trauma in order to find a resolution, recognition and integration.

Through this daily practice and through Chakradance, I have found peace with myself again. And beyond that, these angry and hurt parts of myself actually taught me a lesson or two about how I could be kinder and support myself better in my life.

In India, the Hindus practise Aarti, which literally means an illuminating light in the darkness. I believe by bringing the light of awareness onto our shadow we can find gold there. Don’t throw away the treasure in your cave because  you’re scared of the dark – light a candle and see the gold in there.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Try Chakradance – Rhythm for your soul