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/

Advertisements

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.

 

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

Melting into divine desire

But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin. Aldous Huxley

Somewhere along the line, I learned the idea that desire was a bad thing. As a child I was told I was being selfish and greedy to express my desire for things. “You’ll get what you’re given. Like it or lump it” was the general philosophy.

Like Oliver Twist asking for some extra gruel, some authorative voice boomed at my requests “More? Who dares to ask for more?”

I do. I dare. Having played the cards of meekness, detachment and acceptance for many years – and although all these qualities have their place – I realise that this desire is what fuels me. Desire, passion, yearning have been instrumental in my evolution. They stretch me beyond my safe zone.

The fear that was instilled in me is that desire and passion makes us reckless, makes us take risks. Yes, it does. And that’s exactly its power.

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become. Carl Jung

When I began my experiential journey into the chakra system through Chakradance, there were three chakras that were obviously underactive. My base or root chakra, which reflected a belief the world was an unsafe place. My solar plexus chakra, which reflected a suppression of my own power, and my throat chakra, which reflected an inability to speak out, and to express myself.

This last year I have held the position of the knight on the druid ceremonial wheel. In the tarot the knight is the somewhat “young, dumb and full of cum” archetypal youthful male energy. He has much passion but sometimes lacks the forethought and planning that comes of experience.

So why would this archetypal energy be something I needed to embody this year? I think because I have generally played it too safe. After a somewhat disastrous rebellous streak that left me burnt out and washed up at 25, since then I have been too afraid of self-destruction to really live passionately. 

Often the wisdom of the body clarifies the despair of the spirit. Marion Woodman

It was time for that to change. Now in my forties I have plenty of insight and experience but I often lacked the conviction in my passion and the ability for wild abandon. There are some aspects of life that just aren’t meant to be played safe.

You’d think I wasn’t someone who played it safe. I spent years walking the razor’s edge of drug and alcohol addiction, last year despite being warned off continuously, even by total strangers, I made a solo trip to India. I do try to live by my heart’s passions, but that doesn’t mean I find it easy. 

Taking even a small risk often involves a great leap over a mountain of anxiety. Like most addicts, and contrary to popular belief, I am not a naturally hedonistic thrill-seeker, but rather someone who found ways to compensate for my fears and insecurity. Now stone cold sober I have to find other means to fuel my courage.

An addiction to anything we do to avoid hearing the message the body and soul are trying to send us. Marion Woodman

In love I see this polarity most obviously. I want to dive into love with an open heart and mind. But as soon as all my emotional baggage, from past hurts and rejection, starts to be triggered, I find myself in a somewhat schizoid state. One day easy-going and open-hearted, the next anxious, needy and suspicious. It’s no fun for my love interest, I’m sure. Even less for me as it’s completely beyond my control.

The trick seems to be allowing this emotional pendulum to swing with a degree of compassionate detachment, and without acting out on the extremes. And I am so not there yet…

I have written much about my first week in India, when I travelled solo to Rishikesh. The time was marked by a sense of being welcomed and supported by the divine, particularly in the form of my beloved Ganesha and the river goddess Ganga Ma.

I can tell you that it takes great strength to surrender. You have to know that you are not going to collapse. Instead, you are going to open to a power that you don’t even know, and it is going to come to meet you. In the process of healing, this is one of the huge things that I have discovered. People recognized the energy coming to meet them. When they opened to another energy, a love, a divine love, came through to meet them. That is what is known as grace. Marion Woodman

Surprisingly writing about the second half of my trip – travelling to Varanasi to connect with a large group of women led by Alana Fairchild in the Grace of the Golden Goddess retreat – has taken longer to percolate into a post.

I had been so excited about this week of moving meditations and rituals devoted to various Hindu deities, so I was surprised when on the first day I felt subsumed by a sense of unworthiness and shame. 

Alana had requested we bring something for the altar and I had brought my wedding ring. I wanted to hand over to the divine my lack of success in love. I also wanted to make some kind of atonement. I had made a solemn vow to God and another person in front of all my family and friends, twice, and twice had been unable to keep that promise. 

Living by principles is not living your own life. It is easier to try to be better than you are than to be who you are. Marion Woodman

It had seemed like such a grand idea to seek this ritual of completion in Varanasi, the sacred Hindu cremation ground. As such I had worn the ring in India as a kind of deterrent to men – which admittedly didn’t work! But it did stir something in me, a desire to experience a committed loving relationship again. 

As I sat in this room preparing to place the symbol of my failure in love on the altar, I felt wretched. I could have happily got on the next train back to Rishikesh. 

Instead I took a big breath and during a short break I faced Alana and told her how I was feeling. I didn’t know her then, I didn’t know what a deeply caring and compassionate woman she is. I just saw a glamazon in a fabulous silk kaftan. It felt like a risk to admit my vulnerabilities to such a powerhouse.

But she was calm and smiled and told me that of course, as I was preparing to open myself to divine grace and blessings of abundance, that all my doubts and insecurities would bubble up. She said “That’s good. The work has begun.” It was all part of the process.

At the very point of vulnerability is where the surrender takes place – that is where the god enters. The God comes through the wound. Marion Woodman

As she said this I knew she was right, although the the feelings were still overwhelming, I was able to stay and participate in the ritual. Later something dropped for me, one of those head-to-heart moments, something I had known but not really understood the profound implications of. That whatever I open myself up to in life, love, success, joy, the very blocks inside of me to all those things will instantly rise up. That booming voice “who are you to ask for more!”

Dance is a powerful way to move and shift our energy, allowing blocks to surface and be healed. Moving meditations combines the power of the shamanic dance journey with guided meditation to create a space for our subtle energy to move, for blocks to release, for spontaneous soul healing to occur. Like with Chakradance, in a sacred space with intention and resonant sound, the soul will find its healing, it’s equilibrium.

The drop excavates the stone, not by force but by falling often. Ovid

In the moving meditation that followed, I made my offering to the altar and was ritually blessed by Shiva’s trident. The ritual involved offering and opening ourselves upon Shiva’s sacred ground, in readiness to be purified to receive the grace of the golden goddess, Lakshmi.

There were many tears, so much grief, as I released my flawed attempts at love. In the dance I saw all my failures in love, my first boyfriend, my marriages, my last – still deeply held – love, at first with sadness, shame, grief, but then as I moved, it shifted to compassion for them and for myself. 

I began to see that in the face of many obstacles, youth, immaturity, inexperience, addictions, dysfunctional and abusive childhoods, the valiant attempts we had all made to love each other as best we could in spite of our respective wounds. I saw the lessons we had learned, the healing that had happened in amongst the pain. 

The right way to wholeness is made up of fateful detours and wrong turnings. Carl Jung

When I reached the review of my last love, the tears were pouring down my face. I saw the immensity of our love, the sheer capacity of my heart for love and passion. It was exquisitely beautiful.

The feeling of shame and failure left me, replaced by a sense that everything had happened as it needed to, for me and for them. It was time to let go and create space for the beautiful energies Alana was calling in for us.

This emptying out was necessary to receive the divine gifts that Lakshmi, and the other deities would offer across our week of dancing rituals. Lakshmi brought the golden light of choice, receptivity and grace. Letting go of what has completed knowing there is new energy waiting to come in.

For many of us being dragged towards wholeness happens precisely through the mysterious process of wishing: through the gaps it exposes, the new edges it drives us towards, the deeper layers of longing it reveals. Marion Woodman 

After many years of profound religious experiences in Chakradance, in nature, and in sacred ritual, I know better than to try to capture the experience in words. During the week working with Alana, I felt direct and powerful connections with the deities we invoked. I had profound realisations, releases, and shifts. And yet like many other experiences I have had, I know there is a long period of integration. A time where these shifts that happen at the spiritual and energetic level slowly manifest into my physical reality. This work of the soul is not magic. Although it certainly feels like magic at the time. 

The journey I had with Lakshmi and Vishnu where I offered myself for a marriage, a true partnership with the divine, was as elaborate, joyful and decadent as a Bollywood grand finale. But the grand vision is not the point. The point is that in this sacred space I made a vow to live in divine partnership, to make my life out of a constant prayer to the divine of “show me.”

What I have come to understand, or think I understand, is that these shifts, these experiences are real and profound but subtle. That is, they occur at the level of our subtle energy. In order for real change, over the weeks and months that followed, I was repeatedly tested. Would I fall back into old ways, or deepen these new subtle energies into lasting change.

What this often means is that when faced with a choice, I have one foot in either crossroad, and I have to ask myself which is my true, courageous choice, my true heart’s desire. Not always easy when old neural pathways of fear and unworthiness run so deep. But oh how I long to embody this fearlessness of heart.

There’s a point at which one must start caring where one fixes one’s vision on high. Don a mantle of vision and daring. Tis where the water meets the sky. David Whalen

Longing, ah, that’s what drives me. A desire, a yearning for some deeper and more satisfying experience of life. 

I used to think this tendency for yearning was, at best, a quirk of my Irish DNA, and at worst, a serious design flaw, that never allowed for true contentment or satisfaction.

“You’re never happy.” My mother would say to me as a child, and now I realise she recognised that because it mirrored her own stifled yearnings, she felt it too.

In one of Alana’s sessions, we went around the room and gave a word to describe how we were feeling, I said “longing, yearning.” It was true, the work thus far had shifted much grief and sadness, but left me with a great hunger for something to fill the gap. It was a deep desire from my heart. We were about to embark on a ritual to call in the divine masculine, and as much as I quake at times in the presence of the masculine, I longed for it.

Alana validated this yearning of mine for the first time. She said the divine is drawn to our longing for it. Like a person who greets you with open arms and great excitement, the divine is drawn to those who truly desire it. 

In the dance I tapped into this great yearning, this desire to be truly seen in all my passion with the multitude of love I have inside me, that I have held back because it always seemed like too much for people. I was never happy because I was never truly seen, valued, held. How could I be loved when I was invisible? Or just a blank screen for others to project their shadow or desires onto?

When I show my desire to the divine, it matches it with love, grace and power. 

In your body is the garden of flowers. Take your seat on the thousand petals of the lotus, and there gaze on the infinite beauty. Kabir

During this somewhat magical week in Varanasi, where we alternated between deeply profound rituals and raucous bus trips to explore the city, I really connected with shakti, the power or energy that is the attribute of the goddess. Shakti is the strong life force that animates all action, or as Diane Eck describes it the “can-do capacity for any activity.” 

Primarily through Lakshmi, but also the myriad of other expressions of divine shakti – Radha, Kali, Saraswati, Parvati, Durga, Ganga – I finally tapped into the full expression of my power. 

Shakti is what we harness in Chakradance, and even prior to going to India, I had increasingly had visions of Hindu goddesses, especially around the energy of my throat chakra, Vissudha, or purification. 

Now I am not talking here of boundless passion so unchecked that it bypasses all reason and respect for real limitations. Instead this is the desire that produces creativity. This is the spark and the subsequent electricity that propels thought into movement and action. 

Even the gods are powerless without the kinetic energy of shakti. Diane Eck

Shakti begins as the kundalini energy coiled up at the base chakra, once she is activated she moves up the energetic column along the spine, connecting with the shiva energy at the crown chakra. Shiva represents consciousness and shakti the activating force that brings consciousness into action. Once activated these energies continue to flow up and down the spine, activating and enlivening our chakras and our subtle energy body.

Fear is the great block of the base chakra, feeling unsafe, insecure in the world. For me, this fear had very much stifled my shakti. By continuing to work with my base chakra, through yoga, chanting, grounding practices and moving meditations like Chakradance, gradually this energy has begun to move and become vital once more.

A life truly lived constantly burns away veils of illusion, burns away what is no longer relevant, gradually reveals our essence, until, at last, we are strong enough to stand in our naked truth. Marion Woodman

When I danced in the energies of my past loves in Varanasi last year, I felt a deep sorrow when I reconnected with the depth and intensity of the love I felt for the man I have loved for the last seven years. Having gone our separate ways for a year I truly believed our time together had gone, and I mourned it deeply. 

But spirit had other ideas. As the power of the rituals and my time in India percolated within me, as my intense longing grew, so within him a great healing began. And in the New Year, tentatively, we reunited.

I would like to say it has a fairytale ending, but we all know fairy tales never ended that way until Disney got a hold on them. And like a traditional folk tale, our union is one that challenges us both. For me, this has been a true test of my ability to let desire guide me, to melt into it. Becoming vulnerable to this love has raised all my demons, my insecurity, my fear of betrayal and abandonment. And yet we stumble on, blinded by the light of this great electric pull of our desire.

Given our story, and the ways in which we have reconnected after our many times apart. I cannot help but believe this is a divine desire. 

So I let myself melt.

This is the point where love becomes possible. We see the other with the eye of the heart, an eye not clouded by fear manifesting as need, jealousy, possessiveness, or manipulation. With the unclouded eye of the heart, we can see the other as other. We can rejoice in the other, challenge the other, and embrace the other without losing our own center or taking anything away from the other. We are always other to each other — soul meeting soul, the body awakened with joy. To love unconditionally requires no contracts, bargains, or agreements. Love exists in the moment-to-moment flux of life. Marion Woodman

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Try Chakradance – Rhythm for your soul

If your interest is piqued in attending one of Alana Fairchild’s transformative sessions, you can find her here alanafairchild.com/

The Shaman’s Blues

 The Doors - Full Circle - Cover 1

Before I sink into the big sleep. I want to hear the scream of the butterfly. Jim Morrison

Recently, at a party, someone asked me about the Shamanism training I’m doing in Bali. As I fumbled my way through a rambling answer, it made me think, I really need an ‘elevator pitch’ to answer these questions.

The truth is, shamanism isn’t really something I can explain succinctly as a concept, rather it is something I practice, something that is unfolding to me. It is highly experiential. It’s outside of the comfort zone of the modern western mindset. So far outside of that zone, it’s like it grew wings, and flew to Neptune. To explain it, I have to ask you to set aside everything you think you know.

That said, I think its worth exploring. What do I mean by shamanism? What is my practice? Do I even want to call it shamanism. If not, then what?

And how do I convey all that to people without sounding like a complete looney?

“Oh yes, I commune with spirits, and I don’t mean a martini”

Enter the eminently eloquent Frank MacEowen, to save me from my tangled tongue (and unintentional alliteration) to describe it to y’all.

Shamanism – the practice of entering into a non-ordinary state of consciousness and leaving ordinary reality to acquire knowledge, guidance, or healing energy. Shamanic spirituality is one way of listening deeply to ancient powers in the land and within the human soul. Frank MacEowen

the-doors-weird-scenes-inside-the-goldmine-24369-hd-wallpapers

Okay. Got it? Not really? Alright, I’ll explain it some more. But to be perfectly honest, I can describe it until I’m blue in the face, which would be entertaining yes, but you really have to experience it to understand. Here goes…

Essentially, shamanism describes the oldest living paths of spirituality and healing, dating back tens of thousands of years, found in cultures all around the world from ancient times up to the present day, and yet many people don’t know what it is or are confused about the practice.

Part of this confusion stems from the term ‘shamanism’ itself, which is used describe a group of diverse traditional cultural and spiritual practices, even though they are not all one and the same. However, the remaining practices that continue in the world today do share many common approaches to healing and living in commune with the natural and spirit worlds. Hence the use of a common word to describe them.

Anthropologist Mircea Eliade in his book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, wrote that shamanism underlays all the other spiritual traditions in the world, and that the most distinctive universal feature of shamanism—but not the only one—was the journey to other worlds in an altered state of consciousness.

It all sounds rather fanciful to the Western mind. Journeying to commune with spirits? Why, just hand me that crystal ball and hit the smoke machine… Woo-woo!

Michael Harner makes the important distinction that shamans do not ‘believe’ in the world of the spirit, they actively engage there.

In shamanic cultures, where shamans interact with spirits to get results such as healing, it’s no surprise that people believe there are spirits. But the shamans don’t believe in spirits. Shamans talk with them, interact with them. They no more “believe” there are spirits than they “believe” they have a house to live in, or have a family. This is a very important issue because shamanism is not a system of faith. Michael Harner 

sonos1

While shamanic practices vary across cultures, there are many ‘core’ practices that are universal or near-universal and these constitute ‘core shamanism’.

Shamanism is a spirituality rooted in the idea that all matter has consciousness and that accessing this ‘spirit that lives in all things’ keeps the natural world, including us humans, in balance, healed, and whole. A shamanic practitioner seeks to be in relationship with the spirit in all things – a path to sustainable harmony not only with all humans, but with each and every plant, animal, and spiritual entity that is a part of our world.

The anthropologist Michael Harner, who established Core Shamanism, writes that “the word ‘shaman’ in the original (Siberian) Tungus language refers to a person who makes journeys to non-ordinary reality in an altered state of consciousness.”

Michael Harner says that using such a term helps people to understand the type of healing being undertaken, and avoids the often negative connotations of other culture specific terms like “witch doctor”. Although the term is originally from Siberia, there is evidence that the shamanic practices existed on all inhabited continents. So it’s essentially an umbrella term for similar traditions found the world over.

Shamans are often called “see-ers” (seers), or “people who know” in their tribal languages, because they are involved in a system of knowledge based on firsthand experience. Shamanism is not a belief system. It’s based on personal experiments conducted to heal, to get information, or do other things. In fact, if shamans don’t get results, they will no longer be used by people in their tribe. People ask me, “How do you know if somebody’s a shaman?” I say, “It’s simple. Do they journey to other worlds? And do they perform miracles?” Michael Harner 

the doors

A shaman is a man or woman who uses the ability to see “with the strong eye” or “with the heart” – according to different cultural interpretations – to travel into hidden realms. The shaman interacts directly with helping spirits to address the spiritual aspect of illness and perform soul retrievals, retrieve lost power, as well as remove spiritual blockages. The shaman also divines information for the community. Shamans perform a multitude of roles in their communities, acting as healers, doctors, priests, psychotherapists, mystics, and storytellers.

Shamanism teaches us that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit. Shamans speak of a web of life that connects all of life and the ‘spirit that lives in all things’. Everything on earth is interconnected and it is the shaman’s role in the community to keep harmony and balance between humankind and the forces of nature.

Shamanism is a system of direct revelation. One of the major ceremonies a shaman performs is called a shamanic journey. In a ‘journey’ a shaman enters into an altered state of consciousness and travels into the hidden realms that many describe as non-ordinary reality – like a parallel universe to ours.

The Otherworld is the interiority of place, just as the human soul is the interiority of an individual. This is not to say it is “inside”, but rather that it is hidden and invisible, and its depths cannot be penetrated by ordinary means. Jason Kirkey

Are_You_Experienced_-_US_cover-edit

The Australian aborigines call non-ordinary reality the Dreamtime. In the Celtic traditions it is referred to as the Otherworld. In these hidden realities there are helping, compassionate spirits who offer their guidance and also their healing help. There are also some not-so-helpul ones and the skilled shaman knows how to avoid those ones, with the assistance of their personal power animals or spirit allies, who act as guides in non-ordinary reality.

Tori McElroy writes that this specialised, sacred role of the shaman exists in many cultures, and the accounts of shamanic trance-journeys are remarkably similar around the world. The ecstatic trance seems “to open the human mind to archetypal experiences transcending cultural boundaries.” The spiritual realms are almost always experienced in three layers: the middle world, equivalent to the physical plane of the earth, the upper world, equating to the heavens above, and a third that lies below the earth, or the lower world.

Certain psychologies might tend to identify the Otherworld with our psyche; the inner realm of the human mind and soul, and that the going-ons there are reflective of our own processes. Other people might lean towards the more spiritual or mystical understanding of the Otherworld as an actual place, a spirit-world, inhabited by very real beings. What is actually important is that no matter how we understand the Otherworld, in all the stories in which it plays a part, those who experience it are transformed. Jason Kirkey

Each culture interprets these realms a little differently, but there are such strong similarities of experience it suggests that the pattern of imagery arises from the journey process itself, rather than from cultural expectations.

There is even evidence that the shamanic journey may have been part of the development of all religions, and although the practice has all but vanished in many cultures, remnants of it exist in myths and traditions. This is where core shamanism can assist in the reconstruction of these practices, for example in Celtic shamanism and druidry.

There are a variety of ceremonies that shamans perform. Like priests, they lead ceremonies to welcome children into the world, perform marriages, and help people transition at the time of death. They lead ceremonies to mourn the death of loved ones. There are important initiation ceremonies performed to mark certain transitions in a person’s life such as from moving from childhood into adulthood.

Donovan sunshine

Typically shamans use some form of percussion, especially drumming or rattling, to go into an altered state that frees the soul of the shaman to journey into the invisible worlds. Many traditions also believe that music, drumming, singing, rattling, helps to attract the helping spirits.

Because it is not an organized religion as such, but rather a spiritual practice, shamanism cuts across all faiths and creeds, reaching deep levels of ancestral memory. As a primal belief system, which precedes established religion, it has its own symbolism and cosmology, inhabited by beings, gods, and totems, who display similar characteristics although they appear in various forms, depending upon their places of origin. John Matthews

Indigenous Australian shamans use the didgeridoo and click sticks. Some traditions use bells. The Sami people of Lapland and Norway also use monotonous chanting called “joiking”. My mother heard a recording of women chanting and told me it reminded her of the way the women sung, usually as they performed group tasks, in Ireland where she grew up.

So why bother journeying? Shamans journey to assist their community and its members, whether to transition through stages in life, or out of the living realm, or to heal illness. Shamans look at the spiritual aspect of illness. An illness might manifest on an emotional or physical level but the shaman is looking for spiritual imbalance or disharmony, which can cause the illness and prevent its healing.

I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been
To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen
They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed. Led Zeppelin

stairway

Sandra Ingerman, my teacher and experienced shamanic practitioner, has found that most shamanic cultures around the world believe that illness is due to the loss of the soul. It is believed that whenever we suffer an emotional or physical trauma a piece of our soul flees the body in order to protect itself and preserve the integrity of the overall soul. The soul is our essence, life force, the part of our vitality that keeps us alive and thriving.

In modern Western psychology, this is understood as dissociation and post-traumatic stress disorder. In either case, a fragment of the psyche (meaning “soul”) breaks off to preserve the integrity of the whole.

The helping spirits who inhabit parallel worlds to the human world have a perspective that often cannot be seen by a practitioner in ordinary states. Therefore shamans work in partnership with the helping spirits in performing healing work, including soul retrieval, where these lost soul parts are coaxed back ‘home’. In many hospitals in the United States, Native American shamanic healers work alongside Western doctors to heal patients.

Inevitably when journeying, shamans become extremely connected to the spirit in nature, the the land spirits, and to the local plants and trees, and receive information about their potential healing properties. This is a more sensible explanation of plant medicine than simple trial and error. The plants themselves have wisdom and a willingness to share this with us humans.

To live life from this sort of truth would require us to acknowledge the needed reciprocity between this world and the Otherworld, inner and outer, humans and nature. However, this sort of recognition of the interconnectedness of all things is exactly what is needed to heal the perceptive split between these realities. To do this we need to cultivate the ears of sacred listening that can hear the profound music of the Otherworld and bring our fragmented soul back into the wholeness of the soul of life. Jason Kirkby

creamSo why do I find shamanic journeying so very appealing? I think it’s because I have been inadvertently doing it all my life.

Music is a doorway into the realm of the soul. Jason Kirkey

My dad is to blame for my passion for music, he ignited an insatiable fire when he gave me Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band for my 8th birthday. Now I wonder if I should blame my love for the esoteric on him for the same reason.

There is a song on that album called ‘Within You Without You‘. It was George Harrison at the height of his immersion into the Maharishi’s following. In 1967, The Beatles — along with actress Mia Farrow and musicians Donovan and Beach Boy Mike Love — made a pilgrimage to Rishikesh, India, the headquarters for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the bearded, long-haired guru who gave the West a somewhat toned-down form of Hinduism called Transcendental Meditation.

I knew none of this. I just listened to the song, the lyrics. It blew my little eight year old mind.

Can’t you see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you. George Harrison

This album also marked the Beatles descent into psychedelia, both in the form of psychotropic drug use and the ensuing art and lyrical shift that emerges as a result of opening that particular ‘door of perception.’ For a young child, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was not a great imaginative leap, akin to the journey down the chocolate river in the Roald Dahl classic. And yet that imagery left an indelible imprint on my mind.

st peppers

From there I leap-frogged into what I see now was a shamanic love of music. Music took me on a spiritual journey.

Eight miles high and when you touch down
You’ll find that it’s stranger than known
Signs in the street that say where you’re going
Are somewhere just being their own. The Byrds

I loved the psychedelic sixties. I emulated its art and fashion. Its mindset. I loved the sit-ins, the peace rallies, the flowers, the unbridled hope for peace and love, man.

And the music. Oh my. How I loved the music.

Holed up in my room, draped in batik fabrics, incense burning, posters of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison adorning my walls. I listened non-stop to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, Donovan, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Cream…

Led Zepplin and Deep Purple sang songs of Mordor and Taliesin, steeped on the Druid-shamanic tradition of Britain. 

The Byrds sang the words of the Book of Ecclesiastes, which describes the natural cycle of life and death, the ebb and flow of the seasons and of life itself.

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven. 

deep purple taliesin

Jim Morrison channeled his Native American spirit in those epic songs that really took me places – “ride the snake, to the lake, the ancient lake, the snake is long, seven miles…” More recently, these lyrics came to me in a journey and guided me along to that very lake.

The Doors were perhaps the most unashamed to embrace the shamanic roots of their lyrical inspiration. Being named for the Aldous Huxley book The Doors of Perception, Jim Morrison was no stranger to journeying, and his songs can take you there.

The Doors of Perception is a short book by Aldous Huxley, first published in 1954, detailing his experiences when taking mescaline. The book takes the form of Huxley’s recollection of a mescaline trip that took place over the course of an afternoon, and takes its title from a phrase in William Blake’s 1793 poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Of course I found this book on dad’s extensive bookshelves, along with a beauty of a book by Colin Wilson called The Outsider which introduced me to many authors of his ilk, and of course the entire Beat generation of writers. Whilst providing a context for my own sense of outsider-ness.

There’s a whole other post in the connection between plant medicine and shamanism, but suffice to say the sixties were a hotbed of opening the ‘doors of perception.’ But like my own experience with psychedelics in my twenties, without sufficient intent and reverence for the plant spirits, it is easy to get lost there.

200px-DoorsofPerception

Did I love this music because it sang of my spirit’s yearnings? Or did the music shape me? Probably both.

I was a star-gazer, a collector of special stones, shells, and leaves, an animal lover. A nature child, happier up a tree or in the ocean than anywhere contrived by humans. Listening again to The Doors perform The End, I hear the undulation of the journey process.

Music is your only friend. Dance on fire as it intends. Jim Morrison

The surrender to the rhythm and vibration. Shamans dance to shake off the anchor of the ego that binds them to this reality. I danced to these songs by candlelight and incense smoke and lost myself to the lyrics of nature love, rocks, stones, flowers, talking to trees and animals.

 Do you believe in rock ‘n roll? Can music save your mortal soul? Don McLean

The songs and art, inspired as it was by Indian art, found a seeking soul and guided her home. It was a rocky road at times. My teenage years were a journey through hell. Depression and addiction marked my soul journey through the initiation of the shadow. I sought chemical escape, but without a guide or a clear intention, I merely lost myself. I emerged bruised, broken, and emptied out to be a hollow bone.

It was not long after our early human ancestors developed the capacity for language that music began to develop as well. There is something about music that connects us more deeply to each other and the world than language could ever articulate. Jason Kirkey

janis

You may think it’s a stretch of the imagination that the psychedelic music of the sixties led me to shamanism, but to a person of a shamanic culture this would not seem strange. Music, both as sound and a storytelling device plays a major role in shamanic cultures, especially in the oral transmission of stories in the European culture.

The presence of the spiritual in music is something recognized by all ancient cultures. Celtic mythological sources are full of references to music in relation to the spiritual and the Otherworld. Music serves as an archetype in the sense that it is a recurring mythopoetic theme or “image” pointing to a collective experience of the human soul. In Celtic mythology this theme is music as a doorway or threshold to the Otherworld, and the transformation towards wholeness that comes with such an encounter. Jason Kirkey

The first grade of druidry is the bardic grade, where the initiate learns to recite stories, poems, and songs as a way to convey knowledge and evoke a blurring of the boundaries between this world and the other. The Australian aboriginals have their song lines, where they literally sing the land. And the Irish had their place name stories called the Dinnsheanchas.

Ireland has a great store of traditional music and there is a great diversity of style and nuance. Each region has a distinctive tradition. One can hear the contours of the landscape shape the tonality and spirit of the music. The memory of the people is echoed in the music. John O’Donohue

animalf

So while it’s a stretch , it’s not a completely unfounded one.

In shamanism an important journeying tool, used to connect with one’s spirit allies, is a power song. My power song came after keening an Ani De Franco song repeatedly while the ocean’s waves crashed over me. I was utterly heartbroken at the time, and the complete annihilation of ego brought on by this devastation opened me up to the elements in a visceral way.

This experience could be seen as sacrilegious to some – a spiritual awakening via popular music, indeed! – or as a demonstration that music still carries at its essence the transformative power to shift us into another world.

Music plays the central role in Celtic soul-restoration, forming the most subtle net to help the soul parts reassemble. Caitlin Matthews

The music, the foray into mind-altering chemicals, was all part of my initiation into spirituality.

My dad, who has been such a powerful influence in my life, is in and out of hospital now. He has such strong will, but I know that won’t keep him going forever. In shamanism, there is a great many practices that address all of life’s transitions, inducing death. So this morning I listened to the most recent lesson from the Shamanic Journeying course I am doing online with Sandra Ingerman.

Words cannot express my gratitude that I will have these skills to assist dad. How beautiful that I have already done a power animal retrieval for him, I told him what his animal was and he grinned from ear to ear – he bears an uncanny resemblance to said animal. He doesn’t have a clue about this stuff, and yet at some level his spirit knew and was gladdened.

Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know,
The piper’s calling you to join him,
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind? Led Zeppelin

HousesOfTheHoly

Now I can tell him that when his the comes there’ll be a loving spirit there to guide him across the boundary between worlds. It will be someone who has passed over that he loves and trusts. How beautiful is that? And I don’t say it from blind faith or wishful thinking. I say it because I have met these spirits myself. And because for tens of thousands of years, spirit has been helping us make these transitions, if we only knew how to connect with them.

Death as a rite of passage, a conscious transition, in comfort and peace. With loving guidance.

In the Celtic traditions, spirals symbolise so many aspects of life, and the circle is a metaphor in almost all shamanic cultures. Nature moves in cycles, seasons, days, shamanic cultures have always revered these cycles, for survival yes, but also the wisdom of recycling life, not becoming fixed or attached to anything, “to everything turn, turn, turn…”

As I share my Dad’s last years on this plane, I have reflected much on all he has shown me. He has always been a man who embraced all the abundance of life. Wracked with disability and health issues from birth, his irrepressible spirit saw him make a dream life for himself, travel, education, family and a heart-led career. He became editor of his own journal, the only option for a frustrated writer in the pre-blog world!

Now, it is my turn, all that he has shown me has contributed to who I am today. My responsibility is to be courageous, to not hold back on the burgeoning worlds I am experiencing. To be brave and open and trust that I can can use these otherworldly guides to navigate this transition.

byrds

So in answer to my own question, I guess I’m okay to call this shamanism. It seems a little arbitrary to name it anything, given that it has been a part of me long before I knew it to even name it. I have always bucked against organised religion, and naming this feels a step in that direction. However naming it also opens me up to a wonderful community of fellow practitioners. The important thing though, it not what I call it, but the very tangible results it produces in my life, and the lives of others.

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you. Gaelic Blessing

Cead Mile Beannachta! (One hundred thousand blessings)

Images:

Album cover and poster art from 1960’s and 1970’s

Sources:

Sandra Ingerman, Walking in Light

Shamanism by Tori McElroy

Jason Kirkey, The Song of the Earth. Music and Healing in the Celtic Tradition

Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone
An Interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie Horrigan

University of Minnesota, What is shamanism? 

Things that makes you go Om

eye_of_the_chakra_storm_by_rebelbam-d5lut55

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought. Basho

People often ask me, “what are the chakras?” And rightly so, I do teach Chakradance.

In truth, probably like all ancient systems, the chakras just ain’t what they used to be. And for good reason, the world ain’t what it used to be. Any system worth its salt must be adaptable to change. Nothing stays still for thousands of years, particularly not whirling vortices of energy.

The more I read and learn about ancient systems, be it the Hindu chakra system, druidry or shamanism, the more I begin to understand that there is no one ‘standard system.’ These systems were highly localised and steeped in the culture and traditions of the people who developed them.

So where does that leave a woman of Irish descent, living in Australia, with an innate fascination for Indian mysticism?

Good question. Can you let me know when you figure it out?

The ancients created a profound system. We can now marry this wisdom with modern information about the natural world, the body, and the psyche, to create an even more effective system. Anodea Judith

root_chakra_by_rebelbam-d5g04xe

Seriously though, it leaves me where most of us seekers are these days… Trying to find meaning in a world where culture has been stripped away, appropriated, and misrepresented. Most of us have not been raised in a lineage of a cultural spiritual tradition, some of our cultural traditions barely even exist anymore. Due to mass migration, many of us have been raised in lands far removed and alien to those of our ancestors.

Even though I have lived in this beautiful land all my life, I am not one of the First People and as such I am not privy to much of their sacred law. Nor should I be, I respect that. In addition to that, our education system has largely ignored indigenous history and wisdom, so what I could have been taught, I haven’t. I intend to remedy that now.

So, I find myself walking a fine line between research and direct experience. I keep an open mind, I read, I look out for interesting people with like-minds, I journey with spirit. And somehow, as I continue to follow the next obvious step on this path, I am guided to the things that illuminate my way.

Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life’s breath, the ocean of air that envelopes the earth. David Suzuki

It’s a patchwork journey. A zigzag path. A bit of this, a bit of that. Sometimes I get lost in all the competing avenues of interest. This week in particular I have had moments of indecision paralysis because I have “homework” from my druidry course, my nature magic course, and my shamanic journeying course. What do I do first?

Then I remind myself, they’re just different pathways, the destination is the same. And I try to find pathways that are meaningful to me, that make sense together, for me, as a Western woman.

I just keep connecting, and trust that spirit will guide me.

And I see connections everywhere. The similarities between the druidic path and the shamanic path, and many ancient belief systems continue to astound me. The representation of spirit as something that can be mapped and worked with, appears across belief systems.

sacral_chakra_by_rebelbam-d5h9u6s

At the heart of most eastern philosophies lies an understanding of the mystical channels of energy that flow through our bodies. The word ‘chakra’ is an ancient Sanskrit word, which literally translated means ‘wheel’.

Just a quick note here on the use of the word ‘energy’. I refer to the subtle energy as described so well by physicist F David Peat:

Many of the biochemical processes within the body involve exchanges of physical energy, but these grosser forms of energy are not what I take the terms healing energy and subtle energy to mean. Rather, the latter are like the activity of a conductor of an orchestra or the choreographer of a ballet, that integrates and coordinates into one cohesive movement all the bio-chemical and energy processes of the body. F David Peat

The chakra system is a system of energy and information. The chakras are part of the subtle energy body, which means they can’t be seen with the naked eye. Some highly sensitive people can perceive the chakras, which is why the original information recorded by the earliest Indian mystics is still proving to be pretty accurate today. All people can learn to attune themselves to these subtle energy channels.

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

The chakras are part of the yoga tradition. Yoga meaning ‘yoke’ or union is the practice designed to yoke the mortal, physical self, to the divine nature of pure consciousness. Yoga and the early concepts of energy centres first appear in the Vedic texts of India from about 4,000 years ago. Following the Vedas were the texts of the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

The idea of the subtle vital force (prana) and the channels along which it flows (nadis) appear in the earliest Upanishads. The heart was said to be the centre of the 72,000 nadis or subtle channels.

Within these Hindu scriptures, the chakra concept became a part of a complex set of ideas related to esoteric anatomy, or as Caroline Myss refers to it, the ‘anatomy of the spirit.’ What we may be learning to manage here then, is our soul.

Subtle energy is like the underlying meaning and coherence which remains implicate in the phenomenal world. Jason Kirkey

These texts mention varying numbers of chakras. Over time, one system of six or seven chakras along the body’s axis became the dominant model, adopted by most schools of yoga. This particular system originated in about the tenth century, and rapidly became widely popular. It is in this model where Kundalini – divine feminine shakti energy – is said to “rise” upward, piercing the various centres until reaching the crown of the head, resulting in union with the Divine Shiva energy.

solar_plexus_chakra_by_rebelbam-d5r3zhl

It was the tantra tradition that moved from the dualistic worldview of the ancient Hindu texts, of matter and spirit as distinct things, that earthly desires should be renounced in the pursuit of enlightenment, to a non-dual idea of integration of body and spirit, to be in the world, not apart from it, a weaving together of the previous traditions, that included the chakras, and saw the body as a sacred temple for spirit.

The practice of tantra is about inner-transformation. The energy involved in the process of tantric transformation is the energy of our own bliss. Prana Gogia

In the tantric texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, the chakras are described as emanations of consciousness from Brahman, a spiritual energy which flows through the crown and gradually becomes denser, creating these distinct levels of chakras, and eventually finds its rest in the Muladhara, or base, chakra. Another text, the Gorakshashatakam gives specific instructions for meditating on the chakras.

The word tantra, which has a dubious reputation in the West as predominantly sexual practices, actually means ‘loom’ and denotes this weaving together of the principles of yoga, the kundalini energy, and deity worship, including practices for mastering our spiritual energy.

The soul… is the primary organizing, sustaining, and guiding principle of a living being. Thomas Berry

The chakra system was popularised in the West by Sir John Woodroffe (writing as Arthur Avalon), in his book, The Serpent Power, which was an English translation of these tantric texts.

Theosphists Charles Leadbeater and Alice Bailey investigated the connections they saw between the chakras and the biology of the human body – associating each chakra with particular endocrine glands and nerve ganglions or plexii in the sympathetic nervous system. According to their clairvoyant perception, the chakras were seen as energy vortexes in the each of the subtle bodies – or layers of the aura. This is quite different to the Indian traditions, where the chakras are subtle centres of consciousness, but have no independent energy status.

Carl Jung and Rudolph Steiner further integrated Eastern spiritual concepts with the evolving theories of Western psychological development. They believed the chakras develop from conception as we age physically, emotionally, and spiritually, starting with the base chakra and moving up into our individual energy expressions and finally up to our connection with the source energy. Jung saw the chakras as an analogy for the progression towards individuation.

To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else. Bernadette Devlin

anahata_heart_chakra_by_rebelbam-d5ytb0x

Many New Age writers, such as Anodea Judith in her book Wheels of Life, and Caroline Myss in her book, Energy Anatomy, have written about their experiences with the chakras in great detail, including the reasons for their functions and associations.

Anodea Judith points out that the associations of the spectrum colours to chakras is a Western addition, attributed to Christopher Hills who published a book entitled Nuclear Evolution in the early 1970’s. The addition of the rainbow colours has hugely influenced Western thinking about the chakras.

According to the Eastern texts, the chakras are formed at the junctions of three connected energy channels, or nadis, that ascend the spine, one on each side, and spiralling around, the central channel, the Shushumna. The two lesser channels of energy – the Pingala on the right and Ida on the left – run parallel to the spinal cord. Chakras both take up and collect prana (life force energy) and transform and pass on energy. This system can be seen as a road map for energy transmission and organisation throughout the subtle energy body.

Chakras are organizing centres within the body for the receiving, processing, and distributing of life energies. Anodea Judith

In the Western approach, which is less esoteric, and more holistic, than the traditional Hindu concept of the chakra system, each chakra is associated with a certain part of the body, and a certain organs and endocrine glands. The endocrine system is a collection of hormone-producing glands, which act as the body’s chemical messengers, and instruct the body in the bodily functions attributed to each chakra.

In the West the chakras are often seen as analogous to ‘computer software’ programmes which relate to our safety, sexuality, power, love, communication, intuition and self-realisation. They have the power to affect our health, emotions, thoughts and behaviours in a positive or negative way.

This is seen as the energy exchange of the mind-body-spirit interaction, and as every organ in the human body has its equivalent on the mental and spiritual level, so too every chakra corresponds to a specific aspect of human behaviour and development.

The lower chakras are associated with fundamental emotions and needs, for the energy here vibrates at a lower frequency and is therefore denser in nature. The finer energies of the upper chakras corresponds to our higher mental and spiritual aspirations and faculties.

Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. Chief Seattle

throat_chakra__vishuddha__by_rebelbam-d6epyfr

Chakradance incorporates the concepts of the chakras as interpreted by Western thinkers, particularly influenced by Carl Jung, Arthur Avalon, and Anodea Judith. These writers extensively studied the Hindu texts, and then incorporated them into a conceptual framework that was meaningful to the Western mind.

The chakras regulate a field of energy called the aura – a dynamic, energetic matrix, which includes the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of our being.

Whereas the original Indian texts associated sounds – mantras – and deities with each chakra, a practice followed by Anodea Judith and Chakradance, Jung presented the chakras as a system of psycho-spiritual awakening, and used developmental stages of the psyche and archetypes to convey this system. 

As long as we’re in a state of confusion, overwhelmed by the three conflicting emotions, trapped in cyclic existence, we’re not happy and we can’t benefit sentient beings. Even though we think we might be benefitting them, ultimately we’re not. Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje

The chakras are often described in the West as energetic ‘gateways’, which connect the various layers of the aura. They move like wheels and open like petals of a flower, allowing the subtle energies to flow freely. Each chakra was believed to vibrate to a certain sound frequency, as well as, in the modern Western concept, a certain colour frequency.

The founder of Chakradance, Natalie Southgate, came upon the practice intuitively when she was studying Jungian psychology and ancient and shamanic dance practice.

She describes her experience. As she allowed herself to dance freely in the dark of her living room, music filled the darkness and her intuitive movements started to guide her into the inner power ignited within her chakras. She began to notice certain music carried a unique resonance with different chakra centres. Free flowing movements born in spontaneity brought her home into her inner dance of her true self.

Chakradance awakens each chakra, starting with the base chakra and flowing effortlessly from one to the other, up to the crown chakra, with unique musical vibrations. The combination of music, movement, and guided imagery allows the dancer to journey through the chakras, focusing attention on a particular chakra, allowing the centre to open, and releasing any blockages.

Emotional, spiritual and physical energies are released. Natalie Southgate describes dancing the seven chakras as like dancing through seven different worlds, each with its own lessons, meaning, and stories.

Chakradance draws on many ancient systems from around the world to find the common elements of those culture’s dances with the chakra system or its equivalent. Dance has long been used in shamanic cultures to connect to our spiritual source, to commune with our gods, to find healing and answers about life.

Let’s just say I was testing the bounds of society. I was just curious. Jim Morrison

third_eye_chakra___ajna_by_rebelbam-d6lxary

In Hinduism, many of the great epics are taught through dance, whilst in Sufism, the whirling dervishes surrender their individuality and dance into spiritual “oneness”. One of the oldest recorded references made to religious dancing comes to us from the Old Testament -“Let them praise His name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre” (Psalms 149:3).

Chakradance combines the elements of this spiritual journeying process through dance and rhythm, with the rich exploration of the chakra system.

To Carl Jung the study of chakras was a study of symbols encountered as we develop our individuality and awareness of the unconscious. Jung likened this individuation process to a spiritual quest or journey, with the aim being to achieve ‘wholeness’.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. Edgar Allan Poe

Natalie Southgate describes the process of individuation as a series of phases and manifestations, which include: encountering the unconscious (inner unknown life), insight into our shadow (reclaiming parts of ourselves we reject), encountering anima and animus (inner feminine and masculine), experiences of the Self (glimpses of our total being). During this process, we begin to integrate the opposites within us (flesh and spirit, reason and emotion, extravert and introvert, saint and sinner). What is not integrated is projected out, so we perceive the unconscious parts of ourselves in others rather then recognising them in ourselves.

In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature… there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. Carl Jung

From a Jungian perspective, when we enter the chakras through dance we enter not only our individual selves but also a collective experience passed through the ages, culture to culture.

Another Jungian technique used in Chakradance is what he called ‘active imagination’, which feels a bit like a waking dream. In active imagining, we use self-expression – be it drawing, writing, or dancing – with the aim of assimilating and integrating our unconscious.

In Chakradance, we use the chakras to journey into our different aspects of consciousness, using specific music and creative visualisations relevant to each of the chakras such as physical elements, colours, or archetypes. This triggers a chain of associated images, ideas, sensations, feelings, or insights to rise from deep within us to the surface of our consciousness. The process of ‘active imagination’ sets up a line of communication between consciousness and the unconscious.

Chakradance is a beautiful example of a sacred dance practice, which uses ancient and modern wisdom to connect our spirit with the divine, both within ourselves and with the universe. The intention of Chakradance is to bring all seven chakras into harmony and balance.

Each of us is born with a treasure, an essence, a seed of quiescent potential, secreted for safekeeping in the center of our being. This treasure, this personal quality, power, talent, or gift (or set of such qualities), is ours to develop, embody, and offer to our communities in acts of service—our contributions to a more diverse, vital, and evolved world. Our personal destiny is to become that treasure through our actions. Bill Plotkin

crown_chakra___sahasrara___by_rebelbam-d7vu9ho

This week I got to thinking about sacred knowledge and cultural appropriation.

I went to a rally to protest the closures of the aboriginal communtities in Western Australia. Thousands of people sat in the city centre, outside the main train station at Flinders St, in the middle of Friday night peak hour. There was a fire and the sacred leaves were burnt, creating a smoke that smudged the entire gathering. My friend and I, both pale redheads, are never going to pass as indigenous to this land, and yet we are passionate about standing beside our indigenous brothers and sisters as they fight to stay on their lands.

I didn’t bring a flag or even my click sticks, it just didn’t feel appropriate. I was standing in solidarity, not trying to be a token aboriginal. I haven’t had their experience, I don’t have their songlines and dreamings in my psyche and DNA, and it would be shallow of me to pretend I do.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. Henry David Thoreau

What I do have is a deepening connection to this land, and a greater respect and understanding for the continuous cultural traditions that have been maintained here over the last 50,000 years.

As I do with shamanism and druidry and the Hindu chakra system. I respect this wisdom.

I didn’t have the privilege of growing up in a cultural tradition like that. As many people these days, even our indigenous peoples, do not. This is, in part, my passion for this protest. Believing as I do in the interconnectedness of land and people, I cannot abide the idea that in this day and age we would still force our First peoples from their land. Enough damage has been done, I cannot stand by and watch more.

I absolutely believe to the core of my being that these land-based traditions hold the key for our sustainability as a human race. Not that we need to revert to the past, but we do need to acknowledge wisdom that has stood the test of time, that works.

There is no reason why ancient tradition and science and technology cannot support each other, cannot be mutually enhanced by interacting with each other.

Jason Kirkey writes in his wonderful book on the ecology of Celtic spirituality, The Salmon in the Spring, of the need for integration. We know our technological life is inherently lacking in spirit, and yet who of us wants to live without electricity and running water – only a small few.

The goal then is to integrate our technological advances with a renewed spiritual connection with the wilderness. Intrinsic to our soul is a deep need for this connection and only by honouring this can we bring the vision of a truly modern world – one that respects science, technology, nature and spirit – into being. Kirkey argues that evolution is the key, we cannot go backwards to a more primitive life, nor should we.

hail_to_my_african_sun_by_rebelbam-d5zq37u

Our evolution and continued viability as a life-enhancing species on this planet requires our ecological integration into the cosmos. The human being is at its most creative wholeness when it freely and effortlessly mediates its own realized wildness into the world. Jason Kirkey

The mantle bestowed on humans in collective evolution is our ability for self-reflective awareness. This is not ‘our’ intelligence per se, but rather the evolutionary process has blessed us with this capacity to be a “particular expression of an intelligence and subjectivity” present in the cosmos from the beginning. In the scheme of things, of nature, humans got the job of self-reflection.

Our purpose now is to integrate this reflective consciousness into a mode of living that is in harmony with the evolutionary functions of all life – and not contrary to it.

So, I am wondering, I am thinking aloud. How do we honour and respect traditional cultures, allow them to operate according to the sacred traditions, accept that some knowledge will never be ours because of tribal law, and yet be thankful for the knowledge that can be shared to further our development? Can we defer to the experience and wisdom of our First peoples, without the typical modern Western arrogant demand for proof and evidence first? (As if 50,000 years of practical experience isn’t enough evidence.)

Sure, let’s invite science in to learn more about why these practices work, but let’s not wait for science, but rather accept that there is a demonstrated body of evidence already to the veracity and power of indigenous wisdom.

Western civilisation needs a complete overhaul or it will fall apart one day or another. It has realised the most complete perversion of any rational order of things. Reign of matter, of gold, of machine, of number, it no longer possesses breath, or liberty, or light… As long as we only talk about economic classes, profit, salaries, and production, and as long as we believe that real human progress is determined by a particular system of distribution of wealth and goods, then we are not even close to what is essential. Julius Evola

tranquil_lotus_by_rebelbam-d69t12p

And for those of us who long for a framework within which to practice, can we incorporate the core principles of ancient wisdom, the ones that is is appropriate to share outside of strict tribal restrictions,  into a synthesised practice, one that acknowledges both the traditions and the reality of the modern world?

I too must be an estuary of confluent tides—
this earth-body of antlered thoughts,
the decay of leaves: my branching mind.
Tumbling with stones and salmon toward the sea,
the rivers of the Earth move through me. Jason Kirkey

Yes. I think we can. It’s already happening. It’s time to change the channel. To recognise that the money economy is only one possible construct of a limitless number under which we could live. And if it doesn’t work, we get to choose another.

Affirmations for the chakras:

I am grounded and connected with Mother Earth

I am in the flow of sensory experiences

I am taking up my rightful space in the world

I am open to love

I am expressing myself authentically

I am clear sighted and intuitive

I am experiencing my divinity and the divinity of all life

 

Bless!

tranquil_void_by_rebelbam-d5el5gl

Images by RebelBam on deviantart

Sources:

Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith

Chakradance.com

Arvan Harvat’s Introduction to the Chakras

Embracing the dark

maa-kali1

How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole. C.G. Jung

Sometimes I wish my brain had a flip-top and I could lift the lid and just pour in all the wisdom of the ages. That, or a plug-in upload, Matrix-style.

I know, I know my brain would explode, my mind would be fried…

It’s just, sometimes, let’s face it, most of the time, when I go to write a blog post, I feel so fired up about the subject, and yet so awed and humbled by all that I don’t know. It’s almost enough to stop me from writing. Almost, but not quite.

My time is limited, as a working mum, running a small business, writing blogs, and studying online courses, my research is dillentantish at best. I know, I know, I could just do less and research one thing and not get fascinated by new aspects of my journey every week, but, pfffft… Have you met me?

This is the pile of books I’m trying to absorb by osmosis as I write…

booksdarkgoddess

As such, I find myself madly trying to absorb information and write and meditate on my subjects. I’m sure in time I’ll reflect back on this mess and chaos in bemusement, I hope I’ll be kind to myself for attempting all that I am, and remember that from chaos all things are born.

In fact, many of the dark mother goddesses, Sekhmet, Lilith, Hecate, and Kali were ‘born’ from variations of the concept/deity/state of Chaos. It is a force present at the conception of most ancient creation stories. Chaos is the great void, the un-manifest. All potential but no form. (Much like this post.)

So please accept my mental meanderings, they are definitely not the results of years of scholarly research and practice. They are the musings of a woman on fire.

A woman who has glimpsed her true nature and power. A woman who intends to waste no more time being small and meek and silent. A woman who is not afraid to get things wrong and make mistakes and ask obvious questions, or even write ill-conceived blog posts, if it opens a sacred door inside her and others. (Okay, well maybe she is sometimes afraid, but she’s doing it anyway.)

the way to create art is to burn and destroy ordinary concepts and to substitute them with new truths that run down from the top of the head and out of the heart. Charles Bukowski

So in my quest to understand the dark mother archetype, I plead to the goddesses for mercy, I mean no offence, my heart is pure. I want to know you better.

Crone-Goddess-© Susan-Seddon-Boulet-247x300

Chthonic “in, under, or beneath the earth”, from “earth,” The literal translation is ‘subterranean’. The translation of meaning discusses deities or spirits of the underworld, especially in Greek religion. The Greek word khthon is one of several for “earth”; it typically refers to the interior of the soil, rather than the living surface of the land (as Gaia or Ge does) or the land as territory (as khora (χώρα) does). It evokes at once abundance and the grave. Wikipedia

Chthonic. One of my most favourite words. That conglomerate of consonants sounds so dense and seductive. Like the earth herself. The wisdom that comes from deep, within the earth. We all come from the earth, from the raw materials that make all of life.

We are all mothers, creators. Even if we don’t reproduce actual humans, even if we don’t consciously create, every thought, breath and action is co-creating, contributing to the world.

And we are destroyers too. We bring death and destruction with our every breath, as our body shifts and transforms, cells die and are jettisoned to make way for new life.

Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction. Pablo Picasso

Why then do so many of us deny this aspect of humanity? And what effect is this denial having in the world?

The distinctions between the ideal attributes of the mother, and the attributes of the dark goddess seem, to me, to be a by-product of civilisation, of taming the natural cycles of life into nice, neat pigeon-holes. This delineation is certainly exaggerated in modern western culture, to the point where we whitewash, malign, or deny the dark mother archetype entirely.

Whatever is rejected from the self, appears in the world as an event. Carl Jung

maa-kali1

Yes. It’s a repeat of the first picture, I know. Just to save you have to scroll to look at it again…

Look at Kali Ma, isn’t she sexy? Can you imagine thinking the Virgin Mary was sexy? How many hail Marys and eternal damnations would that invoke?

Many religions have completely separated the ideal of the ‘good’ mother from the real woman, who actually has sex, who must balance light and dark, who may be loving and nurturing but also ready to destroy and battle at the drop of a hat. The mother who has a libido, who is lusty, luscious, and lascivious, whose sexual energy pours forth from her innermost being.

And when I say mother, I think of her in the sense of the maiden-mother-crone archetype. She is indicative of a phase of the feminine psyche, not the direct result of bearing children as such, although those attributes may also come into it.

ma kali dancing on lord shiv

Kali is the goddess of empowerment, or shakti. It is said that after drinking the blood of Raktaveeja, Kali was so aroused by the battle that she could not stop her dance of destruction. The only way Shiva could stop her from destroying the whole universe was by lying down in her path.

In one version, as Kali stepped on his chest, he was in her way after all, she managed to arouse him enough to receive his seed and bring about his rebirth. In other versions he appears as a baby to arouse her maternal instincts and placate her.

Some say Shiva here represents the manifest, the stable. Kali comes along to destroy the status quo allowing change, transformation, regeneration. Kali is the creator of life, the destroyer of that which has served its purpose, and the re-creator of new life from the seeds of the old. Like a bushfire burning out old growth and triggering dormant seeds to grow.

Other interpretations read the scene as Kali and Shiva – the masculine and feminine energies – needing each other for balance. Gopi Krishna proposed that Kali standing on the dead Shiva symbolised the helplessness of a person undergoing the changing process (psychologically and physiologically) in the body when the Kundalini Shakti energy is awakened.

The urge to destroy is also a creative urge. Pablo Picasso

mother-goddess-breatfeeding

Mother and destroyer. Nurturer, life-giver, and the taker of life. How do we reconcile these extremes of the dark goddess?

Perhaps they are only extreme to the modern reader.

In ancient times the great mother birthed us, we took refuge in her womb-like caves, and then returned to her earth when we died. Life and death were not seen as distinct and separate things, life to be sought after and death to be avoided, they were part of the natural cycle.

The human body is not a thing or substance, given, but a continuous creation. The human body is an energy system which is never a complete structure; never static; is in perpetual inner self-construction and self-destruction; we destroy in order to make it new. Norman O. Brown

Many of these ancient goddesses were conceptualised as triple-goddesses, manifestations of the various aspects of the feminine life-cycle and attributes, usually in the form of the maiden-mother-crone archetypes.

beauty and the beast

I’ve been afraid of the dark. I have been raised to associated dark with evil. But that’s a dirty, rotten lie. We came from the dark of the womb and we return to the dark of the earth when we die.

And as I get older I am more fascinated with the dark goddess. Not satisfied at a soul level by just being a ‘good’ wife, mother, daughter. I feel compelled to investigate the full depth and breadth of my being. And I need to find a way to integrate and honour all aspects of being in a spirit of wholeness.

Life is fury, he’d thought. Fury — sexual, Oedipal, political, magical, brutal — drives us to our finest heights and coarsest depths. Out of furia comes creation, inspiration, originality, passion, but also violence, pain, pure unafraid destruction, the giving and receiving of blows from which we never recover. The Furies pursue us; Shiva dances his furious dance to create and also to destroy… This is what we are, what we civilize ourselves to disguise — the terrifying human animal in us, the exalted, transcendent, self-destructive, untramelled lord of creation. Salman Rushdie

Darkness can be beautiful, whilst excessive light can bleach out all nuance, shadows play with light to create the otherworld. It is only in the dark that we can see the spirit world, in the light there are too many distractions. In the dark our inner eye, our third eye, or ‘strong eye’ as the Australian aboriginals call it, can see with clarity.

SusanSeddonBouletLilithXxx0503

As someone who has been conditioned to believe in the light, in goodness, it has been a challenge for me to acknowledge, let alone accept, my shadow aspects.

Yet as I spend time in a darkened room journeying by candlelight, dancing the dance of the base chakra, following the roots of trees into the moist, dark earth, dancing with spirit animals in caves, and sitting in quiet meditation in the dark, I have been pleasantly surprised to find deep solace and respite there.

Think of the taoist concept of yin and yang. The nature of change, constant interaction, balanced in an infinite manner due to its relative nature.

I know, I know, I’m drawing on a hotch-potch of cultural influences here. But my point is that all traditional cultures recognised the natural way of balancing the energies of dark and light. There is not judgement about what is ‘better’ merely the recognition that balance is essential to the flow of life.

yin:yang

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other. Tao Te Ching

And as I research this blog, as I tried to find meditations and affirmations of embracing the darkness, I was not surprised to find a dearth of such things. There’s plenty of stuff about turning darkness and shadows into light, but what of embracing the dark and the shadows, of seeing what it has to teach us. Not so much of that…

If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth. Carl Sagan

I have been drawn to the images and stories of the dark goddesses; Sekmet, Kali, Morrígan, goddesses who revelled in blood and battle, and the fiery transformation of death.

In reading these myths and stories, it helps me to think of death, not only in the literal physical sense, but also in the sense of a dying to self. That process where we let go of old ideas, old versions of our self, to be transformed into something more vital, more alive with life-force.

Boulet-Susan-Seddon-Oshun

In my limited experience with these goddesses, that is the energy they bring. It’s a no holes-barred challenge, are you ready to face your fears, to grow, to let go of life’s detritus, to battle the forces of stasis and entropy?

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come. Joseph Campbell

A few moons ago a friend asked me to assist in a ritual to The Morrígan. I was a little wary, I mean I’m a white-lighter from way back, give me Brigid or Danu any day, but The Morrígan, she scares me. The ritual was both powerful and enlightening (en-darkening?) for me. I saw that my fear came from the suppression of the very qualities The Morrighan evokes.

Morrigan

The Morrígan is a goddess of battle, strife, and sovereignty. The Irish sidhe (varieties of spirits) were shape shifters. Morrígan sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above warriors, and in the Ulster Cycle – one of the main stories that inform Celtic mythology – she also takes the forms of an eel, a wolf, and a cow. She is generally considered a war deity, although her association with a cow also suggests a role connected with the land.

She is often depicted as a trio of goddesses, all sisters, although the names vary, most commonly used are Badb, Macha and Nemain, or Badb, Macha and Anand.

In the Irish tradition, Miranda Green write that there is a very direct relationship between goddesses, sovereignty, and warfare, and that warfare and fertility seem closely aligned, suggesting a concept of giving and taking, birth and death and “the opening and closing of life.”

kb-SSB-Diana-1

Attending a Shaktipat ceremony last week, where we performed powerful pranayama (breathing) exercises, followed by an awakening of the kundalini energy, I found myself experiencing a powerful rising of energy from my belly, in a roomful of people who sounded as if they were having spontaneous orgasms! The energy was electrified with primal and ecstatic cries. I have never experienced anything like it, well, maybe once, but we won’t go there right now.

There is a time in my life where this would have completely freaked me out. However my chakra work allowed me to ride these waves of energy, and allow my own waves to undulate with snake-like grace through my energy body. It was truly blissful.

Since then, and with the constant preparation for the base chakra and sacral chakra dances for my Chakradance classes, I have been investigating the ‘belly’ as a primal and vital feminine energy centre.

SSB-Selene

The belly contains our lower three chakras. The base, our instinctual and primal centre, the sacral our sensual and emotional centre and the solar plexus, our centre of will and power.

Of course, wanting to extend and expand on this experience, I have been reading about the belly, belly-dance, breath work, and tantric exercises. The belly is the birthplace of the body, but also our connection to the earth, to our sensual natures and to our powerful warrior natures.

By awakening the kundalini energy, we can experience flow through these chakras, uniting the earthy, dark, sensuality and fire of the lower chakras with the airy, light and etheric nature of the upper chakras. We can balance our dark and light energy and nature.

darkgoddess

Guided cave meditation – take a journey into a cave and see who you meet there…

Affirmations and reflections for embracing the dark goddess

Contemplate the Dark moon, the Great void, places of potential, of creative intention, not so much nothingness, but the space from which all creation comes.

See the darkness as a space of infinite possibilities. Visualise a force that creates, that transforms, and re-creates in a continuous cycle.

Imagine the darkness of a cave, of the womb, as a sacred space to explore hidden aspects of yourself.

Ask yourself:

What part of self am I denying?

What burdens am I carrying? 

What is weighing me down?

What can be burnt or destroyed?

What detritus is lurking in my heart?

Where am I stuck?

What is stopping me from living out loud?

Affirm:

I embrace the darkness within

I am unafraid to bear witness to my shadow self

I honour my pain, my grief, my scars

I am in the natural cycle of death and rebirth

I release all that is no longer needed to the fire of transformation

I honour my sensual, sexual, animal self

More than any other goddess, Kali has the power to free you from what keeps you stuck…. She appears fearsome to those who fear letting go of their veils, but when we’re open to her power, she is the mother, the teacher, the Lover. Sally Kempton

Bless!

Spider woman post

Read more…

The Manifestation of Kali as an Astrophysical Anomaly

Images:

Kali

Kali Breasfeeding 

Kali Dancing on Shiva

Lilith by Susan Seddon Boulet

Dark Goddess

Beauty and the Beast 

Morrigan

Moon Goddess

Crone Goddess by Susan Seddon Boulet

Diana by Susan Seddon Boulet

Oshun by Susan Seddon Boulet

Spider Woman

Patience, patience, patience, and faith

Nautilus-Shell-36The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea. Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Ah the sea! Such a great teacher. If only I could be more like the sea. And herein lies my problem with life. I don’t wait patiently, openly, I’m always grasping, searching. I’m rarely choiceless. I almost always know exactly what I want, and what everyone else should want too, if I could just get my way, everything would be perfect.

I have never been ‘empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.’ I am always digging, wanting more, cutting open the goose that laid the golden egg.

Someone who resides deep in my heart called me on this behaviour during the week.- giving me great cause for reflection. And although it is always hard to be shown one’s shortcomings, I am grateful.

You see, I finally understand where I go wrong with the things I love. Not just with people, but with everything.

When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Sea-Jewels-No-8-detailjpg

I haven’t seen the gifts in my life as gifts from the sea, as serendipitous presents washed upon my shore. I have seen them as a Christmas present to be opened and devoured in one sitting. And even then found wanting and greedily exchanged for more stuff at the Boxing Day sales.

I haven’t just allowed things to unfold to me in their own time and way, I have always cajoled, pushed, pulled, manipulated, controlled, forced, or tried to anyway.

I’m like the proverbial kid in a candy store. Shovelling in as much as I can. There’s no savouring or appreciation of the bounty. There’s no faith that it will be there if I slow down and appreciate it, and that I don’t need to be so greedy.

But I am glad of the lesson, of truly seeing how my problem is, not so much in manifesting gifts in my life, it’s the lack of respect and faith I show them once they do appear.

I would like to say I’ll be different now, but it’s too soon for that. All I can hope is that I’ll be more aware, more conscious.

Don’t wish me happiness
I don’t expect to be happy all the time…
It’s gotten beyond that somehow.
Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor.
I will need them all. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

ocean-treasure-sqjpg

As I reviewed my last post, through another’s eyes, I saw this greed and grasping. It wasn’t pretty. Here I was commanding that the universe must deliver my intentions, in my way, on my timeline or I would, what? Lose faith, give up?

In the face of a year that has brought gift after gift after gift, my arrogance, my lack of respect and appreciation, was astounding to me.

And in the past I would have beaten up on myself, but that too is not appreciating the gift. This insight, this perspective into my subconscious driving forces is a huge gift. And I won’t disrespect it. I won’t expect it to flood me and change me overnight into some more spiritual version of myself – whatever that means.

I know I can walk through the world, along the shore or under the trees, with my mind filled with things of little importance, in full self-attendance. A condition I can’t really call being alive. Mary Oliver

Even as I write there is the awareness that in a month, or a year, or an hour, this realisation will again shift and break apart into infinite drops of seaspray and become something else. And at some point I’ll hold on too tight to it, I’ll decide it could be improved somewhat, if it was more like this, less like that. And then it will slip through my fingers, like trying to hold onto water. But that’s okay too.

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me. Mary Oliver

Nautilus-Shell-47

Scott Alexander King writes that spiritual knowledge, and the power that comes with it, must be approached with a committed, objective mindset. We cannot learn true wisdom in a weekend workshop, or a degree course. He says, “Before questing for spiritual attainment we must first dedicate ourselves to becoming a whole person; a process that involves surrendering our familiar self to Spirit, so our authentic self, hidden deep within, can emerge reborn.”

I think this is the real learning I am receiving from this year of intentions. I have been set on a course, but of course I was never going to reach my destination in this year. So rather than trying to tick off the boxes of my intentions, a greater gift is to see where those intentions have pointed me in new directions, where they have allowed my heart and mind to open to new and wonderful experiences, to where I have been fundamentally altered as a human being.

True wisdom must be deserved. It must be gathered over a lifetime of study and embraced as a way of life.  It must become a path of the heart explored with absolute devotion. We must be prepared to face our fears and conquer them and turn our weaknesses into strengths and our darkest hours into gifts of power.  Scott Alexander King

This week in our shamanic community, we have been journeying to connect with an element of nature. As I saw myself stepping outside onto my balcony, in my mind’s eye, a great tidal wave of water rushed toward me.

I was shown how water has always been with me, in childhood dreams I would lift a latch door in my bedroom floor which led me to the ocean, I would swim and meet water beings. I have many dreams of tsunami waves, of being engulfed, claimed by the sea.

This wave took me to the ocean where I swam with fish and sea turtles, and then to a river where I splashed and played with a group of otters. It was a very loving, healing, energy. The message from this water elemental is to be light and flow and play.

Water does not resist. Water flows. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does. Margaret Atwood

Nautilus-Shell-34I had a similar message from my upper world guide, who is a light being who took me to the farthest star in the universe. He took me to a crystal cave where there was a pool of water that was swirling in emerald green and azure blue healing waters.  The light being had me swim in the healing waters and told me to play, so I somersaulted and played with other light beings. It was so refreshing to my spirit!

In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans; in one aspect of You are found all the aspects of existence. Kahil Gibran

Spirit is telling me to lighten up, to be the light I want to see in the world, to play and laugh and be joyful. There is a time to be serious and solemn, but there is also the need for light heartedness.

In a subsequent journey with water. Water again came up onto my balcony and sucked me into it’s undertow. This time I became water. From water I evaporated into the sky. Raining down into a river, then emptied into the sea. Moving fast this time, I felt a little fearful of the power of water in full force.

Deep and rough ocean waves, huge and gray-green with dark depths beneath, crashed around me. Fear arose strongly in me, and as if in response to my fear, I was washed up on a beach where I sat and talked with water spirit/deity.

They communicated to me that there was no more fear to be felt in rough waves than calm waters. Water doesn’t fear the deep ocean more than the tranquil bay. Ego, attachment to form creates fear. Water has no attachment to form. It flows. It lets go. It trusts. I went back into deep ocean with this sense of trust. The experience became more excitement than anxiety. Deep, dark ocean depths roiled beneath me, and I sensed my unconscious there – there was much more of myself, of life, to explore. I felt a fear of my deepest darkest depths, and yet sensed its untapped power.

The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth, it can lie down like silk breathing or toss havoc shoreward; it can give gifts or withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can sweet-talk entirely. As I can too, and so, no doubt, can you, and you. Mary Oliver

Nautilus-Shell-31

The weekend heralded the Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Solstice literally means ‘standstill’ and for three days the sun appears to rise at the exact same point on the horizon. This week leading to the Summer Solstice has been overwhelming for many. A reminder that the powerful solar fire energy can be harnessed for good or evil.

The idea of a standstill is a powerful one. So often, and particularly at this time of year, life becomes so busy and so focused on getting through the end of the year. and surviving Christmas, that we forget to slow down, to breathe, to check in with our emotional state. If the traffic on the roads are any indicator of this, we are all being thoughtless, impulsive and selfish.

The Solstice is a time when the energies of nature, of the otherworld are closest in communion to our ordinary reality. As such it is a wonderful time to commune with nature. In this way we can stop and stand still and breathe. We can experience that there is more to life than our fabricated sense of reality.

All night I heard the small kingdoms breathing around me, the insects, and the birds who do their work in the darkness. All night I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling with a luminous doom. By morning I had vanished at least a dozen times into something better. Mary Oliver

I celebrated the Solstice with a dance ritual on the Friday, Chakradance on Saturday and a druid ritual on Sunday.

We met at the grassy plain atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. Communing with the sun, earth, air and water we honoured the elements, the nature spirits and our own divinity, we made vows for the year to come. Then we feasted and swam in the ocean. It was a beautiful celebration of life’s rich bounty.

Coming home I took a bath and a deep sadness overwhelmed me. “Oh for God’s sake, when will I be free of this grief?” I exclaimed to the water.

I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

My heart is opening. What greater gift could love bring me?

Nautilus-Shell-33

Affirmations for healing your heart chakra by Natalie Southgate, founder of Chakradance

I am open to love and kindness.
I give and receive love freely.
My heart is full.
I forgive myself….
I have so much to be grateful for.
The love that I give comes back to me many times over.
I am connected with other human beings.
I am at peace.

Affirmations are positive messages for our inner self. It is always best to make affirmations personal, so use the affirmations above which really resonate with your inner self or create some of your own. Spend some time each day, either silently or out loud, saying and feeling these positive messages for your heart. Natalie Southgate

Bless!

Images by Kathy Morton-Stanion

Longing is so very long

the_mists_of_avalon_by_prairiekittin-d4qt8o3

We can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. George Eliot

Longing can be rather pleasurable when it’s for something nice that is coming our way. For a lover out of town, for a holiday, for Christmas, or a birthday. We call that anticipation.

Longing for things lost or seemingly out of reach is usually painful, sometimes poignantly so, infused as it is with memories or desires of something desirable, something loved.

If some longing goes unmet, don’t be astonished. We call that life. Anna Freud

There is another kind of longing. A ceaseless nameless variety that lurks in your soul like a spectre. Invisible, unseen, but always active, whispering inaudible desires. It is the sense of waking from a dream, not remembering its substance, but knowing it affected you greatly. A knowing, just out of reach.

I would love to live

Like a river flows,

Carried by the surprise

Of its own unfolding. John O’Donohue

Herbert_James_Draper,_Study_for_Clyties_of_the_Mists

This longing is formless, nameless, seemingly for nothing in particular. And yet it comes in waves, crashing through your heart like the sense of a lost loved one. It is a deep yearning for something, as if the soul itself it crying out for what it so desperately needs.

They yearn
for a return
to the tender-heart
of earthy childhood loves;
of timeless days
dreaming within the lilacs,
soft toes touching
cold water flowing by. Frank MacEowen

Six weeks since my lover and I ended our relationship and I still wake most mornings with his phantom self nestled beside me in bed, cocooning by body, hands between my breasts. I have cried rivers over the longing I feel for him. Last week I thought I would drown in this emotional storm.

There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternally new now that builds and creates itself out of the Best as the past withdraws. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And yet I wonder if I had my memory erased, would I still long for him? No. Surely it’s a mental construct, based on an attachment to a memory.

There is the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible—magic to make the sanest man go mad. Homer

Or is it? The Irish are renowned for their poetic sense of longing. It seems to be embedded in our DNA. Where does this longing come from? Is it the mind only, or is there a deeper soul longing? And if so, what can we do about it? It’s driving me a little nuts…

Although surrendering to our sacred longings can sometimes be quite a painful soul-stretching and soul-tempting process…our longing, with its unique quality and energy, is also a magical state to befriend, for it is a trustworthy guide. Frank MacEowen

Frank MacEowen, author of the Celtic Way of Seeing and The Mist-Filled Path, writes that longing has ‘an ancient allegiance to the evolution of our souls’. And that in our modern, particularly Western world, so many of us our cut off, are ‘exiled’ from our ancestral spiritual practices that would allow this soul longing a voice.

Exile is that undeniable sensation of being cordoned off from what is most essential to our souls. For many of us a kind of exile may lie at the very heart of our lives. It is an exile many people feel in the twenty-first century. It may express itself as an exile from nature, from ancestral traditions, from cultural homelands, or from spiritual lineages. Sometimes these lineages and traditions appear to be lost forever without the potential of reclamation, so the exile feels even more poignant. Frank MacEowen

Longing can be a gateway into a new world, or even the Otherworld, the realm the Celts believe the hidden folk – the fairies, elves and nature spirits dwell in. The realm from which poets, seers, and dreamers receive their fantastic visions and while away time living life through their hearts and imaginations’  eye. It’s only there the Otherworld can be glimpsed.

There is an unprecedented spiritual hunger in our times. More and more people are awakening to the inner world. A thirst and hunger for the eternal is coming alive in their souls; this is a new form of consciousness. Yet one of the damaging aspects of this spiritual hunger is the way it sees everything in such a severe and insistent light. The light of modern consciousness is not gentle or reverent; it lacks graciousness in the presence of mystery….When the spiritual search is too intense and hungry, the soul stays hidden. The soul was never meant to be seen completely. John O’Donohue

Ariadneherbery james baker

I think for me, it’s about keeping the balance of longing in that lovely, dreamlike state of infinite possibility, but not allowing it to tip over too far into a grasping, desperate need.

At one stage last week, as I was putting away clothes and saw the dress I wore for my love’s birthday, I dissolved into yet another bout of weeping and I said to myself – you’re turning into DuckFace! You know, the character Hen from Four Weddings and a Funeral? Hugh Grant’s ex who dissolves into tears and remonstrations every time she sees him or someone mentions his name. Not really the vibe I was going for!

The soul is not in the body, the body is in the soul. This is not easy to understand or to live. But we must try. If we don’t, we circumscribe our life and greatly reduce the ways we know our souls, we strengthen the Great Split between us and creation. Tom Cowan 

I confessed to my love that I was feeling this anguish and longing. His practice is to offer his pain and hardship to the goddess as an offering, as an acknowledgement that we owe a great debt of life, for life itself, and this can be our sacrifice to that debt of gratitude.

This really resonated with me. I didn’t want to wail and moan like a child who didn’t get her way. I want to navigate life with this kind of grace and dignity and acknowledgement of being a part of the Great Song, and only ever getting glimpses of my part in this, but having faith nonetheless.

In the initiation to the Bardic Grade of the Druidic Order, we are asked if we accept both life’s hardships and suffering and life’s blessings.

Holding my suffering out to the Gods as an offering felt noble and honourable. It feels that I was honouring the work of the soul, to be expansive and allowing of life.

Following our soul-longing deep into the underworld is the path of seeking a vision of our dán (soul-gift), and opening ourselves to more expansive and conscious ways of life, rooted in the mysteries of soul. Jason Kirkey

Many heart meditations later, the grief shifted and even though my phantom lover is still with me, the hurt and suffering has lessened considerably.

Dancing the Heart Chakradance is a beautiful release of this love-longing energy.

The dance unites the masculine sky energy with the feminine earth energy, uniting through the bridge of our human form, in the heart chakra. I believe the soul expresses itself through our heart, well, through our whole energetic system, but I feel the longing of the soul manifests in the heart.

Louise Hay says “your longing is your calling.” My longing has called me to write this blog, to publish seven intentions I long for:

the-kelpie-1913-herbert-james-draper-1371991529_org

 

1. Home

2. Community

3. Purpose

4. Vibrant health

5. Abundance

6. Joy

7. Love

 

And this journey to follow these intentions has brought a multitude of blessings into my life. A sense of place and purpose, a community (or two!), health and vitality, abundance, joy, and love. My longing propelled me to discover Chakradance, shamanism, druidry. To experience the sovereignty of self that is only found journeying to the soul.

The soul possesses an ineffable intelligence that cannot be controlled. Like the mist, the soul, we might say, has a mind of its own. It cannot be forced, directed, or squeezed into a box where it does not belong. It cannot even be fully seen or perceived, for the soul is a timeless, feathered thing that flies in more worlds than one. Frank MacEowen

My soul called to me through my longing to reconnect with my love. Yes, we are no longer romantically involved, but we have a beautiful and rich friendship that nurtures and sustains us both.

So instead of gnashing my teeth and wailing in the face of this longing, I embrace it. I climb aboard that boat on the mist-filled river and let it take me where it needs to go.

So come to the pond,

or the river of your imagination,
or the harbour of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.

And live
your life. Mary Oliver

Affirmations on longing by Dee Walters:

I give thanks that:
I am fulfilling my longing for spiritual attainment
I am fulfilling my longing for a healthier existence with exercise and a good diet
I am living in the present moment and I shall not waste it on the days gone by

End your affirmation by saying:

“I give thanks that this or something better is in the Divine
flow of my life and is manifesting perfectly for me now
according to the Divine will of [the Universe].” by KG Stiles

Bless!

 

Images:

The Mists of Avalon by prairiekittin

Paintings by Herbert James Draper

You’re not broken

Spirit-of-Fire

We are the sum of our ancestors
Our roots stretch back to blue-green algae
They stretch to the stars
They ultimately reach the void
This history is inscribed in our psyches
Silence and solitude enjoin us to remember
Our whole and great body. Joan Halifax

You’re not broken. You don’t need fixing. There’s nothing wrong with you. If you could just sit with yourself, and feel your true nature, and love yourself as you are. If you could love yourself so much that all the fragments, all the broken off pieces of yourself would come flooding back to be in the majesty of your being.

Find what is natural, not what is normal. Panache Desai

I am fascinated at the moment with the Arthurian Legends, the priestesses to the Goddess, the knights, the shamanic magic of Merlin, I am currently reading at least different three books about it.

The ‘Mists of Avalon’, as with all Arthurian Tales, present many archetypes of woman. The difference in their fates appears to be an issue of power. Those who felt abused by life ended up in the convent finding peace in God’s forgiveness. Those who acted in the service of the Goddess stayed powerful and active in the world. Then there were those who were destroyed by a selfish desire for power.

How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole. C.G. Jung

Shamanic_Soul_Retrieval_Reiki

Is is possible that we can reframe trauma to be seen as a service to the Goddess? Not the inflicting of the trauma itself, but the life force that keeps us going on, striving towards wholeness. Or if you prefer a less religious version, as a pathway to individuation of the Self.

For me, when I feel hopeless and broken this idea brings great comfort. It is becomingly increasingly apparent to me that I have reached a fork in the road where I can see myself as damaged and in need of constant healing, and suffering in irredeemable pain. Or I can walk the path of power, that there is nothing wrong with me, that all this pain and healing and awakening has led me to a place where I can guide myself and others along the path to wholeness.

When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing. Rabindranath Tagore

mending

As is my want, I am reading several books at the moment. It is a strange practice that walks a fine line between powerful cross-pollination of ideas and total confusion.

I have picked up Vagina:A Biography by Naomi Wolf where I left off – namely at the part where it ceased to be an “oh wow!” journey into the wonder of the female sexual nervous system and forayed into some – truly frightening – anecdotal evidence of the degree and longevity of the effects of sexual trauma on physiology and psychology. Not to mention on mental wellbeing, sexuality, and creativity.

Simultaneously I am reading Jungian and mythological accounts of the Arthuriam legends, and about shamanic soul retrieval.

The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort towards wholeness. Madeleine L’Engle

As such there is a melting pot of ideas in my mind – which fuelled by some celtic inspired rituals to the triple goddess has inspired me to purse this nexus of goddess power/shamanic soul retrieval and psychic healing from sexual trauma, and all it’s associated long-term issues for a person’s mind, body and spirit.

There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. Thomas Merton

Naomi Wolf travelled to Sierra Leone in 2004 at the height of the civil war. She visited a camp where literally hundreds of women – who had suffered brutal sexual trauma at the hands of soldiers – were housed. Jimmie Briggs – founder of the anti-violenece organisation ‘Man Up’ – wrote that the victims of sexual trauma seemed more affected in some ways that any other trauma of war, he says, “It is as if the light has gone off in their eyes.”

grilmirrorwolfWolf also writes about a condition called Vulvodynia – a condition I suffered from for many years during my late teens and early twenties, undiagnosed beyond being told “it was all in my head.” Turns out it was in my head, not psychosomatic as the doctor suggested to me, but a condition of the nervous system, which affects the pelvic nerve, causing painful sex as well as affecting general wellbeing.

Wolf writes that sufferers of this condition also present as if the “light has gone out of them.” Often expressing a lack of will to live.

Wolf hypothesises that damage to a woman’s pelvic nerve has an effect on their neurological function, affecting vitality, depression, and even their will to live.

Why do we describe a distraught person as being ‘beside himself’? Because the ancients believed that soul and body could part, and that under great emotional stress the soul would actually leave the body. When this happened a person was ‘beside himself. Dictionary of Word Origins

I wonder if it’s possible to heal these women, whose “light has gone out of their eyes”, even those who have been so damaged by rape and sexual trauma that the very fabric of their being has been torn?

This description of the light going out of their eyes, speaks to me of soul loss, and I say that as someone who has experienced trauma and depression and a loss of hope. I also speak as someone who has found healing and path to wholeness again.

As twee as it may sound – to those who haven’t experienced the journeying practice – I wonder can shamanic healing and dancing life into their souls through Chakradance and moving meditations help these victims of trauma? I believe it can. I believe Chakradance can be a gentle, loving, and self-managed soul retrieval process.

So what is soul retrieval?

Shamanic journeying varies slightly from culture to culture but it is a system of healing that has been continuously in use for over 40,000 years.

Shamans divide the spiritual cosmos into three worlds; the Upper World, the Middle World, the Lower World. A missing soul essence may be found in any of these worlds. Shamans most often use the beat of the drum to take them into an altered state of consciousness and carry them in spirit flight into the hidden universe of these worlds. Once there, they meet with their helping spirits, power animals and spirit teachers. It is the spirits who then lead the shaman to the places where lost soul essences are found. Working hand in hand with their spirits, the shaman retrieves the lost soul and carries it back to the person who is awaiting its return. The soul is sung back, blown into the body and welcomed home in a beautiful ceremony. Beth Beurkens

shaman

Journey work is done by entering a meditative or trance-like state, a theta brain wave state, through the use of repetitive drumming or other percussive sounds, singing, chanting, bells rattles or dancing. In this state we can journey to non-ordinary reality, to the realms of spirit, where we can communicate with guides, power animals and reclaim lost parts of our spirit.

Being able to engage with the realms outside of what we call our life is the role of the shaman. Our vast Universe and our expansive life is made up of layers upon layers of energetic realms. It is within these realms that energies can get lost, trapped, bogged down or wounded. Our soul, when faced with tremendous pain, suffering, loss, trauma or fear, can often retreat in an effort to protect, to hide or to grieve. The roots to our soul loss can go deep into our life story and often we find it challenging to trace them to the cause of our unbalance on our own. Lisa Meade

Soul retrieval, one aspect of journeying, addresses the idea of soul loss. The idea being that those of us who have experienced trauma, particularly early childhood trauma, especially where our physical body was violated or threatened, may have had a soul-splintering experience, where parts of our soul literally fled to the far reaches of the universe, and stayed there.

Soul loss deepens when we fall into depression or addiction or make compromises with the world as we understand it, giving up on our big dreams of life. Lacking the courage and confidence to make that creative leap, or to trust ourselves to love, we wimp out – and part of our bright spirit, disgusted with us, goes away. Robert Moss

Sandra Ingerman writes that in psychology this state is called disassociation, but little attention is paid to where the self goes, or how to get it back. Rather it is viewed more as a psychological pattern of coping with trauma.

The main symptoms of soul loss are issues with personal power, difficulties with healthy boundaries, loss of vitality, or even loss of the will to live.

When we talk about soul we are really talking about light. In returning the soul parts and lost vitality to the client we are really returning light. Sandra Ingerman

One of the many techniques a shaman uses – in addition to singing, chanting, howling, yipping, dancing, stomping, waving leaves around, and smudging you with smoke and essences, it’s a very noisy, vibrant experience – is to blow the spirit into your being. As a passionate devotee of yoga and the Vedic wisdom that ‘breath is life’ I really like this idea.

If you’re not familiar with the practice of shamanic soul retrieval watch this explanation and demonstration by Daniel Leonard:

Try this soul retrieval practice for yourself on Tai Carmen’s blog post on Soul Retrieval – you’ll have to scroll down for the practice, but the whole post is worth a read.

When you pray, you visit the kind innocence of your soul. This is a pure place of unity which the noise of life can never disturb. You enter the secret temple of your deepest belonging. Only in this temple can your hungriest longing find stillness and peace. John O’Donohue

dreaming-with-horse-spiritAffirmations for wholeness by Trina Brunk:

I welcome all my feelings. I am willing to receive my soul’s communication through my feelings. I am whole and my feelings are part of my wholeness.

I give thanks for the blessing of life and all the loving support I receive from my forebears. I give back what is not mine.

With every breath I easily release attachment to emotions. The emotions of others have no effect on me. I experience balance and wholeness on all levels of my being. I am at peace.

I release my attachment to being right. I trust the flow of life and I effortlessly, joyously allow it to carry me. I empty my mind and enter the silence and here I am blessed, replenished and healed.

I no longer defend against knowing what I know, seeing what I see, experiencing what I experience. I accept my wholeness. In my undefended innocence I am whole.

Forgive me my blunt assertions in this post, forgive my contradictions. I mean no offence to those who suffer – all these ideas are nascent and unformed. They spring from a hope and a desperate desire to believe there is the potential for wholeness for myself and all people who desire to be restored to their true vitality, no matter how great their suffering.

Bless!

 

Sources:

Soul Retrieval by Sandra Ingerman

Soul Retrieval by Tai Carmen

Vagina: A biography by Naomi Wolf

The Shaman’s Way by Michael Harner

 

Images:

Spirit Of Fire

Shamanic_Soul_Retrieval_Reiki

shamanic-soul-retrieval

dreaming-with-horse-spirit

mending

women in mirror