Dancing in the shadow

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

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

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

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

I have written about archetypes in these other posts. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The experience transformed from being elemental fire, to being ON fire – being burned, encased in flames – and all the powerful emotions that came with it. Horror, fear, panic. Even knowing it was just in the dance, the emotional reaction was profound. 

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

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

Recovering in child’s pose, I found myself saying to myself, “that was then this is now, it is safe to be powerful now.”

As I incanted this affirmation, came a vision of a fiery cauldron burning away the hurts of the past, all those experiences where I was persecuted, shamed, or abused for expressing my power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Try Chakradance – Rhythm for your soul



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/

(You must have been) kissing a fool

You’ll never find peace of mind til you listen to your heart. George Michael 

Happy New Year.

For most of us it is a happy time. Or at least a time of hope for happier times. Yesterday the dog – in her crazed food dance ritual – knocked a candle off my balcony. It was hope. I mean it was a candle with the word ‘hope’ printed on it. It smashed. ‘Hmmmm.’ I wondered. What is the significance of that?

Someone I once knew told me that hope was not the great sentiment so many of us think it is. Hope really is saying that our happiness is in the future, that the now is lacking in some way.

I see his point and I think there is danger is always being in hope, always waiting for the magical future in lieu of the not-so-satisfactory present. Yet when a dark night of the soul hits us, hope is the light that prevents us from giving up entirely.

Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears. Rudyard Kipling

And so I ponder that this time last year I was devastated. I spent New Years Day weeping, bawling, blubbering, wailing… And many more variations on that theme. Honestly I don’t know I could have cried so hard for so long, without my eyeballs popping out. I lay on the grass by my neighbours’ pool (it’s okay, they were away at the time) and just let these waves of grief, sadness, disappointment, rage and heartbreak roll through me.

Even in the depths of my despair there was hope, and a resolution to not repeat the experiment that always led me to this sad and broken place. Heartache and loss are great teachers, but at some point you have to learn the lesson and move the fuck on.

I really don’t want to keep harping on about that moment, but it was rather pivotal for me. After years, a lifetime really, of co-dependent behaviour and love addiction, something snapped in me. And yes, perhaps I swung a little too far the other way in 2016, when my favourite word was ‘no.’ I really pulled away from people, I rarely socialised outside of work and facilitating my classes, and hanging with my son. 

Reality denied comes back to haunt. Philip K. Dick

Not a particularly materially successful or happy year, with the notable exception of my trip to India which just made me want to explode several times daily with the sheer pleasure of being a living, sensory being. It was a year of letting go.

It was mine though. I didn’t squander my time or energy for anyone else, and that was new. I was steadfast.

2016 felt like a hard slog, like I was shedding skin to make way for something new. I’m so glad this new year and its new energies are here.

This blog started as a New Year thing. Three years ago. Wow. Time just rolls on by, doesn’t it?

I had just reread Noelle Oxenhandler’s book The Wishing Year and I was ready to try to approach my life as something I had at least a little say in. 

I liked the idea of setting intentions. I mean they are just ideals to aim towards, not demands or expectations, but it was better than wallowing in depression and disappointment over the past and letting that energy dictate my future.

My seven intentions were deliciously vague, because I think I knew if I got really specific I would kind of miss the beauty of the whole project. Which in retrospect was to enter into a kind of divine partnership. I stated my aims, and let myself be guided as to if, how, what and when they manifested.

I know if I had been specific I would have asked for a man, a house and a spiritual identity (be that a religion, a guru or a sangha). 

Then I may have thought I had failed, because I’m still single, I don’t have my own home, and I’m still searching for my spiritual identity… But I couldn’t say the project has been a bust. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. Carl Sagan

Firstly it is a beautiful record of my consistent ability to move though fear, pain and disappointment, to follow my crazy passions, to attempt to live fully, to be vulnerable and powerful all at the same time.

I mean, I can admit it, sometimes I read my old posts and I feel inspired by myself. ‘Who is this brave, honest and slightly kooky woman?’ I think. Only to realise she is me. 

Reading back, I remember how scared I was starting my own business, recovering from depression, traveling alone, studying shamanism, letting myself fall in love again. I know how those things turned out, but I didn’t when I wrote about it. I didn’t know when I wrote about my fears of traveling to India alone just how monumentally empowering and love-filled that experience would be. I had an inkling though, an inkling gained through years of setting intentions, listing my copious fears and then just going for it anyway.

I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me. S.E. Hinton

Just before Christmas my friend gifted me a Business Soul Coaching session. I had reconnected with her when I was in Bali and she had obviously been brought back into my life at a time when I sorely needed some direction.

After coming down from my India high, I realised that my current lifestyle was not sustainable. Fear of financial insecurity was exacerbated by receiving payment due statements for my son’s school fees and books. Followed by me going into shock after seeing my pre-Christmas payslip which was significantly lower than usual because I missed my Saturday shift to facilitate Chakradance at a Reiki weekend retreat. I did what any grown woman in my position would do, I cried. 

In that moment I had a thought that I have had periodically since starting down this path of living by my intentions, “I am being irresponsible, I need to close down Raw Mojo, give up on all this spiritual stuff, and go full time at work.”

That thought made me feel really sad and unsupported. There was a lot of crying to spirit “I thought this is what you wanted me to do?” 

And for a few weeks I suffered depression, anxiety and self-doubt. Then I made the appointment with Monique, because I knew there must be a better way through this.

This descent into self-doubt was probably a well needed slap in the face. I needed to get real. As the word my friend Monique channelled during the Soul Coaching session suggested, I was “deluded.” 

“What?”

“Deluded,” 

“That’s the word I’m receiving. Does that mean anything to you?” Yeah. Not anything good though.

I was thinking she would channel beams of universal love and support. But instead there seemed to be a whole lot of divine head-scratching. “They seem confused about what Raw Mojo means and what it offers.”

Ouch.

It was a lot to take in. Not surprisingly the lack of definition around my “brand” – the fact I still need to put that in air quotes says a lot – and my lack of clarity around what the hell I do and why I do it was restricting the potential of my business.

The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe. Voltaire

I needed clarity, focus and to clearly define what my intentions were. No more delightfully vague vision statements…

Raw Mojo was confused and suffering an identity crisis. Like its founder, it seems. I’m no psychic but even I get that for vital life force energy to flow there must be two things, a clear channel and clear intentions.

Monique tested the various offerings of Raw Mojo to see if they were an energetic match. Chakradance – yes (phew!) Shamanism – no! (still digesting that one) Reiki – no (hmmm…) Spontaneous Transformation Technique – yes, and druidry – yes (again, phew!)

After I recovered from the shock and promised to follow up with some writing – and serious soul searching – around my business and what I offer, we ended the call.

Following a pretty serious sulking session, I asked myself ‘why did I call my business Raw Mojo?’ Well for a start, the domain name for my first choice, Mojo Rising was already taken…

It all started with my attachment to the word Mojo, courtesy of Jim Morrison. You know, Mr Mojo Risin’ 

Mojo to me always represented the vital life force, before I even knew what that was. The Doors took the teenage me on deep musical journeys through sound, dance, visions and words. Their music got my spirit moving and made me feel so fully alive. 

After 40, I totally lost my mojo – my vitality and lust for life – and discovering Chakradance helped me get my groove, my mojo back. I have increasingly felt that this is my soul purpose, to guide others to rediscover their lost vitality and passion for life, to reconnect with their divine direction and essential energy. 

A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile. And I knew if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance and maybe they’d be happy for a while. Don McLean

I know there is an energetic shift that happens for women around 40 and beyond. There’s a need for a new sense of self, as they are entering the Empress energy – that’s a tarot image which represents the archteypal empowered feminine. But how do we manage this transition? There are no rituals for these rites of passage in our culture. Except for binge drinking and online dating, neither of which are particularly helpful.

I believe when we suppress this shift – from caregivers and lovers into fully empowered selves – we get sick. The shift from caregivers into abundant beings in our own right is a challenging but essential rite of passage. The world needs its wise, strong women. And wise, strong men, but for some reason it’s women who are drawn to me.

So that’s the mojo part…

And the Raw part was that sense of natural, unprocessed mojo, like the real essence of my vital power. Sounds good yeah? Raw Mojo. Except no one really gets it and it sounds like an energy drink…

But this word “deluded” has really rocked me. It kind of hurts, I mean really spirit? Really? I try to listen to your guidance, I know I’m not super-psychic, but I try to follow the signs as I see them. Yes, I have had the sneaking suspicion that for a while now I wasn’t really getting a clear connection. Well, in fairness I wasn’t disciplined in my practice so I wasn’t really connecting at all. But telling me through a third party that “I’m deluded?” Wow. That’s cold man.

So I did what any librarian would do. I Googled the dictionary definition of ‘deluded.’

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself. Ludwig Wittgenstein 

Delude as a verb comes from late Middle English via Latin where it literally means ‘to play false.’ Other definitions include: to mislead the mind or deceive. To mock or frustrate the hopes or aims of. To elude; to evade.

Oh.

Then I saw. It was that moment where a word can cut through all the bullshit and just leave you bare, nerve-ending raw.

You see, I need to come down off my spiritual high horse and admit a few things. I’m in financial trouble. I mean I can get myself out of it, if I am disciplined and smart, but the last few years I have invested a lot into my business and my esoteric studies and travels and quite frankly not seen a huge return. I get very little help from my kid’s dad so I have mounting bills for his schooling and I need to save for his school trip to the US next year.

I may have a little credit card debt, okay a lot. And my business is floundering. So yeah, deluded. I am probably that. 

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. Saul Bellow

Not because there’s anything wrong with what I offer, but in the wishy-washy way I have been offering it. Like a kid in a candy store, I kept studying different esoteric teachings and trying to be something I’m not. I keep taking courses and travelling when I can’t actually afford it.

Instead of focused intent and mastery over my practice, I have been spreading my energies too thin. Jack of all trades is a master of none.

When I think back it was after my shamanic training in Bali that my energy became diffuse, from being channelled in too many directions, without real clarity or focus.

My Chakradance classes went from being consistently filled to being cancelled as I shifted my attention to running a shamanic circle.

Now there is nothing wrong with shamanism or reiki, or any other practice I have studied. Nothing is wasted. Shamanism and reiki have only enhanced my other practices.

This is about not spreading myself too thin. Picking those modalities which work well for me, which I love, and which together are an energetic match for me.

It’s always been about what works with my energy signature, that’s what I am meant to channel and deliver here.

The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others. Friedrich Nietszche 

I went to a guided shamanic sound journey on New Years Eve with Tim Zyphin. It was interesting in many ways but mostly it just confirmed this message that I am not a shaman. 

That’s just not how spirit works through me. And that’s okay. Truth be told I never really wanted to be one. I love journeying, especially the shamanic dance journeys but I can do that in Chakradance. 

In truth I realise my guides have been standing back on the whole shamanic thing. They never really say no to me, I mean I guess from their perspective it’s all wisdom and experience, and like reiki it has fine-tuned my ability to manage and use my subtle energy force, but anyone can do that, that does not a shaman make.

Reflecting back I see the difference between what I am meant to be doing and what I’m not. Either the vital life force is there in what I do, or it isn’t. The results speak for themselves.

We fool ourselves so much we could do it for a living. Stephen King 

With Chakradance I did the training and immediately started facilitating. Yes, I was scared. Yes, I had doubts, but the passion was there. The shamamic techniques I found really beneficial to evolve my Chakradance and journeying practices, but aside from running the journeying circle, there was no passion to practise it.

I have been searching for a spiritual identity, for my own little niche. I love hinduism, the deities and the stories, the mysticism and the faith, but in India I realised as much as I love it (and Ganesha seems to love me) it’s not my religion. I don’t think any religion is.

At the Summer Solstice ceremony of my druid grove I set intentions for the year. And what came through really strongly was that this was it. I have my spiritual community, I have a practice that is nature-based and gives me the freedom to worship whatever I want. It is a perfect ethical and spiritual match for me. It gives me freedom and autonomy along with community, ritual and practice. So I committed to it. In sacred space I commited to serve the grove and resume my druidic studies.

And today on New Years Day I began my druid studies again and redid my initiation.

So my intentions are the same, but as time goes on I see how what I want more than anything is to be real and authentic. I don’t want to play mind games. I don’t want to delude myself or others. I don’t need to impress anyone with my powers. I just do what I love because that’s how I know I’m on the right track.

That’s what came through in the shamanic journey. Loud and clear.

My shamanic spirit guide came in as soon as the shaman invited in our shamanic brothers and sisters. As if he was just waiting for the invitation. I started to cry “I thought I’d failed you.” But he never asked me to be a shaman. He asked me to demonstrate the power of our vital energy force. To carry his wisdom into the world so it wouldn’t be lost. Again he placed quartz crystals on my navel, heart and third eye. As he did the first time we met.

The message from spirit was so clear and in truth, is getting a little repetitive. I think the whole ‘deluded’ thing has made them think I’m a little dense so they have been repeating themselves everywhere I look for the last few days.

Do what you love.
Be what you love.
Be who you love.
Surround yourself with people, places, things that you love and who love you and everything you do.
If there’s no love in something, there’s no vital life force. If you don’t love it, change it. If you can’t change it, let it go, it’s not for you.

Love is the real power. It’s the energy that cherishes. The more you work with that energy, the more you will see how people respond naturally to it, and the more you will want to use it. It brings out your creativity, and helps everyone around you flower. Your children, the people you work with–everyone blooms. Marion Woodman

Love is power. Love is how the power of the universe communicates to us and through us. Love is how we open up our hearts, releasing fear and creating space for this power to flow through.

It’s not meant to be hard. We are not meant to struggle. I do and I will as long as I am incarnate. It is the nature of this density, the density of this human container we are in.

This is the divine partnership, this is divine choice. The only two vibrations are love and fear. The divine communicates to you through love.

Find your truth through love, do what brings you joy, vitality, love, happiness. That’s where the power comes in.

From an oracle reading came this:

Take risks like you’ve never been hurt. Believe wholeheartedly in something. Your divine vibrancy will bring your vision to life. Your courage and passion will see it to fruition.

And just like that. I got clear and the enquiries for Raw Mojo started to come in. The channel cleared and I felt my guides so strongly. The guidance was clear and as specific as “pay for Zak’s books and the Chakradance retreat and the phone bill first, then do Alana Fairchild’s Coaching and pay the deposit for the NASA trip.” Well. Okay then.

All the lights turned green on my way to work. I let a car merge in front of me and the plates were 777 – that’s my numerological equivalent of two thumbs up from spirit.

I know it won’t always be this clear. But thank you spirit. Thank you for making it so obvious. I needed to feel clear and not deluded. Even just for a moment.

Hari Om Tat Sat

Blessings

If you’re interested in Soul Coaching with Monique from Intuitive Freedom click here. It will really rock your world – in a good way.

Art by Kareva Margarita

Coming home to myself

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

So I’m finally in India.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busy streets of Rishikesh 

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

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

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

I was fascinated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My evening view, aarti at Trayambakeshwar Temple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnt offerings

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

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

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

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

But mostly I felt triumphant. I had done it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning bathers at the Ganga, Rishikesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Hari Om

Hidden intentions of the heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmm…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_3894

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

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

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

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

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

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

flamingo close

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tirtha are of three kinds,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

flamingo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening up a closed heart hurts at first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_3890This is all I have.

This unquenchable desire to live from the heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bless!

After the Storm

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I navigate through life like water?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

Blessings!

Art by Katherine Skaggs katherineskaggs.com

Getting spiritually naked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blessings!

Artwork by Christian Schloe

 

 

 After enlightenment, now what?

In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors. William Blake

No one tells you about the doors you can open that can’t be shut. The doors of perception, of consciousness.

Well, except for Blake and Huxley, and Therese of Avila… And probably most mystics who ever said anything or wrote anything down. Yeah, except for them.

I guess it’s a little like childbirth, it is one thing to read about it, quite another to actually experience it.

But I digress, back to the doors…

For some people these doors of perception remain tightly and purposely closed.

Perhaps only when facing their own mortality will they begin to allow a crack in their absolute certainty, and wonder – is this all there is? This world that I experience with my five senses? This body? Is there nothing else?

Others may believe in an existence beyond what they directly experience as reality, but choose to learn through intermediaries, from scripture, and the priests of their religion, what these other realms may be, and what wisdom there is to be gained from them.

There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to keep one’s perception of human existence entirely in the physical dimension, except our spirit isn’t entirely contained in our body, so if we do limit our consciousness in this way, we are invariably being impacted by forces beyond our knowing. 

It’s a little like thinking there’s a big old wall around your house, so that means nothing can get in. Except a tornado can, or lightning, or anything that can breach that wall, really.

It’s a little like driving the world’s most powerful, elite sports car, but never pushing it beyond 40 miles an hour.

Consciousness is a marvellous vehicle, but you have to learn how best to use it.

But then ignorance is bliss, right? Or so they say.

And for people who choose to follow an established belief system, they can undoubtedly gain wisdom through spiritual practice, but who is interpreting this wisdom? Who decides what practices they should engage in? Are these practices meaningful to them personally, in this day and age, in this culture and under these circumstances? Or is it a dogmatic, one-size-fits-all approach to spirituality?

Are modern interpretations of ancient texts enough on their own to enable spiritual growth? Even the great mystics and masters have always said “don’t follow me, find your own path to enlightenment.”

Now don’t get me wrong, there is great wisdom in spiritual texts, but surely it needs to be experienced, not passively absorbed.

There is much to be said, then, for direct revelation. Direct, personal experience of the spiritual realms. Especially when using consciousness expanding techniques that have been tried and tested over tens of thousands of years.

So why would we want to open these doors into other states of consciousness and venture into non-ordinary realms of reality?

Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow. William Blake

The answer can be somewhat hard to explain, but so far, this is my best analogy…

Let’s assume for a moment that there are many layers of reality, most of which are imperceptible in ordinary, five-sensory reality.

Physical, ordinary, five-sensory reality is what most people see, unless they are psychic or a mystic and then they may routinely see other subtler realities – or hear them, or feel them, or sense them.

Science, mainly quantum physics, tells us this is so. The ‘God’ particle, the intelligence inherent in what we used to think was empty space. The way ‘reality’ is a co-created perception with our own consciousness. All suggests there is no ‘one reality.’

  

The eye altering, alters all. William Blake

While the science may not yet prove the existence of other realms, it does suggest that there is much more out there to be experienced that we routinely do experience. 

The human mind functions predominantly as a filter, it only processes the information it sees as imperative to survival. The rest it ignores. 

There is evidence that the brain processes information according to pattern recognition and memory recall. That is, the mind sees what it already knows or believes to be true. 

Like those tribes of Polynesia who couldn’t see Captain Cook’s tall ships as they arrived. It was just beyond their perception. Didn’t mean those boats didn’t exist. They were just beyond the tribes people’s  comprehension of reality. So they were literally invisible to them. How much don’t we see because it is beyond our comprehension?

But we can train the mind to open, to comprehend, and to experience more. 

All people can access these subtler realms of reality in a shamanic state of consciousness. It is not restricted to shamans. It’s just a matter of learning to ‘see’ with consciousness, and not the physical senses.

In another tall ship story, a shaman saw only the disturbance in the waves caused by Christopher Columbus’ tall ships. Knowing something must be there to cause the water to behave this way, he focused his awareness until he could see the ships. Once he described the ship to the other tribespeople, they could see it too.

  

Humans have great difficulty perceiving what they cannot conceive. Maanna Stephenson

Experience what, you might ask? What can you perceive in a shamanic state of consciousness? 

Other realms, the transcendent worlds of spirit guides and power animals, the parts of our world we have filtered out; nature spirits, elemental spirits, the hidden folk, fairies, forest sprites… The stuff of folk tales. The interconnected web of life, infused with spirit, that surrounds us. That is us. 

But why do we want to access these realms, you say? What purpose does it serve? I’m sorry, but did you miss the part about fairies…

I’m kidding. We can access these realms for information, divination, and healing, at levels beyond what our temporal, rational minds can usually access.

  

Man’s perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception, he perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover. William Blake

Okay so here’s my analogy. 

Think Google maps – just stay with me here…

In Google maps, you can see your house, close-up in satellite street view, which is a valid perspective, in fact, it is very close to your own visual perspective when you look at your street. 

Then you can expand the view, and the whole suburb opens up. It gives you a better overview. In fact you can see the entire world from that perspective, if you keep zooming out. An impossibility with the naked eye.

Accessing non-ordinary reality is a little like accessing a Google map. It gives you a far greater overview and insight than you could perceive with your naked senses.

Except in a shamanic state of consciousness, this ‘map’ is alive with helping spirits who can actually interact with you and help you perceive beyond your limited local view. And there’s not just one map but many…

The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself. William Blake

Most writers, artists and mystics will describe the state of inspiration as being somewhat otherworldly, as if the ideas came through them, rather than from them.

Everything that can be imagined has a reality in some plane of consciousness. 

The worlds these creatives describe are often magical, mystical, yet sometimes dark and terrifying. 

In New Age vernacular, the world beyond ordinary perceptions, is often described in rainbow colours, and feelings of oneness with the source of all love and light. 

A shamanic journeyer knows this is spiritual denial. Yes, there are realms of crystal palaces where angels and light-wielding guides heal with rainbow light rays, in colours beyond anything you can imagine here in ordinary reality. 

But anyone who has truly journeyed with spirit knows much of her worth will not involve these realms so much as negotiating with confused spirits and navigating realms that make most horror movies look like a picnic.

I have a deck of Angel Tarot cards by a very famous New Age practitioner and this deck proudly claims to have no ‘negative’ cards and not to use reversed cards. (in the tarot a reversed card usually indicates a block or challenge).

Now I subscribe to the theory that even the most painful and difficult life circumstances provide an opportunity for growth and evolution, but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that bad things don’t exist. 

There seems to be a growing number of New Age thinkers who will tell you that you can manifest anything you want in this world, if you just focus on it, and if you can’t manifest it’s because you’re not focusing in the right way. 

Anything ‘negative’ that appears to happen to you is a manifestation of your own fears and all you need to do is bring down copious amounts of white light, think happy thoughts, and voila! All gone. Like magic. 

I have succumbed to this ‘magical thinking’ before – I mean who wouldn’t? it’s so seductive! – and I used an inordinate amount of energy trying to white-light everything that happened to me, and every one else, and it’s exhausting. 

It also breeds a certain lack of empathy. If you follow this theory to it’s logical end, any suffering is self-inflicted, and the sufferer has the power to change it, if only they would. 

And I know from personal experience that when you are suffering deeply, the least helpful and loving thing someone can do is suggest you need to think more positively. Pain and fear are our teachers too. 

Now while there are grains of truth in utilising the power of our intentions in manifesting – as I have already said, we have all kinds of untapped power in our consciousness. I found myself becoming terrified of any ‘negativity’ as if it was contagious, a rampant viral force obliterating my chance at attracting abundance. 

Carl Jung approached this natural avoidance of the ‘dark’ within us in his work on the shadow. The shadow is the parts of ourselves we deny and avoid. These consciously rejected qualities are forced into the unconscious. 

Bringing the unconscious into consciousness and facing these qualities is the way to truly integrate them. 

Denial and suppression actually creates an unhealthy power, where the very parts of ourselves we wish to avoid are ruling us from the unconscious.  

All those years I avoided the dark, in the mistaken belief that focusing exclusively on the light would make me strong, I was denying the true source of my power. 

Because that dark stuff really exists, it is here, and denying it doesn’t make it go away, it just feeds on our fear.

I know this because when I journeyed, in all naïveté and curiousity, to a realm of souls trapped in various forms of suffering, it terrified me so much my spiritual power began diffusing.

Very quickly I saw how my fear was both allowing my power to be diffused and drained – making me more vulnerable to the very things I was afraid of – as well as making these spirits more powerful. 

Right then, I learned a very valuable lesson about powering up and utilising my spirit allies and setting very clear intentions about where I was journeying and why. 

In the same way you wouldn’t wander alone and without purpose in a bad neighbourhood at night. You wouldn’t mess with these energies more that once, without making sure you were completely prepared the next time.

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so we can fear less. Marie Curie

After settling myself, with my power animal beside me, I went back to this realm. I saw it from a new perspective. These were reflections of aspects in my unconscious that I was afraid of, that I suppressed. My projected shadow created the fear. There really wasn’t any need for fear, these spirits were suffering, they were trapped. I could help them or detach from them. But there was no need to fear. 

So, after that experience, why would I want to do shamanic work, you ask?

I’m not sure it’s a matter of want. I’d feel a little pretentious at this early stage saying it was a calling, I mean I don’t even know if I’m any good at it yet.

But I have no doubt I have been led here. That much has been articulated clearly. When I try for specifics my spirit guides go a little quiet and look away. There is always a limit to how much we are able to know without the knowing driving us mad. Slowly, slowly is their motto.

I guess it’s those darn doors again. They are open, I’ve seen what’s there, so I figure I may as well learn how to manage it as best I can. 

Shamans are not well paid, the hours suck and there’s no sick leave or pension plan. You work until you die.

One of my teachers says he never really sleeps, He is on call 24/7. At night as we dream, many of us travel to these realms, and the shaman knows to be aware.

In traditional cultures when a child was “called” to be a shaman – usually after a long illness where they experienced fevers and delirious states, or after displaying natural psychic abilities. Their parents would cry and mourn the loss, as the status of a shaman was not always a desirable one. 

Who wants to live next door to someone who talks to spirits?

So it’s not so much a choice or a want, but a path you find yourself on, and once you’ve opened those doors…

  

I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create. William Blake

So where am I going with all this?

Things have been a little quiet here on Seven Intentions. I haven’t written for a while. And as I sat to write of my experience of the last six weeks, I found it very hard to articulate it.

Three weeks ago, I returned from Bali where I was studying Core Shamanism with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Established by anthropologist Michael Harner, the course teaches practices and techniques from around the world, to modern shamans. I wrote about Michael in more detail in my last post.

This course appealed to me for several reasons. It promised to teach various shamanic healing techniques including soul retrieval, which was what had interested me in shamanism in the first place.

The weeks I spent in Bali were full immersion, in a place that feels mystical and magical, where the honouring of spirits and Gods is as much as part of daily life as eating and sleeping.

Waking each day to the sounds of the jungle, walking to a local yoga studio with a vista of rice terraces and temples, where even the yoga seemed more gentle and organic, where the teacher sang gently in Indonesian and ours souls drifted up on her notes.

Walking, swimming, eating fresh, organic food… And that’s before I even started my course in journeying to other worlds.

Living in Ubud is full noise, life and nature collide in a beauty that is raw and visceral, and cannot help but awaken the senses.

I think if I’m truly honest, one of the things that really interested me in this particular course, was a chance to be in a real life shamanic community. 

You see, I have studied shamanism for nearly a year with Sandra Ingerman, and prior to that I did my Chakradance facilitator training. But these were all online communities. And while they have been fabulous, and I have loved the people I ‘met’ there, I think I had begun to feel increasingly isolated.

  

You see, I’m a librarian, I don’t work in a therapeutic community (even though working in a public library, sometimes it feels that way). I’m a weekend practitioner. I have a few friends who work in various forms of spiritual healing, but we are all pretty new to it.

On returning home, the isolation became so profound to be a full-blown existential crisis. I felt lost. I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere. I felt like I didn’t  even fit in my own life.

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Soren Kierkegaard 

My day job is becoming less meaningful to me; at the same time it’s squeezing me more and more financially. There’s a sense that it will be time to move on soon, and this is the period of letting go.

Despite my financial squeeze, I feel compelled to teach Chakradance in places where people ask me to, which at the moment happens to be Northern NSW and Ubud.

On the one hand, this seems almost impossible financially and yet my guides are telling me to invest in myself. “Back yourself” were their exact words.

Yet again I find myself wishing for a group of people I could talk to about this. Not everyone is open to a conversation that begins “So my power animal says…”

Now I’m sure compared to other more immediate crises, this all sounds very self-indulgent. The thing is I’m not used to riding out this stuff without a community.

For fifteen years, I had an identity and a community. I was a recovering alcoholic and I had my people, we were all in recovery, in 12 step programs, we spoke the same language, we used the same solutions for problems, and we ‘got’ each other. I had a hundred numbers in my phone that could call day or night and get ‘identification,’ that sense that I was heard and understood.

Over the last two years, however my language, my world view began to change. I began to experience things that ‘my people’ didn’t always understand.

In Jungian terms, I had reached a point in my process of individuation where I had to integrate. My unconscious rose up, I was forced to face all the things I had repressed in myself, and I experienced a deep and lengthy depression.  

This process necessarily involved letting go of my persona – my public self – and my established place in community, to allow a holistic self to emerge from within. Acceptance and validation from outside became less important than finding meaning from within. 

But I knew these were precious and magical gifts. The option to put down my gifts and walk away, in order to remain fully immersed in my tribe, just seemed like too high a price for belonging. Actually it was an impossibility. 

  

So I followed my gifts, they led me to Chakradance and Druidry and Shamanism. It’s been an exquisite journey; equal parts of joy and despair at times, but an increasingly lonely one. I found myself going within rather than trying to explain to others what I was experiencing. 

And for those three weeks in Bali, I had people I could talk openly with about other realms and spirit guides and I feel the absence of that.

So I realized this is a need for community. Maybe I need to create my own, I thought. Power animal nods, she doesn’t say a lot, except ‘slow down,’ ‘rest,’ ‘focus,’ and ‘be patient,’ but she lets me know when I’m on the right track.

My friend did a tarot reading for me, what came up was the need to not have rigid expectations of this community, to let it evolve. This community will not fulfill all my needs, and it won’t be about conformity. Once we have begun individuating the self, conformity is not an option. Yet surely we can still find like-minded people to relate with. 

I think there is maturity in realizing that other people cannot fulfill all my needs. I have these various communities and they all fulfill certain needs, but at some point we all have to face the dark nights of the soul alone. There are some places we cannot take our human companions.

Living a spiritual life may not be easy. It demands total authenticity. It brings you to dance to a unique song that only you can hear fully, and sometimes you dance alone because no others can hear the music. Debra Moffitt 

So without setting such lofty expectations on it, I thought why not create a circle of journeyers, so we all can talk through and support each other in our experiences.

So in answer to my question, after enlightenment, now what? Now the true work begins. The doors are open; I can shift between realms and access the wisdom and healing there. What do I intend to do with that?

Despite bucket loads of fear and self-doubt, I intend to use these gifts to guide others. It’s what I love and apparently, it’s what I do well.

The path to the true self requires a deep connection with spirit, and shamanic journeying has given me that in a more profound and direct way than I have ever experienced before. I no longer have to wait for ‘divine guidance,’ I can journey in consciousness and ask for it. Yes, the answer may be be ‘wait’ but it’s still an answer, a direct answer from spirit to me. How cool is that?

The sense of being in a circle is right, when I teach Chakradance, when I’m in sacred space, I feel truly happy. My spirit soars and sings and my power is up, I can feel my spirit allies with me. It’s hard to describe, but when it’s right, it’s so right.

Blessings. 

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern. William Blake

  
Images:

Main image Odin Journeying by Joan Baxter

Full Tide by Joan Baxter

Shamanic Journey by Willow Arlenea

Eternal Harmony by Tania Marie

Wolf by Pixie Campbell 

The Road to Emmaus by Daniel Bonnell

Jesus Calms the Storm by Daniel Bonnell

The Weaver by Kim McElroy

Shamanic Journeying by Jennifer Baird

Shamans Journey by Love1008

Pleiades Star Goddess by Katherine Skaggs

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

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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 

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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 

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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? 

Singing your soul home

sambrown5Our task is to chant the world, chant the beauty. The world is a reflection of our chanting. Billy Yellow

Considering that this post is based on the chakra of communication and expression – the throat chakra – it seems rather ironic that this week I have experienced a chronic writer’s block, as well as a more pervasive block in my emotions and self-expression, that has left me feeling more angry and frustrated than expressive.

Maybe it’s something in the air, the planetary alignments, it seems that everyone is out of sorts this week. We are all like pressure cookers waiting for that final blast of heat that pops our lids.

And yet, surely the purpose of opening up our energy centres is to allow these very blocks to surface and be cleared.

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. Rainer Maria Rilke

The throat chakra has always felt to me like a gateway between the realms of ordinary and non-ordinary reality. Here we transcend the element air and move into ether, the great void of potential energy. In a realm of subtle vibrational energy, any thought, sound, or intention can immediately shift things energetically. Here creation begins.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world. The Dhammapada 

It is here, in this etheric world of sound and vibration, we begin to understand how our thoughts and words have power. How the intentions behind these sounds really do contribute to our reality, to the world’s reality. And then the task becomes how to shift these often entrenched ways of thinking and speaking, our learned reactions to the world, and create a higher vibration that lifts our spirit as well as the collective energy field. Chanting does this. Creative expression does this.

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Art activates the creative impulse in the brain-body-mind system, which to me is the God Impulse. It opens the portals of both our inward as well as our outer sensory systems. We are no longer encapsulated bags of skin dragging around dreary little egos. With art and music we become an organizing environment, our frequencies are raised. And we become re-frequenced with regard to world and time. And that is why the artist and musician often is the one who tells the emerging story, because their frequencies and their sensitivities have been honed and heightened to the point that they are picking up the rhythms of awakening. Jean Houston

In ancient cultures there was a perception of a divine harmony in the movements of the sun, moon, stars, and planets – the music of the spheres. The ancients designed their temples and stone circles based on these natural cycles. According to Joscelyn Godwin, Professor of Music at Colgate University, “the Australian Aboriginal culture, which is our planet’s longest continuously existing culture, has a 50,000 year history of using music to maintain the natural order. They perceive the landscape as a series of ‘songlines’, each representing an aspect of their cosmology, and they sing these songs to keep the life energy of the earth and the people in balance.”

Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth. Rumi

Australian aboriginals believed that without knowing the songs of the various species of plant and animal life, and being able to communicate with the nature spirits in this way, they literally would not survive. Like many indigenous cultures, their rituals, songs, dances, and art were interwoven with, both the practical matters of monitoring the seasons and moving to suitable shelter and hunting grounds, to matters of the spirit and living in harmony of the whole of creation.

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The throat chakra is representative of this concept of ‘as above, so below’, heaven and earth, our inner and outer worlds.

Our throat chakra is a bridge between our inner and outer selves – who we feel we truly are, and how we represent ourselves in the world. Lisa Erickson

Vissudha is the chakra of truth, communication, and expression. Represented by the archetype of the communicator, or alternately, as I have experienced this week, its shadow archetype, the silent child – realised as an inability for self-expression, self-doubt, self-criticism, and negative perceptions.

It’s hard to imagine how I would shift these blocks on my own, I am so thankful to be a part of my shamanic and Chakradance communities where there is a wealth of shared experience, wisdom, and support.

My teacher Sandra Ingerman is very humble in both expressing her difficulties over the years with aspects of journeying, and emphasising the need for practice. It’s not meant to be easy to become a ‘hollow bone’. We do get distracted by our mind’s chatter.

In shamanic journeying we aim to be like a hollow bone, to leave our ego-mind behind and allow spirit to carry our consciousness on the journey. In order to achieve this, we need to find rituals that allow us to leave our ego state of ordinary reality, to ’empty’ ourselves out, in order to become a receptacle for helping spirits, and to journey to the hidden realms of non-ordinary reality, or the ‘otherworld’ as the Celts so poetically refer to it.

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This week I had the pleasure of teaching two Chakradance classes, one of which was focused entirely on the throat chakra. This chakra corresponds to the element of ether which, according to Carl Jung, is the sound and substance of the angelic realms.

By the time you reach this chakra, you are operating at a mostly vibrational level. Although the chakra is based in the physical throat and affects physiological areas of the throat, the ears and the thyroid gland, the energy of this centre is large and subtle, and very, very blue.

To harmonise the throat chakra, we use sound, through humming, chanting, singing, even shouting to release any pent up energy. If you are anything like me, every few weeks I need to play loud metal music and ‘sing my guts out’- it’s incredibly cleansing!

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all. Emily Dickinson

In Chakradance, we revert to an ancient form of heavy metal, the chanting of mantra sounds. For the throat chakra the sound is ‘ham’ – pronounced like ‘hum’ not the cured meat!

A mantra is a sacred sound which, when recited or chanted repetitively, can bring about a vibrational connection with certain aspects of the subtle energy body, higher self, or spirit. The Sanskrit word mantra consists of the root man- “to think” (also in manas “mind”) and the suffix -tra, designating tools or instruments, hence a literal translation would be “instrument of thought”.

The most well-known mantra is probably the “om”, “ohm” or “aum.” The syllable “om” is first described as all-encompassing mystical entity in the Upanishads. Hindus believe that as creation began, the divine, all-encompassing consciousness took the form of the first and original vibration manifesting as sound “OM”.

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Before creation began it was “Shunyākāsha”, the emptiness or the void. Shunyākāsha, meaning literally “no sky”, is more than nothingness, because everything then existed in a latent state of potentiality. The vibration of “OM” symbolises the manifestation of God in form, it is the reflection of the absolute reality, without beginning or end, and embracing all that exists.

The mantra “OM” is the name of God, the vibration of the Supreme. When taken letter by letter, A-U-M represents the divine energy (Shakti) united in its three elementary aspects: Bhrahma Shakti (creation), Vishnu Shakti (preservation) and Shiva Shakti (liberation, and/or destruction). [Wikipedia]

In the ancient Egypt, Athens and Rome, for example, sound was understood to be the fundamental creative force of the universe. You find knowledge of this in the sacred texts of different traditions. For example, in the book of Genesis, it is written “And the Lord SAID ‘Let there be light’” and in the Gospel according to St. John, is the statement “In the Beginning was the word”- the creation of the universe occurring through sound. Jonathan Goldman

Mantras can be used to resonate and harmonise the chakras, starting with low tones at the base, moving through mid-tones at the heart, and high tones at the crown. Interestingly the do-re-mi tones – as in “Do -a deer – a female deer…” – align quite nicely with the chakras. So many of us Western-raised kids have been singing basic mantras without even knowing it.

To penetrate the mysteries of music is to prepare for initiation into those fathomless mysteries of man and cosmos. Joscelyn Godwin

Try this Johnathan Goldman vocal toning the chakras video – it only takes 8 minutes and you’ll be buzzing with good vibrations.

Preparing for the throat Chakradance, I was chanting ‘ham’ for many hours this week. I observe a state of deep calm and ‘otherworldliness’ come over me after these chanting sessions. We all need different techniques to access a state of non-ordinary reality. For me being in a sacred space, either my space or nature, chanting and dancing, or making acoustic noises with drums or rattles, really helps me transition.

Spending time in communion with the throat chakra has highlighted a need to find my voice, to express myself, to make sound, both as communication and expression. Something happens to my soul when I voice this unfettered expression. Many of my partners have been powerful personalities and great singers and I have always tended to stay quiet in their midst. By vocalising with passion, I am finding my own voice, and suddenly it is like a dam bursting, and so much emotion that has been held back is allowed to flow freely.

In shamanism we find power songs or soul songs, which often come through a deep connection with the land.

You need to learn that there are songs that can connect you with the Earth; there are dances that you can dance. When you go to a place on the Earth, if the land calls out to you and says dance, then you should come alive and dance for the power in that spot. You should let a song come up out of you for the Earth, and the words don’t really matter; it’s the feeling. Pretty soon, as you open up to that kind of energy, you’re no longer simply you; you’ve become an Earth spirit, just feeling and hearing everything. That’s what we do at many of our ceremonies, we transform. Sun Bear

Back in January, I found my power place, sitting in a rock pool by the ocean. I started singing an Ani DeFranco song, but soon I was just crooning, wailing, I don’t even know what sound-making was coming from deep within me. It just came and I kept singing it and the more I sang, the more I felt that the ocean was holding me in my pain. That somehow my pain was a gateway to this kind of openness that would allow me to sit in the shallows and make these sounds. I was completely carried away, without inhibition.

Smiling with the mouth of the ocean
And I’ll wave to you with the arms of the mountain
I’ll see you. Faith No More

That emergent song stayed with me, and I use it in ceremony to connect me to that place of power that I connected with. It is a place within, but I also visualise that physical place and reconnect with the spirit of that land that so generously bestowed its power on me.

A power song is said to connect us with our helping spirits: power animals and guides, and to call our power home, both in the summoning of these spirit powers, but also singing our lost soul parts home. This correlation between voice and power makes sense to me.

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Finding voice is a theme in Celtic stories, like this one of the bard-poet Caedmon. Caedmon arrived in Ireland in 650, into a highly musical culture. At gatherings a harp would be passed around and everyone had a turn, singing and playing.

“Often at a drinking gathering, when there was an occasion of joy when all must in turn sing with a harp, when Caedmon saw the harp nearing him, he arose for shame from that feast and went home.”

One night, after quietly slipping out of another gathering, he went to tend the animals in the stables. There, “When he set his limbs at rest and fell asleep, some man stood by him in his dream and hailed and greeted him and addressed him by his name: “Caedmon, sing me something.”

Caedmon responded, “I do not know how to sing and for that reason I went out from this feast and went hither.”

To which the figure responded, “Nevertheless, you must sing.”

“What must I sing?” asked the bewildered Caedmon.

Said this mysterious figure: “Sing to me of the first Creation.”

Caedmon then launched out in a fine blaze of song, with an erudition and musical intelligence that he never known before. The day following, he described his dream to his foreman, who brought the event to the attention of the Abbess Hilda. Caedmon’s gift was tested and confirmed when he composed and sang for her and her counsellors. 

Excerpt from The Shamanic Odyssey: Homer, Tolkien, and the Visionary Experience, by Robert Tindall and Susana Bustos 

sambrown2Caedmon’s song, like those who still sing in traditional shamanic cultures, had the quality of creating the world anew. When the bards sang, although they told the old stories and myths, each telling created these stories new, and their listeners experienced these tales as vivid visions through the power of the bard’s voice. The song literally took them on a journey.

Sing in me, muse, and through me tell the story of the man of many ways. Homer

In the Irish bardic tradition, stories were meant to evolve and change over time. A talented bard could deliver an old myth with exactly the power needed in that moment to bring about healing, wisdom, and transmutation.

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. Muriel Rukeyser

In the Irish mythological cycle, the poet Amergin invoked the spirit of the land, the goddess Éire, and cajoled her to give over the land to the people, by singing of his spiritual connection with the land and it’s animal and elemental spirits:

I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows,
I am the ox of the seven combatants,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am a beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am the wild boar in valor,
I am a salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a word of science,
I am the point of the lance in battle,
I am the God who created in the head the fire. Amergin

What he is saying, is that he is the spirit that lives in all things. In a shamanic state we can journey to any aspect of the spirit that lives in all things – we can connect with the salmon or the boar, the lake or the sun. The separation of energy and matter we experience as a barrier in ordinary reality, simply does not apply in non-ordinary realms.

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Seeking Your Power Song by Kristin Madden

Find a place where you feel safe and are unlikely to be disturbed.
Make an offering of thanks to the spirits of this place and to the Creator. Ask for their blessings and protection in this work that you are about to do.
Enter shamanic or meditative trance by your usual method.
Go deep within your Self. Find who you are at your core, beyond your identity and the roles you play in this world. Feel yourself embodying the True You as you are filled with the energy of the multiverse. You are open to healing energy and to communication with spirit guides.
Begin to sing from this place of vitality, honesty, and power. Allow all you feel and all that you are to flow into your song. Be aware of any changes in your energy or body as the song becomes part of your being.
When you feel you have experienced what you set out to do, or that your song is complete for now, give thanks to all those that walk with you, guide you, and enliven you. Sit in silence for a moment and take note of how you feel. Then return to normal consciousness.

If you don’t feel confident entering a trance-state, simply sit in nature, in a place that appeals to you where you can be undisturbed, and begin to hum or chant and allow yourself to be carried away with the sounds and the sensual feel of the place. Notice the sounds, the smells, can you feel the breeze on your skin, the sunshine?

Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then— open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away. Mary Oliver

Allow yourself to be immersed in this place, this sensory connection will enable you to shift from your purely rational mind into a full body sensual experience of the place.

Don’t worry if a ‘song’ doesn’t come, just get used to experiencing the spirit of a place in this way. Over time, you’ll find as your sensory awareness awakens, you’ll begin to express your connection with the place in a creative way. Just let it unfold.

The stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own. Mary Oliver

 

Bless!

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Art by Sam Brown – view at ceruleansam.com and on Facebook

Sam began painting fantasy and science fiction themes which he still enjoys today. Over time, subjects such as anthropology, metaphysics and mysticism began to influence the content of his paintings and led to his magnetism toward the archetype of the spiral. A pattern seen throughout the Universe, the spiral has been utilized by many cultures over time and has several meanings associated with it. One being that of a spiritual journey… a spiral path which we all share.

Visit Sam on Facebook to see his creative process in action – it’s fascinating!

 

Sources:

On Earth as it is in Heaven: an interview with musicologist Joscelyn Goodwin

Shamanic Song among the Ancient Celts on Roaming the Mind – the online home for the writing and work of Robert Tindall and Susana E. Bustos.