Light my fire

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

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

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

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

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

Life is the sum of all your choices. Albert Camus

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!

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After the Storm

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I navigate through life like water?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

Blessings!

Art by Katherine Skaggs katherineskaggs.com

Holy crap! This stuff actually works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to write too…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…

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

1. A home

2. Community

3. Purpose

4. Vibrant health

5. Abundance

6. Joy

7. Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am rather fond of the icing though…

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

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

Blessings!

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Over-amped and insecure? Get into your body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your biography becomes your biology. Caroline Myss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grounding exercise by Anodea Judith

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

1. Stance

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

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

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

2. Exercise

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

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

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

3. Visualisation

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

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

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

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

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

4. Affirmation

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

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

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

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

Blessings!

Getting spiritually naked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blessings!

Artwork by Christian Schloe

 

 

The Happiness Trap


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We become what we focus on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!

Sources:

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

The Mysterious Power of Synchronicity

Images from Facebook. Sources unknown.

Because I’m worth it!

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As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being. C.G. Jung

It’s about 18 months since I penned my first post for Seven Intentions. It was to be an experiment in ‘putting it out there’ to the universe. I joked that I really wasn’t sure what I was putting out where, but it was a shout-out for some kind of sign of life, of intelligence, of connection.

Now, only a blink of a eye later, I wonder what that version of myself would think of this version of myself and her experiences.

In that short space I became a Chakradance facilitator, set up my own studio, and started studies in shamanism, druidry, and nature magic.

I began this blog investigating ideas for ‘putting it out there’ like the ‘Law of Attraction’, vision boards, and the power of wishing.

In truth, as much as I may have been loathe to admit it at the time, I think I was on a quest for happiness and material fulfilment dressed up as a spiritual quest.

I wanted love, real, lasting, deep love, I wanted security, a place of my own, a successful career. I wanted a spiritual connection. You know, the kind of warm, fuzzy spiritual connection that makes you feel really good all the time?

My discovery of Chakradance led me to a technique of inner journeying, which continues to uncover and reveal hidden aspects of myself, as well as producing a connection between my mind, spirit, and body which I have not hitherto experienced. Practising Chakradance has brought me home to my body.

What does that mean? Well, I think I had always felt disconnected to my own body, and quite unhappy with it. It didn’t look the way I thought it should, so I swung between a type of acceptance – that was more of a peaceful truce with my dissatisfaction – and outright self-loathing.

To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in one’s self. Simone De Beauvoir

Chakradance, through the combination of movement and meditation, allowed me to experience the wonder of my body, as a part of my whole self. it has opened me to a sense of self-worth that I have not experienced before.

This concept of worth has been raising its head over the last week or so.

Well and truly beyond my post-Bali-buzz, life has ramped up to a rather demanding pace, leaving me dragging my heels somewhat.

I had written off my fatigue to the winter blues (or the not-being-in-Bali-anymore blues) until an article on adrenal fatigue popped up on my newsfeed.

Now I’m not being an internet hypochondriac here, I have suffered from adrenal fatigue for a few years and periodically I forget this and push myself far enough that my body has to remind me.

The article was entitled ‘Where’s your pause button?’

It’s a good question. Left to my own devices I’m very good at resting, being naturally lazy it comes, well, naturally to me.

But my life is bigger than me. There are so many competing demands on my time and energy, and I have found myself pushing past my fatigue. And let’s face it, our society is addicted to busy, heaven forbid a healthy person take time to just rest when there are things to be done!

I haven’t been making time for my spiritual practices, I haven’t journeyed in over a week.

On top of feeling stretched to my limits, I also found myself agreeing to do things that really I didn’t need to, things other people could and should take responsibility for.

And then I found myself on the first night of my Chakradance course flustered and flummoxed because two people hadn’t turned up. Were they late? Were they lost? Eventually I started the class without them, but I felt thrown off my game.

As I told my kinesiologist – who has become something of a wise elder – of all my mounting resentments at feeling taken advantage of, he told me I needed to treat myself as something of worth. Rather than always putting other peoples’ wants and needs ahead of my own, I needed to act from a sense of worth.

Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. If you don’t value your time, you won’t do anything with it. M Scott Peck

For example, he suggested I say “No, I won’t do something that someone else should be doing for themselves. No, it’s not okay to waste my time, love, energy or money.”

Hmmmm. I thought. He’s on to something here. Was I getting my self-worth entirely from my sense of doing, of being of service to others? Not that being of service is inherently a bad thing, but if it’s done to feed our own self-esteem, without an acknowledgment of our own needs into the bargain, it can begin to resemble martyrdom more than service.

Self-worth is a characteristic associated with the solar plexus chakra and the corresponding element of fire. Generally, but not always, I find women who come to Chakradance, myself included, have underactive solar plexus energy.

Although the adrenals are generally associated with the base chakra, adrenal fatigue, which is essentially exhaustion due to a chronic over- stimulation of the fight-or-flight response seems to me a nervous issue associated as much with our sense of power (solar plexus) as our sense of security (base chakra.)

Often, women love the sacral Chakradance, all hips and bellies gyrating to the sounds of water flowing, and middle eastern music, but moving from this receptive ‘yin’ energy to the more outgoing ‘yang’ energy of the solar plexus can be like suddenly forgetting how to move, or feeling as if our limbs are made of wood.

Carl Jung poetically describes the journey through the solar plexus thus:

Desire, passions, the whole emotional world breaks loose. Sex, power, every devil in our nature gets loose when we become acquainted with the unconscious… After baptism you get right into hell. And now comes the paradox of the East: it is also the ‘fullness of jewels.’ But what is passion, what are emotions? There is the source of Fire, there is the fullness of energy. A man who is not on fire is nothing, he is ridiculous, he is two-dimensional. He must be on fire, even if he does make a fool of himself. A flame must burn somewhere, otherwise no light shines, there is no warmth, nothing. Carl Jung 

 

Jung focuses on the fiery passion and energy of the solar plexus, our psycho-spiritual fuel. It’s interesting that when I find myself in the martyr role, my fire is doused. Perhaps true self-worth comes from a passionate ‘fire in the belly?’ From exercising the passion, will and power that exemplify the qualities of this chakra.

In Chakradance we use the archetypes of the Warrior and the Servant to connect to the dominant and submissive aspects of this chakra’s energy. The goal is always balance of the two, excessive fire can be as damaging as a dwindling flame. Indeed Jung saw the chakras as symbols where opposing forces of the psyche might be held. (Howard G. Coward)

The image of the Servant is one who squanders all her power for others, while the Warrior stands tall and autonomous, her power strong within, radiating out. Obviously there is a desirable balance between service and autonomy.

These archetypes provide a powerful framework for the concept of self-worth and how it might affect our psycho-spiritual as well as physical health.

But what does self-worth even mean? Is it meaningful? Or is it some New Age hangover from the ‘me’ generation? It always makes me think of that Loreal commercial “because I’m worth it!” (Hence the title!)

So I decided to go in search of self-worth, as a concept that is.

Not surprisingly concepts of self-worth and self-esteem are relatively recent constructs, although not as recent as the Loreal commercials.

Between 700 and 1500 AD the only concepts of ‘self’ referred to in the West was the ‘weak, sinful, crude, selfish’ nature of the human flesh as contrasted with the perfect nature of the human soul.

We are so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture associated with being alive, is what it is all about. Joseph Campbell


Joseph Campbell suggested that the concept of an independent, self-directed self didn’t appear until about 800 years ago and has grown in meaning over that time. Originally our sense of self was entirely dictated by the community, religion and government. These days our sense of self is something we are expected to develop ourselves, to know ourselves well enough to self-actualise. (Clayton Tucker-Ladd)

There is evidence that self-worth and self-esteem correlate with all kinds of goodies like health, good relationships and material prosperity.

As such many modern parents try to praise their children excessively, creating a concern that vacuous self-esteem, that is self-worth that is detached from a skill, quality or value, may actually be harmful. So self-worth is much more than a feeling, it must have substance.

Similarly positive affirmations can only improve self-esteem if they are believable, otherwise the disconnect between the affirmation and our self-concept causes more harm than good.

This sense of self seems to be primarily a Western construct. Eastern belief systems tend to focus on the concept of self as an illusion to be transcended.

Some Western thinkers, like shamanic practitioner Christina Pratt, suggest that the problems faced by the Western world, environmental devastation, excesses of wealth and poverty, may be a direct result of seeing self as a distinct entity. In contrast the shamanic perspective sees a web of life, a spirit in all things that unites us all, people, animals, environment in a very interconnected way.

Carl Rogers believed that your sense of self comes in three components, the view you have of yourself (self-image), how much value you place on yourself (self-esteem or self-worth), and what you wish you were (the ideal self).

It has been suggested that the closer the correlation between your ideal self and your self-image, the higher your self-esteem. This can go two ways. First, we could live by a set of ideal values and therefore our self-image and ideal self are similar, or we can set a low standard for our ideal self and make it easy for our self-image to overlap. So self-esteem may not be a reflection of someone’s worth so much as the overlap between their self-image and their self-concept.

So self-worth really equates with how you value yourself. I see self-esteem as slightly different, more to do with how much I like or approve of myself, which may be a reflection of my value and skills, or it may be based on how high my standards are.

I’m sure we have all met people with great self-esteem who to the outsider may seem nothing special. And yet many outstanding people have very low self-esteem.

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become. C.G. Jung

solar_plexus_chakra_by_rebelbam-d5r3zhl

Self-esteem also fluctuates according to the reactions of others, comparison with others, our social roles, and our degree of identification with other people. (Michael Argyle)

I wonder is there a degree of worth and self-worth that we should have just by nature of living?

Many people certainly attribute a great deal of worth to animals, as demonstrated by the public outcry over the death of Cecil the lion this week. Do we afford all life the same degree of worth? Worth is based on value, which is obviously highly subjective.

It seems to me that self-esteem works best in a static environment. I can like myself while I’m achieving goals that meet approval from my peers. But what happens when I veer off that accepted path, and follow a more esoteric pursuit of self-exploration?

I have written much about the highs and low of my quest for spiritual evolution. Whilst I believe it is a worthy pursuit, it is not one that meets with widespread support or approval in our society.

When I chose this path, or it chose me, I’m still not sure which way it went, I stepped outside of the trajectory I was on. A trajectory based on material success and comfort and approval from my community.

Instead of taking the promotion at work, I went part time and started a business, which although it brings me, and hopefully others, much worth, did not impress my family or peers much in terms of the material success it would bring. I have spent a reasonable chunk of money studying shamanism, and again people ask me what the monetary return will be on that and I don’t know. Possibly none. The non-material returns have been inestimable.

At times my self-esteem has plummeted. There has been an awful lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and asking “what am I doing with my life?”

And yet, there is a sense of value, of following a higher calling than the material, or the acceptance of society. And I think that has a lot to do with self-worth. Because at the end of all this, I don’t expect any rewards other that to have truly known myself, to have faced my shadow, and to have explored my soul as best as my limited time here will allow. It’s not glamorous, sometimes this way of life seems to involve a lot of snot-crying whilst curled up in a foetal position.

Following the framework of the chakra system, the next step from here is the heart, Anahata chakra. Here Jung said that “the contact with the sun in Manipura lifts you up off your feet into the sphere above the earth.” In the heart chakra our yin and yang energies meet and the process of integration, balance and individuation begins.

Crossing from Manipura to Anahata is quite difficult because the recognition that the psyche acts on its own, that it really is something other than yourself, is extraordinarily hard to realise and admit. Carl Jung

Jung describes the journey through Manipura as a kind of rebirth. Here after wading through the waters of our unconscious in the sacral chakra, we find ourselves in a fiery mix of shadow and light, emotions and passions. The fire can be overwhelming, in fact it must be overwhelming in order to engulf the ego. Like the Phoenix from the ashes we emerge reborn from the flames.

It’s terribly esoteric isn’t it? But what does all that mean in a practical sense?

I guess, for me, this emergence out of the sea of unconscious back into daylight has brought with it a certain tension. As illustrated by the archetypes of the Servant and the Warrior I’m finding myself having to make choices about how I invest myself in the world.

My Servant aspect would have me submit to the outside demands of society. But what are they? It’s a real mix to be honest. On the one hand there is a certain work and family ethic that dictates a degree of submission to helping and supporting others, to responsibility.

On the other extreme, there’s the whole “because I’m worth it” school of thought (if you can call it that) suggesting I should pamper myself, put myself first, treat myself like the ‘goddess’ that I am. Which again has a place in a balanced self-esteem, but in extreme leads to narcissism.

There’s no coming to consciousness without pain. C.G. Jung

Manipura

What about the Warrior archetype? Honestly this one comes least naturally to me, and I think to many people. We are so out of touch with our Warriors. Outside of sport and war, where does anyone get to be a Warrior in modern society? We are so bound and contained by laws and ethics and even more by political correctness, by what we can and can’t say. Our Warrior just gets beaten down.

Chakradance, or any shamanic dance practice allows us to embody this archetype and by doing so, enables the power associated with our Warrior archetype to flow in.

As I said many women who try Chakradance report a resistance in the solar plexus chakra. Yet over time I have witnessed myself and others shift into an embodiment of the Warrior energy.

So what? You might say. Well, to me life follows consciousness. If we can embody this archetype through dance and release it’s power, that power will flow out into our lives.

Most tribal cultures had hunting dances and war dances to raise this kind of power before they went hunting and fighting, so it’s not a new idea to use dance and music to raise these energies.

What is new is a culture where we force ourselves to trudge day after day through activities out of sheer obligation, without any real will or passion, and without any sense of how to manage our own power.

So if the qualities of the solar plexus are will and power, perhaps self-worth comes from exercising these qualities according to our values?

And really, who had more to say about will and power than Fredrich Nietzsche?

So I asked my friend Finn McMillan, a Gnostic Shamanry practitioner, who is well versed in old Fred, whether he thought  that self-worth and Nietzsche’s concept of ‘will to power’ were related. After somewhat of a ‘duh!’ moment when he realised yet again that not everyone is as well read as him, he came out with this gem:

You cannot have any meaningful self-worth without the capacity to exercise power, and you can’t exercise power without enough self-worth to act as a ‘container’ for it.  Finn McMillan

 

Ah! Self-worth as a container. Perhaps we are all born with a ‘container’ for self-worth, but it is reliant on our learning to manage our own will and power. And the cycle flows from there.

What kind of container would this be? Obviously not a physical one, it must be a kind of psychic container, or a blueprint ready to be activated by exercising our power. Jung called the chakras psychical localizations. This ‘container’ concept ties in with the Celtic energy centres, or cauldrons, which I discussed in a previous post here.

Nietzsche saw the will to power as the basic driving force of evolution. Jung saw the solar plexus chakra as the symbol of the evolution from purely physical and unconscious psyche into consciousness. Consciousness is a necessity for will and exercising power. Then the will to power could be seen as the evolutionary force behind consciousness.

Like the image of the chakras as a spinning wheel, this cycle of integral components feed, contain and propel each other. Consciousness seeks power, power seeks consciousness, self-worth becomes the necessary ingredient to advance the conscious awareness of the precious nature of this evolutionary process.

Self-worth then may be far more meaningful than I had realised. It may be the very thing that propels us to do the work of the soul.

Ah! There is much more to ponder here. Much left to unfold. But for now I will leave you with some Rumi.

Blessings.

rumi

 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

stairway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

st peppers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

deep purple taliesin

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

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

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

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

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

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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

janis

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

Cead Mile Beannachta! (One hundred thousand blessings)

Images:

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

Sources:

Sandra Ingerman, Walking in Light

Shamanism by Tori McElroy

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

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

University of Minnesota, What is shamanism? 

Things that makes you go Om

eye_of_the_chakra_storm_by_rebelbam-d5lut55

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

root_chakra_by_rebelbam-d5g04xe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sacral_chakra_by_rebelbam-d5h9u6s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

solar_plexus_chakra_by_rebelbam-d5r3zhl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affirmations for the chakras:

I am grounded and connected with Mother Earth

I am in the flow of sensory experiences

I am taking up my rightful space in the world

I am open to love

I am expressing myself authentically

I am clear sighted and intuitive

I am experiencing my divinity and the divinity of all life

 

Bless!

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Images by RebelBam on deviantart

Sources:

Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith

Chakradance.com

Arvan Harvat’s Introduction to the Chakras