Melting into divine desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I let myself melt.

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

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Try Chakradance – Rhythm for your soul

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

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Coming home to myself

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

So I’m finally in India.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busy streets of Rishikesh 

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

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

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

I was fascinated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My evening view, aarti at Trayambakeshwar Temple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnt offerings

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

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

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

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

But mostly I felt triumphant. I had done it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning bathers at the Ganga, Rishikesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings,

Hari Om

Hidden intentions of the heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmm…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_3894

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

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

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

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

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

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

flamingo close

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tirtha are of three kinds,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

flamingo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening up a closed heart hurts at first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_3890This is all I have.

This unquenchable desire to live from the heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bless!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But life was not always a Magical Mystery Tour.

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

It seemed that love was not enough after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was the day after my entreaty to spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bless!