The grit that makes the pearl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The grit that makes the pearl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coincidence? Maybe. Synchronicity? Definitely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.


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

Tanya Allison http://www.tanyaallison.com

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

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

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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/