From words to world

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The words you speak become the house you live in. Hafiz

Words have power. They can encourage and heal. Words can be a bridge between us and another that lessen feelings of isolation and loneliness in our life experiences. Words can also hurt, they can become darts that target each other’s weakest spots, they can wound and paralyse us.

The words we hear as a child form our sense of ourselves, they are our reference points to our perception of reality. As we get older, this house of words tends to influence what we hear in what other’s say and how we perceive the world.

This week my friend, a psychologist training in a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) took me through the technique on an incident from my childhood. I was about 10 or 11 years old. I had a very naughty friend without whom I probably would never dreamed of acting so wild. In fact she was such trouble that when she turned up unannounced at my house, I didn’t want to go with her but my dad shooed me along, to get me out of the house.

After being busted for our childish lark of throwing lemons on the road to watch cars run over them, I was severely reprimanded by my parents, and left alone in my darkened bedroom for the night, to stew in my father’s final words “I have never been so ashamed of you in my whole life.” Given that my dad rarely got upset, or even paid much attention to me, these words held power.

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being. Hafiz

I have always known I carried a deep sense of shame around this, even after I was old enough to understand what I had done was not so very bad after all, and even once I learned, as a parent myself, that sometimes you overreact and say things that are way overblown, out of frustration or fear.

It was one of those pivotal family vignettes that seemed to capture some deeper truth and always came out in therapy.

What my friend helped me tap into is that this incident, probably amongst many others, had left me with a deep-seated shame and belief that ‘I am unlovable.’

Probably not coincidentally, the very next night my current lover vehemently expressed his mixed feelings about our relationship, given that in his words, his mind was saying of me, “she’s not the one.”

The words themselves were not a shock, we have been pretty clear about what we are and are not to each other, but the vehemence hurt. Not any less by the fact it mirrored my own feelings of loneliness as I prepared to go see him, a generally lovely, loving man, but not the one for me either.

Still reeling from letting go, yet again, of the man I have always hoped was ‘the one’ I find myself again wondering if it is just not my dharma this lifetime to experience that kind of love. Or am I just telling myself that and making it a self-fulfilling prophecy by choosing men who are not going to provide that kind of relationship?

I am never quite sure of myself with this love and intimacy stuff. I spent way too many formative years locked away in my bedroom with books and music that quite frankly warped my mind into some pretty fantastical ideas about life and love.

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? Nick Hornby

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When Darcy and Heathcliff are your romantic idols, doesn’t it make sense that the only men you would lust after are the unreachable and unavailable ones? Waiting for that magic moment – after years of neglect and rejection – when they realise that yes! they truly do love you.

I must say rereading Wuthering Heights as an adult woman with some actual relationship experience under my belt, I was horrified that my teenage self thought Heathcliff’s and Kathy’s torturous love romantic.

Explains a lot, really.

Like many, I have had a tumultuous relationship with romantic love. I have far too active an imagination to ever really see another person as they are.

As such I fall for the most beautiful and unavailable man I can find, and try to heal his wounds with my love. (As a side note to those who haven’t tried this yet, it doesn’t work.)

The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person. Chuck Palahniuk

In the past I have been severely burned by this weakness in myself. My last love broke my heart, not even by any misdemeanour of his – his faults were well advertised and I chose to overlook them all – but simply because he could not live up to the Mr Darcy fantasy I held in my mind.

I kept waiting for the revelation to hit him that he had it all wrong, and could I ever forgive him enough to allow him to marry me and worship me forever. (I blame Jane Austen and the Brontes entirely for this blind spot of deluded thinking…)

In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Jane Austen

Aw! Jelly legs… Right, where was I?

Love.

Is it possible in a society completely consumed with sex and romance, we have forgotten how to love?

Last week I attended an assembly of Druids, over five days we communed with nature, talked about creativity and natural cycles, sang, danced and played music. It was a gathering of like-minded people. I am sure once I have a chance to process and integrate the experience, I will have more to say, but for now what really touched me were the relationships, in particular, the marriages I saw.

They were gentle and loving and strong, each partner was their own person and yet supported and held by the other. These were true partnerships, and again it stirred a deep desire in me. I want that! Why can’t I have that? What’s wrong with me?

I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing. Neil Gaiman


Supposedly we learn from our mistakes. So as to not repeat them. As such I entertain the extremely optimistic position that I haven’t been making the same mistake repeatedly with my love the last seven years. Surely, at least, it’s a new mistake every time.

Oh I jest, they are not mistakes.

Relationships are like all things in life, impermanent. And while it is hard to let go of great love and passion, it is possible. Well, at least I hope it is. I write these words sometimes and then think, really? Who wrote that?

And because in each incarnation of our relationship I have learned some very valuable, albeit painful, lessons.

From the outside it would seem that we just get together and break up. Over and over and over again. It seems the same. Over and over and over again.

However I’m convinced that each incarnation of our relationship has brought different, and perhaps deeper, lessons.

A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master. Elizabeth Gilbert

I believe we are soul mates. In the sense that we both felt a sense of recognition and homecoming when we met, a feeling of knowing, an instant connection, deep intimacy, and attraction, followed by an ever increasing mirroring of our shadow sides as the relationship goes deeper.

(Although he would insist this kind of thinking is due to my frequent viewings of Highlander turning my brain to highland porridge.)

Our relationship seems to follow no regular trajectory, nor serve any purpose aside from triggering major upheaval and growth in each of us.

No one has ever hurt me deeper. No one has even taught me more.

And while I will admit to feeling foolish after publicly declaring our relationship (again) a few blog posts ago, only to find that my hopes for us have not manifested (again), I so want to understand.

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. Elizabeth Gilbert

While I know there are many, many people in my life who see this as a ridiculous dynamic, as one friend said when I told her that I thought we were really over this time, “Oh I have heard all this before!” I don’t agree.

You see I know that this man has triggered changes in me, profound, deep and necessary changes that may have not happened otherwise.

It was he that challenged me to write. During one break up he told me that I would never write because I was governed by a chronic fear of taking risks. Harsh? Maybe, but with a basic attitude of “I’ll show you.” I took a writing course, read my work aloud for the first time and then published this blog.

He got me started in yoga, introduced me to my Druid grove. Gave me a sounding board, an intelligent, honest and extremely well educated sounding board, to hash out my spiritual beliefs and my ideas for Raw Mojo.

It sounds like a list of the things he enabled me to do but it was so much more than that.

As Miley (yes Cyrus, c’mon that girl’s got pipes) sings, surrending to great love is like a wrecking ball crashing through your life, and this was the first time I really bared myself, body and soul to a man, was vulnerable, took risks emotionally.

I came in like a wrecking ball, I never hit so hard in love. Yeah, I just closed my eyes and swung, left me crashing in a blazing fall, all I wanted was to break your walls. Miley Cyrus

A few times I nearly went down with it, but it showed me what I am capable of, when I am willing to take risks. That I was capable of great passion, great surrender, true authenticity and deep connection. Nothing less than that will be satisfactory now.

The last time we broke up I was so devastated that I planned my trip to India to get me through. Having taken great emotional risks in love, it seemed I was opened up to taking other risks in my life, to following my passions in spite of fear.

I hope I have given in comparable ways to him. I always tried to honour and support his many gifts and talents. Sometimes I also resorted to a variety of tactics to get him to see his own value. Many times I missed the mark. I think for him, our relationship possibly tested him in similar ways to me. But maybe that’s my vanity.

Elizabeth Gilbert – who he despises with a passion – says that soul mates are not necessarily suited as life partners, soul mates are our toughest teachers, they mirror our most repressed shadow aspects in order to face ourselves in a way that a more gentle love could not.

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. Elizabeth Gilbert


This last incarnation has had me questioning love. I know I love him and yet my reaction when he turns away from me is angry and vengeful. So where’s the love in that? I am trying to stay present with the maelstrom of thoughts and impulses and emotions that are arising.

For many months now, well since we ended, I have had a daily yoga practice. Yoga is twofold for me, it releases held emotions from my bodily tissues and it also forces me to be in the moment with myself, with whatever arises. Recently savassana for me is a state of constant emotional weeping.

But this release is healthy. At least once a day I must touch upon my sadness. Then I tend to be able to get on with the demands of my day.

Everybody has an unmet need, something that they want just out of reach, It’s what makes the best movies, the kind of leading roles played by Meryl Streep. Jen Cloher

So I made the resolution that this time I will get the message. Instead of the wailing and indefinite grieving of the past, I will feel the pain, but also hold myself in the understanding that there is a great lesson here. A lesson that once learned might actually break this cycle.

So what is that? I’m not entirely sure, but I think something along the lines of self-love and self sufficiency. I think that although I am coming to see that I am actually lovable, that I keep experiencing the world as if I am unloved. It makes me seek instant ways to fill myself up on love. It makes me a little desperate, needy and codependent.

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us, break all our teacup talk of God. If you had the courage and could give the Beloved His choice, some nights, he would just drag you around the room by your hair, ripping from your grip all those toys in the world that bring you no joy. Hafiz

What has become apparent is that until I feel loveable and good enough in myself, I will always create this dynamic which painfully acts out my sense of deficiency. This is not about the relationship or this man. These deficiencies go much deeper.

Abraham Maslow believed that a self actualised person is self sufficient. Not in the sense that they isolate themselves from others, not with false pride. Rather this kind of evolved person doesn’t come to relationships with needs to fulfil that they should be fulfilling themselves.

What is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Stevie Nicks

So while having needs for intimacy, for giving and receiving love and compassion are completely appropriate, needing someone else to fill up our self worth, self esteem are not.

First, it doesn’t work. Second, it puts relationships at a transactional level of need fulfilment rather than an unconditional level of true loving.

It doesn’t work because ultimately these needs must be satiated within. Otherwise we become a vortex that drains the other person, all their love is squandered and ultimately the relationship is doomed.

Everything is impermanent. This moment passes. That person walks away. Happiness is still possible. Thich Nhat Hanh


So finding myself in this dynamic, I now must face the alternatives of either a lifetime of these soul destroying relationship dynamics or the courage to really do the inner work on myself.

My yoga teacher often reprimands the class. He says. “I ask you to be with yourself, in your own energy for two minutes and you can’t do it. Yet you expect someone to want to be with you, pay attention to you for a lifetime. When you can’t even be with yourself for two minutes.”

After years of meditation I can be with myself for two minutes, but his point is well taken. How can I ask another for love when I can’t give it to myself?

Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings. Anaïs Nin

So begins my next challenge. How do I love myself and others unconditionally?

I saw a picture of my love and I felt compassionate love. Not anger, not scorn or bitterness. I do love you. I thought. I do want you to be okay. Even without me.

I thought this was progress. But then it grew into longing. And I felt that tight black mass in my chest. Who are you? I asked the tight black mass? I really wanted to understand. As it’s black slimy clawed arms reached out it said “I am your need.”

Oh. It wasn’t nice. I wouldn’t want to be clutched in those arms.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly and wants to rip to shreds all your erroneous notions of truth that make you fight within yourself, dear one, and with others, causing the world to weep on too many fine days. Hafiz

So awareness is a great thing. And yet I’m not entirely sure what to do next. I’ve seen this rampant need. I think I’ve identified it’s origins in my life, and I see what it wants.

I am trying to be patient with myself. I’ve seen this cycle. I’m in the holding bay, waiting for him to make contact. Not really wanting him to on the one hand, because I’m pretty sure we are done and it will just be a sad conversation. Can we be friends? History, of which we have plenty, suggests not. But I find myself still wanting a sign that I meant something, that I still mean something. It’s a lose-lose scenario.

I swing between absolute certainly that we will never, ever, ever get back together (and yes listening to Taylor Swift and getting pulled up by teenage boys at the traffics lights wanting to know what I’m singing alone so emphatically to) And then finding myself off on ridiculous romantic fantasies. Well, not so ridiculous. I mean last time couple of times we got back together it was in Bali, once on a balcony with a paradasical view, after he drew me a flower to make me smile…

There is nothing at all that can be talked about adequately, and the whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said. Alan W. Watts

But never. Ever. Again. Like ever.

But my mind fixates. It wants a solution. But there’s nothing that I haven’t tried over the last seven years, it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel where I’ve selected every possible variable and the outcome has still been the same.

All that’s left is to accept and to not delude myself into the false hope of trying again, the battle cry of the addict “this time will be different.”

Because at the beginning it is intoxicating. There’s so much promise and hope. It’s so intimate and connected I always wonder how we could have stuffed things up. Then when things go off the rails, and I see the utter inevitability of our characters playing out the scenario they do, I wonder how I was ever insane enough to expect anything different.

This moment, this love, comes to rest in me many beings in one being. In one wheat grain a thousand sheep stacks. Inside the needle’s eye a turning night of stars. There is a light seed grain inside, you fill it with yourself or it dies. I am caught in this curling energy, your hair, who ever is calm and sensible is insane! Rumi

So I make the vow not to seek love but to be love. To embody love. What the heck does that actually mean? I don’t know. It sounded good when I wrote it.

I think maybe acting loving despite all the hurt. Keeping my heart open. Not losing hope in love, and its many forms.

I do get weary of always having to be strong on my own. For some time now my son’s father has not been well, emotionally or physically.  And for as long as I can remember the bulk of the parenting responsibilities have been on my shoulders. Not just financially or physically, but I feel it emotionally, in all those times where you have important decisions to make, where your child need guidance and support.

I think how I would love a partner that I could share this with, to say, “hey, what do you think we should do?” To share the load as well as the joys.

The Beloved sometimes wants to do us a great favour: hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out. Hafiz

At times I feel like I am completely running on empty, I give and provide support and love, but how do I fill up my own cup?

At the Winter Solstice, I began my year of holding space as the Mabon, the sacred child. My druid friend said she related this energy to the vestal virgins who held the spark of divine consciousness through their purity.

Can I trust right now? Can I be as a child? Open, curious?

It feels strange because at the same time I have so many regrets. I feel jaded, and that I have squandered the “best years” or my life, or “wasted my pretty” as the modern parlance goes.

But the child teaches of the infinite possibilities of rebirth. Of a rebirth in consciousness. Can I be grateful for the love and lessons, and let go of the attachments to pain and regrets?

My emotional pendulum is swinging wildly. Where’s the equilibrium. Where’s the peace?

Please come home. Please come home into your own body, Your own vessel, your own earth. Please come home into each and every cell, And fully into the space that surrounds you. Jane Hooper


The early Christian and gnostic mystics known as the desert fathers and mothers, wrote about these intense feelings rising out of personal issues as ‘passions,’ they were trained to spot these ‘land mines’ and be free of them before they did serious psychic damage.

The heart at the service of the personal, psychological self is not a heart at all, according to the Wisdom tradition. Finding the way to where our true heart lies is the great journey of spiritual life, and it crosses the vast, uncharted waters of our being. But making this passage has everything to do with the discovery of Wisdom. Cynthia Bourgeault

Meditation, prayer and sacred chanting were the tools they used – these are the time-tested practices for nurturing the heart and quietening the mind.

When this practice goes well emotion maintains it’s depth and power while losing that sticky sentimental and confused quality so characteristic of the ego self.

Rather than emotional storms wreaking destruction on our inner peace, Christian mystic Cynthia Bourgeault believes it is the emotional centre that carries the reconciling force. It is the bridge between mind and body. Earth, sea and sky.

As we wander in perpetual spiritual adolescence, attempting to fill the hunger in our hearts with our needs rather than the divine need, creation itself (all of life on this planet) pays the price. Cynthia Bourgeault

I realise I come across as self-indulgent. However I speak with absolute sincerity when I say I believe that part of the path to wisdom is self-examination. I see the messes I make in my life, I acknowledge the harm done to others in my quest to meet my own needs. If the only outcome of my life is develop into a human being who can walk this earth peacefully without blindly harming those in her path, I will be happy.

And I really believe that through understanding the mechanisms at work in myself, by transcending them to the best of my ability, I join with those who endeavour to leave a light and gentle footprint on this earth.

Now is the time for you to know that everything you do is sacred. Rumi

While we are blind to our own destructive natures, what hope do we have of turning around the destruction to each other or on Mother Nature?

My motive is to clear out all the sticky, entangled emotional behavioural patterns that are engrained in my neural pathways. In the modern vernacular “don’t go there.” Don’t go with the reactive response, stay present. Stay here. Observe the storm but don’t become the storm.

By staying present with my own shadow, my own darkness, by holding myself with compassion, holding that part of me that is still a 10 year old girl who thinks she has been abandoned by her father, that she is unloved and unlovable. By not allowing those ideas, those words to create her reality, there is the crack through which the light gets in and shows me another possibility.

You may be asking, what this has to do with seven intentions? Well, everything really. As I become more and more convinced of the interconnectness of absolutely everything, I realise I can’t turn away from this stuff, as much as I wish to. It affects my sense of the world.

How can I manifest my glorious intentions in a world where we can’t even stop people from hurting one another?

Peace and compassion are things I desire far more than a home or more money. I always said I never wanted to be bitter, no matter how battle worn or weary my heart might be, that it would remain loving.

Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold. Zelda Fitzgerald

And above all, I want to be free of this. I have so much I want to write about, the spirits of nature, my druidry and shamanism, so many new budding things in my life. But I know from experience I have to deal with what is in front of me before I can move on. As excruciating as I find it, right now, this is it.

On balance, there is always more love than evil happening in the world. I think. I know this is not what the mass media tells us, but it’s true. Even in a war zone there are people helping their neighbours, loving their children, creating beautiful art and music, and making love. I wonder what would happen if we could all hold this thought together. That the world and its people are more loving than hating, more loving than fearful, more loving than hurtful.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won.

There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always. Mahatma Gandhi

I try not to lose faith in love because without it the world seems impossibly bleak.

I try to be grateful for all the love I do have in my life, my son, my friends, my spiritual communities. These fill me up, and provide me with support and sustenance.

I also try to remember than I have a degree of freedom that is enviable to many. I can save up all my pennies and go to India or Bali.

I remember when I was unhappily married, with three (beloved) young sons, and a friend – who was then about the age I am now – was lamenting her lonely single life. I envied her. I vividly remember saying to her “Just enjoy it, one day you’ll be in a committed relationship and you’ll miss the freedom, the simplicity of single life.”

Ha. Karma is a bitch, eh?

So you may say I’m naive and impossibly romantic, but I am making an intention to stay open to love and to believe that I am lovable, that we all are, each and every moment, no matter what.

And as I believe we are all connected, at some level you will all feel this too, even if it’s just the lightest flap of butterfly wings along your cheek, that for one small moment makes you ever-so-imperceptibly smile.

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart). e. e. cummings

Hari Om Tat Sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Art by Viktor Nizovtsev www.facebook.com/victor.nizovtsev

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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/

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

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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

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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

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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!

The places that scare you

When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armour, like armour that imprisons the softness of the heart. Pema Chodron

I wake early and sit on the verandah of my little Balinese bungalow. The ocean roars below. Dawn is breaking. A pair of small bats flap around and through the rafters of the row of huts. They pelt past me, ducking and weaving through wooden pillars and trees. I watch in awe.

Blind as a bat, that’s how the saying goes and yet they navigate with apparent ease. I’m pulled between feelings of admiration and a mild fear that one will come crashing into my head.

This torque between awe and fear captures my experience in Bali. Quite possibly it epitomises my reaction to life in general.

There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity. Alan Watts

This place is beautiful but a little unsafe. No, not really unsafe. Unfamiliar. There are imagined disasters at every turn. Can I leave my son in the bungalow for an hour to go to yoga? What if something happens to him? What if I get hit by a scooter? What if we get sick? What if I lose all our money? What if there’s a tsunami? A volcanic ash cloud? What if we get stuck here and I run out of money? What if I chose the wrong place to stay? What if we are too isolated here? What if…?

These thoughts have plagued the early hours of the morning. Waking me from a blissful tropical sleep into heart-pounding anxiety. It is said that the body doesn’t differentiate between a real or an imagined experience. And here I lie in paradise traumatising myself with imagined disaster scenarios.

The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling, or changing, or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo – even when it’s not working. It attaches to past and present and fears the future. Richard Rohr

This same torque exists within me, a strong need for security coupled with an adventurous and inquisitive spirit. There is absolutely no way to quell these needs simultaneously, there are always choices that serve one but not the other. And I feel ever pulled in different directions. 

Anxiety is a strange beast. It’s been with me forever and yet I am only just starting to see its pervasiveness. I think in the past I had a host of coping mechanisms – not good ones it has to be said, but temporarily effective. 

These strategies seemed to mask and divert my anxiety into manageable, material things. I felt anxious but I had a solution, I just needed a drink, a drug, a man, a family sized tub of Haagen Dazs…

The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet. Alan Watts

Then there is the strategy of control and micromanaging. It goes like this, if I keep my life small, contained and manageable, if I stick to the list of things I can’t do because they scare me, then I keep anxiety at bay. Well, that’s the theory.

Except I discovered none of these things actually works in the long term. Like a hyper-resistant virus, anxiety soon finds a way through all my defences. “Ha ha it says. You can’t beat me!” It’s like the ever confident poker player always willing to raise me one more until I fold.

So what to do then?

Nothing goes away until it teaches you what you need to know. Pema Chodron

So what does my anxiety have to teach me? Paradoxically I think it teaches me to be brave. I know that sounds crazy but bear with me here.

When every day, all day, every little decision, every action scares you, it means you are constantly overcoming fear. Unlike someone who lives in the illusion of security, an anxious person is only too aware of the unstable nature of life, inherent is suffering, misfortune and ultimately death. 

The trick is to be at peace with this awareness. It is how we react to the anxiety that makes the difference, not trying to get rid of the anxiety itself.

What lies beneath this anxiety about seemingly trivial things is the fear of no control, and ultimately the fear of suffering and death. Anxiety is borne of a lie that if things were a certain way, then I’d be okay. But in reality things are in constant flux and mostly out of my control.

The places that really scare us are within and not outside of ourselves. That’s the ruse. Anxiety makes us feel that the threat is out there, that there is safety and security to be found if only we manage well. 

Coming to Bali, leaving my son to go to yoga, all involves acting in face of these fears. The fear turns out to be an illusion. This acting in spite of my fear strengthens me for the next bout of fear. It teaches me to be present in the fear and act with integrity and courage anyway. It teaches me that although I have no control, I do have choice. 

The more we witness our emotional reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. Pema Chodron 

Here I have none of my defences. I wear little clothes, no make-up. I have no job, no profession, no role. There is no schedule, no timelines. I am without my armoury. Without my anchors of familiarity and routine. In this free flowing unfolding of life my anxiety runs around like a headless chicken. “What if… What if… What if…”

After centering myself, reminding myself gently that I came to Bali to revisit my spirit of adventure, I say “Wouldn’t it be lovely to walk to yoga in my favourite studio in the whole world, knowing my son is completely safe and so am I.”

And that’s exactly how it goes.

Now I’m not saying bad things don’t happen. That’s not the point. The point is worrying and anxiety are not going to stop bad things from happening. And mostly those things are the ones we never see coming anyway. Like the coconut that fell from a tree missing my head by inches as my son and I walked to the pool. Didn’t see that coming! I didn’t wake at 5am worrying about having my skull caved in by a falling coconut…

The point is not to let fear poison and dominate my life’s experiences and choices. To as Pema Chodron says go to the places that scare you. Be present there, and live heart-fully in spite of fear. To accept my vulnerability in a world where quite possibly anything could happen. To be invigorated rather than petrified by this.

When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation, and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment. Pema Chodron 

All this has emerged as I feel the shift into my heart chakra. This year I have been allowing myself to flow through my chakras very slowly and intuitively. Last month I was enjoying the fiery energy of Manipura. And even as I finished writing my last post I could feel the shift into the heart centre.

The alchemy of surrender is a term used by astrologer Sarah Varcas. She uses it to describe the power that comes from embracing the state of unknowing. She talks about the shift that happens when we stop trying to think our way through uncertainty and begin to feel into it.

Over the past ten days I have remained present through my varying states from mild panic to complete calm and peace. Having just been attuned to reiki, I practiced this on myself and tuned into where the nervous energy was stuck in my body.

Anxiety is awareness without presence, just as fear is excitement without breathing. Russ Hudson

Anxiety is just energy. When you think about it, there’s very little difference between anxiety and excitement except the story the mind tells itself.

In yoga class, the teacher led us through pranayama breathing exercises. He reminded us that without proper breathing the energy cannot flow. Yoga asanas, or any energy raising practice for that matter, without breathing will raise energy but not move it, creating blocks and imbalances.

Anxiety is an energetic charge created by our mental perception. Breathing into the anxiety. Focusing on where it is being trapped in the body – both subtle and physical – allowing a compassionate observation of our thoughts and sensations, creating space for them, is a powerful way to transform anxiety into a mindfulness practice.

This is not something we do once or twice. Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening the heart is the work of a lifetime. Pema Chodron

Anxiety and fear is a call to arms. Without it would I have pursued a spiritual solution? I doubt it. If not driven by my discomfort, what motivation would there have been for me to investigate meditation, yoga, Chakradance? That’s not to say that anxiety is all that motivates me, I have a connection to the spirit world that is precious and wonderful to me, but it was desperation that got me started.

For those of you who haven’t experienced anxiety it begins with a feeling of something running on a mouse-wheel in your chest. There’s a feeling of panic even if there’s no real sense of what the panic is about. It’s like feeling scared. 

People – the ones who don’t experience anxiety – will say it’s all in your head. Yes. Like real fear. That’s in your head too. And your body doesn’t distinguish between the two. For someone in the midst of an anxiety attack, they may as well be tied to the train tracks with the 4:32 fast approaching.

Anxiety certainly gets your attention. It’s hard to ignore that freight train rocking through your chest, the dry mouth, the pounding head, the urge to run. Maybe that’s the point. Anxiety wants me to pay attention. Like a parent who has asked politely twenty times for their child to come to dinner, anxiety ramps it up a notch just to get their attention.

We’re all very familiar with the experience of fear escalating, or the experience of running away from fear. But have we even taken the time to truly touch our fear, to be present with it and experience it fully? Do we know what it might mean to smile at fear? Pema Chodron

Meditation helps. It helps because it is a practice which disciplines us to let thoughts go, to not attach or overly identify with them. It helps because it brings awareness on to the breath, and breathing can become shallow when anxious, and breath moves energy through our subtle body. 

And it helps because it teaches us to just observe whatever state we may be in with loving compassion and a little detachment. In meditation I am present, aware, but not a slave to my thinking.

Someone once told me that the problem it not how we feel, it’s how we feel about how we feel. So when I’m anxious I have the choice to feel anxious about my anxiety – can you see the snowball effect of that line of thinking? 

Or I can choose to accept that I’m anxious, without reacting to it. This was a strategy I first encountered in Russ Harris’ book The Happiness Trap, but essentially it is the basis of many religious and contemplative practices. Begin in the now, with what is, accept it, breathe, refrain from judgement or reaction. Be an impassive observer of your own inner workings. Create a space between the feeling and the observing of the feeling.

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. Pema Chodron

I know it sounds so simple, but it’s also really hard to unlearn years of habitual thinking. So I have found I need to be very gentle and compassionate with myself. Sometimes I react to my anxiety, that snowball starts rolling and I’m out of control.  And that’s okay. It always comes to a head and then I regroup. I meditate, I dance, I run, I do yoga. I sit on a stationary bike and pedal until all the nervous energy has burned out of me. I begin again.

I am sure much of my anxiety comes from a defensive self-protection. I want to be open to life, to explore, to love, to experience. 

Yet part of me feels that in the past when I have opened to life, to love, it has been a Trojan horse, which seemed at first, like a wondrous gift, but once within my walls, once it had me vulnerable, it attacked. After charming itself into my world it let me down in the most spectacular way. My heart hurts from this disappointment and betrayal. 

As much as I wish to be rendered new, these scars linger. But what if that’s the point? What could be more brave than keeping my heart open knowing that pain is inevitable?

A dark night of the soul is some of the most transformative times that we go through in our lives. They are sacred initiations. Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson talks of the modern tendency of pathologising of normal human suffering. Pain and suffering are part of life, we are built for it. As well as a physical immune system we have a psychic immune system. After a physical injury or illness we allow time for the bruises and scars to heal. The same goes for our psychic scars, after loss or sadness or disappointment there is a time when we feel bruised, and are healing. Time and self-compassion and acceptance is the way through this process. 

The thymus gland relates to the immune system in the body and is the gland that is located in the area of the heart chakra. Is it possible that this psychic immune system is also located in the heart centre? 

Just as our physical immunity strengthens from exposure to allergens and bacteria, perhaps our psychical immune system strengthens through these times of fear, pain and grief that so test our hearts.

Marianne Williamson maintains that much of what is diagnosed and medicated as anxiety and depressive disorders is actually the very sane reactions we have to the world we live in. Bombarded daily with images of violence, poverty, disease, only the hardest of hearts could not feel pain. 

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart. Helen Keller

Spiritual malady is often called the ‘dark night of the soul.’ As Buddha and Christ demonstrated suffering is at the core of the spiritual experience. Indeed the need to be happy – that we are so bombarded with – is a set-up for disappointment and despair.

When what we really need is to develop acceptance and resilience to pain, compassion for ourself and others, by understanding and accepting its intrinsic role in our human experience.

The energy of the heart is simple. It is love. It wants to love. To radiate its light. To bring warmth and healing to others. To open to the radiance of life. 

In Sanskrit, Anahata means unhurt or unstruck. 

The heart is always unhurt and unstruck. That sacred centre cannot be scarred. The scars are energetic memories of past suffering. They are not bad, just products of the mistaken belief that closing, hiding and shielding the heart will prevent pain when of course the opposite is true.

Jung described the heart chakra as the beginning of individuation. The place where we begin to experience something beyond our ego-self, something we might call spirit.

When we begin to heal the heart chakra, we create a softening of the heart. This softening stirs the energy of love and compassion and through awareness we can begin to dissolve the hurt we so often bury in our hearts. As our heart awakens to its own loving potential we begin to experience genuine connection with others, and our relationships grow healthy and radiate love. Natalie Southgate 

The heart Chakradance is a dance of integration, of uniting the masculine and feminine energies, the energies of the more dense chakras below, with the more etheric above. As we dance we honour Father Sky and Mother Earth, day and night, light and dark, yang and yin. We experience that beautiful space where all is united and integrated, where all apparent opposites move together in harmonious dance of love.

I remember the last time I led the Heart Chakradance, it was close in time to an experience that had hurt my heart. I was more than a little afraid to be going there, especially leading a class. ‘What if I break down?’ I worried, knowing the pain was just beneath the surface.

Yet in the dance I didn’t experience my pain, I held the space for the dancers, and what I found was the essence of the heart energy, endless, unfathomable, bottomless waves of love and compassion. The room was bathed in emerald green light, as I shifted the energies that people released, yes, there was sadness and grief and disappointment, but it paled in the face of this infinite supply of love. 

When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space. Pema Chodron 

The recent years have marked a shift for me into setting my sights high and acting with self-belief. And while the fear and anxiety are often there, they no longer dictate my actions. Often I see anxiety as an indicator that have stepped outside of my comfort zone, into new territory and I remind myself this is a good thing.

After returning from Bali I met with the leader of my Druid grove and she guided my through walking the wheel. The Druid wheel is both a calendar for the eight seasonal ceremonies of the year and like the Native American medicine wheel, a sacred symbolic and archetypal map for the stages of development and the energies we are working through at a given time in our life. 

As part of a grove or Druid community, it also suggests the ceremonial role that we should hold for that year. While we work through the energies of an aspect of the wheel, we can also hold and represent those energies for the group during ceremony. For me the wheel guided me to stop just North of West, at the position of the knight. 

Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move. Move the way joy makes you move. Osho

It a curious position, archetypally the Knight is a young male, still adolescent, who embarks on a spiritual quest, the search for the Holy Grail, if you will. He represents the spiritual warrior. While it seemed strange for a woman at my stage of life, somewhere in the mother/queen realm to be guided to this energy, it also makes perfect sense.

This year I have been guided to make my spiritual journey a physical one, with my pilgrimages to Bali and India, and next year to Ireland. I have very much been called to get on my horse and physically seek. I have also been guided to do so alone. For the first time in my life I am not looking for a partner, if anything I feel I have no space for one right now. I’m the knight on his holy mission and it’s a path I must travel alone.

And how interesting that at a time when anxiety over my life choices has reared up, this warrior energy has emerged for me. It feels like a beautiful integration of the solar plexus warrior energy into the heart. Where my will and passion is channeled through my heart centre. 

It’s exciting for me to see spirit guide me in this way, it’s validating. As I march into the unknown, I have unseen guides alongside me. 

And like the turning of the wheel, my time as the knight won’t be forever, only until I have worked with these energies, gained their wisdom and I am ready to integrate this and move on.

The most courageous thing we will ever do is bear humbly the mystery of our own reality. Richard Rohr


Bless!

Turning the heart

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness and ecstasy. Robert A. Johnson

Last week I wrote about the Celtic energy centres – the cauldrons – and since I have been practising Elen Sentier’s meditation on the Spiral Path through the chakras, even making a recording here on Soundcloud if you would like to try it. This week in particular, I am fascinated by the Cauldron of Motion and Vocation, Coire Ernmae, which some writers say, corresponds to the heart and solar plexus chakras.

This week’s Chakradance class was focused on the heart chakra. As always, there has been much synchronicity around this energy this week. What I teach and what I need to learn seem to flow together quite effortlessly.

In a reiki session at the start of the week, the reiki master, also a dear friend, said my heart was literally shouting “enough!”

This came as no surprise to me, nor probably to anyone who regularly reads this blog. Last year I reconnected with the man I had felt was my soul mate, and then following the well-worn pattern of the previous few years, our relationship imploded. The pain of this has been excruciating for me. Even five months later, I am left with a constant pain in my heart and this sense of not knowing, not understanding.

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape. Charles Dickens

After my reiki session, as I practiced and then facilitated the heart Chakradance class, I tried to hear my heart, what was she saying to me? It seemed to me she had gone quiet, non-responsive, as if she was sulking, angry at the way I had allowed her to be pummelled so mercilessly.

Reflecting back on my life, I tried to remember a time when my heart felt open and safe. Of course there were times in the early throes of love when my heart blossomed, but these were all too quickly followed by the steely grate of disappointment and rejection slamming down on her.

It is almost always the case that whatever has wounded you will also be instrumental in your healing. Robert A. Johnson

I have always been disappointed in love. I have never been able to love and be loved in equal measure. I think of an animal, who when hurt, will retreat to a remote place to lick its wounds, and I feel this is where my heart is at. So I am trying to honour that.

feeling-blue-surbhi-grover

This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something. Elizabeth Gilbert

Having the week off work, my intention has been to ask my heart what it wants, and try to honour that. Although she hasn’t been very talkative, I know when I find those things. Going back to yoga after a long absence has felt like a balm for my heart and soul. Spending time with a dear friend, back from a long sojourn in India, has reminded me of the necessity to embrace life and seek joy.

My friend has suffered great loss, its not my story to tell, but losing half your family is enough to smother the most robust of hearts. I have witnessed my friend walk through years of grieving, with great courage, candour, and determination.

His trip to India was a magical, mystical tour of, in your face, no holes barred, life. India is like that.

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. Louise Erdrich

This got me to thinking about the Celtic concept of the ‘turning of the cauldrons’. In the Celtic tradition, from what little we know of it, the three Cauldrons, or energy centres, are not all upright by default. The Cauldron of Warming, which provides our life-force, is upright in all of us from birth, but the other two, Vocation and Wisdom, must be turned by experience and the accumulation of wisdom. You can read more about the three cauldrons in my last post here.

There is a tendency is our modern, scientific, literal culture to dismiss stories and poems as fantasy. What possible wisdom could they offer us? What possible cosmology can be gained from a poem written over a thousand years ago? Robert A. Johnson answers this concern best:

First we must learn to think mythologically. Powerful things happen when we touch the thinking which myths, fairy tales, and our own dreams bring to us. The terms and settings of the old myths are strange; they seem archaic and distant to us, but if we listen to them carefully and take them seriously, we begin to hear and to understand. Robert A. Johnson

According to the poem, the Cauldron of Poesy, everyone is born into this world containing three centres: a centre of existence (The Cauldron of Warming), a centre of experience (The Cauldron of Vocation) and a centre of consciousness (The Cauldron of Knowledge).

The Cauldron of Warming is that which is necessary for life. The Cauldrons of Vocation and Knowledge are those areas of ourselves that can be changed by our own efforts. The texts describe the Cauldron of Warming as being upright at birth, while the Cauldron of Vocation is on its side and the Cauldron of Knowledge is inverted.

enlightened-within-surbhi-grover

The Cauldron of Vocation seems to correlate to the heart and solar plexus chakras in the Hindu tradition – although as I said last week this is merely a way for me to get traction with these concepts, there is no reason to believe there is an actual correspondence. This cauldron is turned to its side at birth and as the poem that tells of the cauldrons goes:

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, on my dear friend’s journey through the most intense of grief and trauma, my own, albeit tame in comparison, ongoing dalliance with grief, longing, and heartache, and it seems to me this is a time of turning. My friend is so open to life and love, stretched wide in the yawning gape of terrific loss, he has allowed his heart to transverse that chasm between despair and joy, to encompass its entirety. I see a man whose heart has turned, and filled with its magic potion of grief, despair, joy, and ecstasy, has begun to bubble and broil with life.

Inspired, I feel a renewed sense of purpose, of vocation, if you will. This heartache is not taking me under, it is turning me.

The Irish are not a culture interested in the white light experience. Transformation in the Irish and Celtic legends is an often painful, laborious process. There is a true sense of balance between the dichotomies of light and dark, joy and sorrow, ecstasy and pain, and a deep sense that you simply cannot have one without the other.

We can see from these phrases that the translation of the word imbas as “poetic frenzy” is not an overstatement of the condition. This Celtic form of enlightenment is no gentle melding with the oneness of the universe. Instead, it is a passionate, sometimes uncontrollable engagement with the fabric of reality. The energies accessed when all the cauldrons are turned into their upright positions does indeed feel like fire flowing through the head, expanding, quickening, and burning, as when Amirgen proclaimed “I am a God who shapes fire for a head.” Erynn Rowan Laurie

As I said, there has been much synchronicity around this awakening, sometimes from the strangest of sources. I am a little nervous to write this, but what the hell, I have shared worse things with you! So this week I have been watching free movies on YouTube, and I came across Shirley MacLaine playing herself in a dramatised version of her autobiographical book Out on a Limb. This book has been canned for MacLaine’s claims of experiences with mediums, extra-terrestrials and past lives in Atlantis. I must admit, I have always written it off as a massive Hollywood, New-Age cliche.

svelte-surbhi-grover

Anyway, disclaimer notwithstanding, I was drawn to this movie. I love Shirley MacLaine as a performer and I was drawn to the opening lines of the movie when she spoke of a time in her life – her mid forties – where she was entwined in a baffling, powerful and tortuous affair with a married man, which defied logical explanation and for which she could only believe there must be a purpose she couldn’t understand.

“Oh hello,” I thought, I’m hooked. So she had me there. It’s an interesting story, it stretches the suspension of disbelief at times, but I resonated to this exploration into the cosmic purpose of this untenable relationship.

I think anyone who has experienced a love like this wonders how something so vast could possibly be contained in a lifetime as fleeting as this.

A true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life. Elizabeth Gilbert

At the same time dancing the heart Chakradance, where we invite the union of the masculine and feminine energies in our heart, I began to wonder what is the cosmic purpose of where I find myself? Is this all part of a process to turn my heart into a position of receptivity?

The noble brew in which is boiled
the true root of all knowledge
which bestows after duty
which is climbed after diligence
which poetic ecstasy sets in motion
which joy turns
which is revealed through sorrow;
it is lasting power
undiminishing protection
I sing of the Cauldron of Motion. Cauldron of Poesy

As all of this is brewing in me, my friend gave me the image of an Indian deity, the consort of Krishna. I looked her up, in my goddesses of yoga book, and discovered this was Radha. In Hindu tradition all deities have a masculine/feminine aspect, a shiva/shakti archetype. Radha is Krishna’s shakti energy. Krishna was beautiful, magnetic, loved by all who met him. Young women wanted him, older women mothered and cared for him. He was adored. Radha was completely consumed with him, and yet because of his love for all and by all, she could never possess him in the way she wanted, and thus she is the goddess of unrequited desire and romantic longing.

As I read this out to my friend, we laughed, he could not have found me a more apt goddess!

The lesson of the Krishna/Radha story is the path of parakriya bhakti – enlightenment through erotic love and devotion. When Krishna must leave Radha, she is devastated, but she is encouraged to channel this passion into divine worship, the yoga of bhakti.

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Robert A. Johnson writes in his book, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love, that passionate love in a human is displaced love for the divine. Then it follows that the longing for the lover, is a longing for the divine. The great fire of need that stirs our heart, our Cauldron of Vocation, motivates a reaching, a searching, a yearning, a longing, that begins to turn that cauldron within, and as it turns, it fills up with all that experience of joy and love, of despair and loss, in a great magic brew, and only then can we begin our journey into wisdom.

Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment. John O’Donohue

In the Cauldron of Poesy, we are told that jealousy and longing are part of the magic brew that turns the heart, or the Cauldron of Vocation.

Longing is a familiar concept in Irish stories. In the Settling of the Manor of Tara story, longing is associated with the Oran Mor, the great song. You can read my post on longing here. It is the soul’s longing that creates the music of the world, the great song that sings all into creation. Remembering the Irish were an oral, bardic, storytelling culture, the great song is life to them. Reality and history and cosmology all combine in the songs of the Irish. In their culture there are no true creation stories, in the sense of an absolute beginning of time, the great song is as endless and beginningless as a celtic knot.

The flute of the infinite is played without ending, and its sound is love.
When love renounces all boundaries it arrives at the truth. Srī Kabīrdās

This week in my shamanic studies, we have been connected with a buddy to practise journeying on behalf of others. My buddy is a lovely lady in Mission Beach in Queensland. We skyped yesterday and I was blown away by the synchronicity. We are both studying, as well as shamanism, courses based in druidry and nature magic and herbalism. Our conversation stretched effortlessly for forty-five minutes with an instant connection.

Pondering all the new connections and influences coming into my life, I wondered if I would be so engaged in all this if I still had my lover? When we were together, he was such a focal point of my energy, now I have to channel that energy elsewhere.

The heart chakra, or Anahata, is located in the centre of your chest. I have recorded Anodea Judith’s beautiful meditation on anahata here on Soundcloud. In Sanskrit, Anahata means unstruck, infinite, and continuous. It refers to the vibration of the heart love energy which resonates throughout the universe without beginning or end.

Awake my dear. Be kind to your sleeping heart. Take it out into the vast fields of light and let it breathe. Hafiz

The heart chakra represents our ability to love. In Jungian archetypes it can be either the lover or the shadow aspect of the actor. We can either be open hearted and sincere, or playing at love, whether selfishly or from a place of fear, never really surrendering to its power.

In Chakradance we open the heart by connecting to breath, and the element of air. Dancing into air, feeling air all around, opening the chest and arms and dancing as if we have wings and are soaring through the air, experiencing lightness and freedom. Then we honour the heart through the sacred marriage of the masculine and the feminine, the yang and the yin, Shiva and Shakti. Drawing the feminine energy up from the earth and the masculine energy down from the sky, these energies dance up and down our spinal column before finding union in the heart.

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In many shamanic traditions, it is through the heart centre that we journey. The heart is seen as the bridge between worlds, where the corporeal and the etheric worlds meet. As such I have been possibly taxing my heart with the frequent journeying and seeking. No wonder she is exhausted. Sometimes it is the space between that holds the power. We can journey and seek, but we must equally allow time to sit quietly receive and allow the wisdom to simmer and brew. Perhaps that is the quietude in my heart, not sulking, just a silent request for stillness.

Even after all this time the Sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky. Hafiz

In Irish, the word ‘coire’ means both “cauldron” and “whirlpool.” Thus the cauldrons are both the container and the substance, both contained and uncontained. Unlike the hindu concept of the chakras as spinning wheels of energy, the cauldrons are said to contain many energetic properties, water, ether, fire, symbols, and matter. (Although the chakras also align to different elements, earth, water, fire, air, ether, so I’ll have to meditate some more on this.)

Erynn Rowan Laurie describes the motion of the cauldrons as “an artistic journey” that “bestows good wisdom and nobility and honour after turning.” Gathering knowledge from the Otherworld is sometimes described in tales as similar to shamanic journeying. 

Joy and sorrow are the mechanisms for turning the cauldrons within; the poem tells us that the “noble brew” of our cauldrons is that “which joy turns, which is revealed through sorrow.” The cauldrons are even described as “moving toward music.” So the turning, whilst quite an agonising and torturous process at times, is suggested to lead towards a sense of harmony, of concert. To me this makes sense, and I have to make sense of things, otherwise I crumble.

This sky, this sky where we live is not place to lose your wings. So love, love, love. Hafiz

Perhaps it strikes the reader that I am desperately clinging to this notion to give my heartache a meaning it doesn’t deserve. Where Bridget Jones turned to vodka and Chaka Khan, I have turned to the mystics of the ages and my dubious intuition. This may be true. There are two possible retorts to this, one that only broken open could I find the necessary spiritual hunger to accept this quest, or less optimistically, this quest keeps me imbued with a sense of hope where otherwise they might be none.

Again, this post feels like such a strange brew, the elements don’t seem to meld easily, it’s still lumpy and unformed, and yet somehow I know they belong together, that I am on the right track. Somehow I will find the cosmology that sits between my connection with the hindu-tantric tradition, my Irish blood, and my Australian psyche. I believe we all tap into the same source, our methods may vary, but we are all dancing to the same tune, the great song moves us all through our visions, dreams, and journeys. Somehow I know my heart wants me to follow this song. So I do.

Nothing will see us through the age we’re entering but high consciousness, and that comes hard. We don’t have a good, modern myth yet, and we need one. Robert A. Johnson

 

Heart Chakra Affirmations by Chakra Anatomy:

I am open to love.
All love resides within my heart.
I deeply and completely love and accept myself.
I nurture my inner child.
I am wanted and loved.
I live in balance, in a state of gracefulness and gratitude.
I love the beauty of nature and the animal world.
I forgive myself.
I am open to love and kindness.
I am grateful for all the challenges that helped me to transform and open up to love.
I am connected with other human beings.
I feel a sense of unity with nature and animals.
I accept things as they are.
I am peaceful.

Bless!


Further reading:

http://www.summerlands.com/crossroads/library/Turning%20the%20Cauldrons.html

http://www.obsidianmagazine.com/Pages/cauldronpoesy.html

 

Images:

Images by Surbhi Grover

Krishna and Radha 

Alok Porwal New Life

What is love anyway?

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day’s Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Finding myself bemused by my New Year intentions, that one repeated word intrigues me. Love. What does that even mean?

These are my intentions, by the way. I can’t even remember them, so I certainly don’t expect you to!

Love myself, Love the natural world, Love animals, Love people, Love my work, Love my space, Love my spirit

I don’t know if it’s the Valentine’s Day hangover, but that amount of love is making me feel a little nauseous.

Love is a word so overloaded with meaning, both societal and personal. Poems and songs are written about its lofty heights. It’s the word used to describe both our most precious relationships and how we feel about a good cup of coffee or a new dress.

What did I really mean when I wrote these intentions to love so widely and completely?

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close. Pablo Neruda

To love myself or love nature, is that the same kind of love? Does it need to be? Could these intentions be an exercise in stretching my ‘love muscles’ – and you can get your mind out of the gutter, right now. There’s more than one kind of love, y’know.

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There are so many different kinds of love. Love can mean like, adore, adulate, care for, worship, cherish, yearn for, hold dear, pine for, enjoy, like, delight in, savour, fancy, admire… you get the idea. Other languages and cultures are much more nuanced in their expression of love – with words for which you need a whole sentence in English.

Saudade (Pronunciation: saw•’day•djee – Portugese) n., a strong feeling of missing someone you love.

In his wonderful article on the subject, philosopher Roman Krznaric, writes that the Greek language distinguishes at least six different ways as to how the word love is used.

The ancient Greeks were just as sophisticated in the way they talked about love, recognizing six different varieties. They would have been shocked by our crudeness in using a single word both to whisper “l love you” over a candlelit meal and to casually sign an email “lots of love.” Roman Krznaric

The first kind of love was eros, named after the Greek god of fertility, and it represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. Something the Greeks saw as a frightening loss of control, not the desirable state of constant arousal our modern society views it as.

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. Neil Gaiman

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The second variety of love was philia or friendship, which was valued more highly by the Greeks than the sexuality of eros. Philia describes the deep friendship that developed between men who had fought side by side on the battlefield – it epitomised loyalty, sacrifice and the sharing of deeply affecting experiences.

We’d never know how high we are ’till we are called to rise; and then, if we are true to plan, our statures touch the sky. Emily Dickinson

Ludis was the Greeks’ idea of playful love, such as the affection between children or young lovers. Think of flirting, teasing, bantering and light-hearted fun.

The fourth love was agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people – compassion, charity and an empathy for all people (and all living things).

Pragma was the deep understanding between long-married couples, who demonstrate compromise, patience and tolerance.

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages. Friedrich Nietzsche

The Greek’s sixth variety of love was philautia or self-love, of which there were two kinds. One was a narcissistic self-love, where you became self-obsessed and focused on selfish ends. The second type was the idea that if you have a healthy self-love, you will have plenty of love to give others.

Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them. Leo Tolstoy

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Krznaric suggests there is a correlation between the lack of attention given to these non-sexual, non-romantic forms of love and the modern obsession with romantic love, and with finding ‘the one’. The Greeks clearly articulated that expecting one person to fulfil all our love needs was completely unrealistic.

So it makes sense that there are different kinds of love, and perhaps we are designed to experience them all. Like getting all our nutrients, perhaps this longing for the ‘one’ is a manifestation of unfulfilled love in other parts of our life. Too much focus on the meat and not enough vegetables. (Okay, that pun was intended.)

On a recent shamanic journey, I was shown another aspect of love, receiving. One of my regular animal guides, the wolf, took me on a journey that showed me how resistant I am to the love and support all around me.

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. Rainer Maria Rilke

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As the western world celebrates – or commiserates – Valentine’s Day, I wondered why we laud the romantic love above all else?

Feeling triggered by the ebbs and flows of my own heartbreak, I found the constant emphasis on that kind of love demoralising. A guy from an online dating site asked me ‘what had reduced such a beautiful, intelligent woman to this?’ I found that strange. I didn’t feel reduced. I wanted to meet single men, it seemed like the place to do it, was I missing something?

Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are. Arthur Golden

And then, after some last minute cancellations, I found myself waiting for the last remaining Chakradance attendee who was a no show. Abandoned on Valentine’s Day. Uh oh.

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Then tears came. I wish they didn’t. I wish I could write that I’m all strong and warrior-like, but I’m not.

As I sat in my beautiful studio, feeling alone and abandoned. Opening my eyes a sliver of light from the red candle flame was kaleidoscoped by my tears. So unexpectedly beautiful – the outlines of angels and holographic tribal images. I began to play with my tear-filled eyes. It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain…

Love is so short, forgetting is so long. Pablo Neruda

Unable to reconcile the Valentine red hearts, roses, and chocolate idea of love; the light and sparkly new age all-embracing love; and the love that has left me so bereft,  it occurred to me that love is so much deeper than the use of word suggests. The love of mother at her child’s sick bed. Of a husband as he holds his dying wife’s hand…

Love is a risk. The risk of the loss of that which we love. Love walks the razor’s edge between unconditional love and devastating, debilitating attachment.

What is to give light must endure burning. Viktor Frankl

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Love is an act of courage. The courage to remain open after the heaviness and shards of hurt rain down on us. In the birth/death/rebirth cycle, grief is an inevitable part of love.

Grief reunites you with what you’ve lost. It’s a merging; you go with the loved thing or person that’s going away. You follow it a far as you can go. But finally, the grief goes away and you phase back into the world. Without him. Philip K Dick

Martin Prechtel is the author of Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, an autobiographical account of his initiation as a Mayan Shaman. His lecture series on Grief and Praise is a simple yet profound insight into the false distinction between love and loss, positive and negative emotions.

It is an interesting reflection on our modern desire to both suppress grief, whilst simultaneously expressing it in unhealthy and unhealing ways, on Jerry Springer, Facebook, from a bar stool. Most of us lack the real community which would hold us as we safely grieve.

It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses. Colette

Prechtel talks about grief and praise as part of the same continuum, as a yin/yang process where one always contains the other – it must or it is devoid of any real depth. Love and praise are only of substance if there is a connection involved where the loss would be felt deeply.

I love my cup of coffee but if I spill it, I’ll be upset for a moment and annoyed, but there’ll be no real grief. My dog on the other hand… The same goes for grief. We only grieve that which we have deeply loved. If there is no grief, there was no real love.

The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God! Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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Perhaps this kind of community, Pretchel speaks of, where people can bear witness to our pain and our joys is something we have to create in the modern world, we don’t live in extended families and tribes, and if we break down in the street we are more likely to be carted off to the psych ward than given a cup of tea and a friendly shoulder to cry on.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break. William Shakespeare

In a society where it is not safe to grieve, we abandon ourselves before anyone can abandon us, and withhold emotions because we fear it is unsafe. This repression and denial of grief manifests as all kinds of psychosis and physical symptoms, passed down as psychic wounds from generation to generation. These tribal and ancestral wounds are energetically lodged in our base chakra and can make us feel unsafe and insecure.

You won’t find these wounds on an x-ray or ultrasound, yet they will emerge from within when it is safe, if the timing is right, and you have the tools to process and honour them, if you give them the words they need to take flight, you can finally grieve them.

Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering. Roland Barthes

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I was fifteen the first time tried to take my own life. That wasn’t the last time. That medicine cabinet still stands in my mother’s bathroom. Whenever I see it, I can still feel the ache of that girl.

As she emptied the pills in her hand. Her tears as she swallowed them, really thinking it was the end. Of what she thought she would find there. Relief, escape from the burden of an open heart.

Instead of a white cadillac to the clouds, I vomited until I bled, and there were tearful confessions, remonstrations, and resolutions.

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. Joseph Campbell

I don’t know what makes someone that thin-skinned. I don’t know why things never bounced off my skin the way the did off other people’s. Why the stings and arrows all got wedged in my heart.

This has been my journey. Being born with an over-full, ever-open heart. Experiencing shame at a too young age. Learning that people would stop loving me if I wasn’t good enough.

Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing. Elizabeth Gilbert

Open heart. Broken ever wider. Yet when I journey there I see a beautiful garden growing in the ruins.

Maybe it’s okay to be alone in my garden. It’s beautiful. It lives. I am grateful.

So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love. E.A. Bucchianeri

I am grateful for my body
I am grateful for my heart
I am grateful for my spirit

Bless!

Images: http://www.jamesreads.com/

Love and letting go

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I’ve been love-bombing nature.

After two magical weeks spent by the sea, walking in the national park, collecting stones and shells. Lying under the dappled shade of a gum tree reading, my love for nature became irrepressible. So I expressed it, all over the place. Messages of love to nature in nature.

The last two weeks have been unspeakably beautiful. I have lived in the ocean’s echo, woken to bird-sounds and waves and sunshine.

I have walked through forests of ti-tree to the ocean shore where I swam and crashed with the waves and the ocean inspired me to sing my own special soul-song.

This year of intentions has come full circle. It all began on my annual beach holiday last January. I reflected on all that has happened in this year – such a wild and wonderful journey. I reviewed my list of intentions and decided that they have all taught me something, some things to aspire to and some to let go of.

I have been blissfully happy at times, lost in the moment, absorbed fully in a ray of sunshine or floating on an ocean wave.

And yet, the waves of sadness and grief at times have had me standing by the ocean’s roiling dark depths wanting to surrender my body to that force, to be done with these lessons of human existence.

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I have been angry for my sadness, my grief, my sensitivity. “When, oh when, will it be done?”

I want to be past it. I want to be hard and strong. I judge these emotions as undesirable, not spiritual. As self-pity and self-indulgence.

And yet here they are. Even amidst such beauty.

As I read more about the celtic spirit wheel, I realise everything can be seen as a gift. Even my sensitivity is a gift.

Ah! So here I am desperately wishing away my true gift. I am sensitive, painfully sensitive, but it’s not something to be rid of, or to be waiting to pass. It is the same sensitivity that allows me to hear the trees and the oceans, to feel the touch of the air like a lover’s caress.

It allows me to feel the pain of others, all of life, the birds, rocks, trees and the humans.

It is a gift to honour, to hone, to respect. To attend to. When I feel that pain, not to berate myself for being overly sensitive but to ask “what is your message for me?”

I am what I am being right now. The only way to shift is through the doorway of complete acceptance.

In some traditional cultures there are special people, usually women, who are so sensitive and empathetic, that they are brought in after a great loss to tell the story of the loss in a way to make the community cry. Their role is to bring the healing tears.

My sadness and sensitivity feel like a gateway, a place I must walk into to claim my unique power. It feels like an initiation into my shamanic powers. These are not the gifts I would have chosen for myself, so I know they are real.

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Knowing that the sadness will pass in its own time, like the seasons, allows a space of being in the energy of sadness. Instead of judging it and trying to be rid of it, I practice experiencing the sadness. How does it feel? Like a heavy stone in my heart and chest. It tugs and constricts at my solar plexus, heart and throat. I want to cry, but I don’t want anyone to see me cry, hence the tightness when I hold it in.

So I am full of water and stone. What better place to be assimiliated than in the ocean. Lying in its rock pools with its powerful waves of water washing over me, kneading me, pushing and pulling at me until the dam bursts and the tears flow.

The ocean is seductive at times of grief. It pulls at me, I know it would carry me away from all this pain, and in its depths I would be at peace. But what would be the lesson in that? Am I not here to experience this precise experience right now? Am I not here to open to this moment and be washed clean of all that blocks me from being myself?

So another instinct makes me hang on tight to the rocks and not be swept away. For the sea has no judgment on such things, it would carry me away and thrash my body against the rocks, or drown me in its waves. I am just a part of the ebb and flow of life. Like the coloured glass that washes up on the shore, smoothed and buffed by the pounding on the ocean’s floor and the rocks. Ground into sand to be made again into more glass.

We are all made of the same ingredients as the rocks, the sea and the stars. The web of life that binds us all in a flow and exchange of energy and matter cares not whether I am a living human or shark food. There is no judgement here, only a sense that when my time comes, it will come and not by my own hand.

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So each day I make the commitment to the living.

I commune with nature, sing to the waves and the moon, touch the leaves and trunks of her trees, express love and gratitude for the air I breathe and the bountiful sustenance I reap from her soil.

I express love to my family and friends, I cook, I wash, I laugh, I talk, I care. I spend time with my son, coaxing him to come for walks and swim in the sea with me, but also engaging in his world, of games and movies and sport.

Observing nature’s cycles helps me to see how all living things exist in a cyclical way. There is give and take, love and loss, joy and sadness. I try to ride these waves and bend myself to them, instead of my want to bend thing to suit my needs.

And yet each day I awake with this stone in my chest. Sometimes it grows into a sword that gets twisted and yanked by people, and the things they say, and the pain becomes excruciating. But I don’t want to lash out anymore – its not them causing the pain, the pain is in me.

It’s so overwhelming I just want to scream and shout, it’s too big for my body, its uncontainable.

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So I go to the sea, go to the forest. In the wildness something changes. As I trek through the forest to the ocean there is an expanse of sky, there are trees and stones, then sand and sea. I lie on the rocks covered in spongey, air-filled seaweed as if it’s a bed made for me.

The waves wash over me, they push and pull with force but the brunt of the ocean’s power is broken by the rock ledges between the wild ocean and the rock pools I lie in. I know the sea would take me, churn me up in its wild machinations. This is not a friendly place, it is a wild place. And in its wildness my emotions are diluted. The wildness in me is literally a mere drop in the ocean. Its not that my pain is taken away, it just finds its proper container, a container big enough, spacious enough for it to roam unconstrained. It finds its home.

Tonight I took my anger to the beach. To experience again this release. But there were too many people. Everywhere I looked for wildness there were people on jet-skis and boats, drinking and playing loud music. I felt affronted. “This is MY wilderness!” I wanted to scream.

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I see how my sadness and my emotions propel me. In this way they are a gift, they drive me to find solace and comfort. This drive has led me to a consistent spirutal seeking for that past 15 years, it has led me to Chakradance, shamanism and druidry. What I need now is to deepen my practice and understand these pathways take time, a lifetime to unfold.

When I walk to the National park there is a sign that says we acknowledge the traditional land owners. I think of them. I imagine this place before white man came. The sea is still full of fish after years of plundering, but back then, with the sustainable living of the koories, it would have been paradise. Forest meets seas full of fish and shellfish, abalone, mussels, scallops, crabs. Kangaroos and plenty of bush tucker. The air was fresh and filled with the sound of birds and wind and sea.

I wonder how to reconcile these two extremes. I long for wilderness and solitude, yet I know all this is not worth its salt if I can’t integrate it into my human life. Somehow I have to fall in love with humans as part of nature, somehow I see them as separate things, and yet we are nature too.

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On my last night I decided to honour the full circle of this year of Seven Intentions by holding a releasing and intention ritual under the moonlight at the beach.

It was a stormy night, pitch black bar the flashes of lightning. I sang my power song, shook my rattle and chimes, called in the elements and spirits. I had spontaneously written out my list of letting go, commitments, and intentions.

At the beach ceremony I consecrated the page with fire, earth, air and water and surrendered it to the sea. There was an almighty fork of lighting and a large wave that sprayed my body with salty, cleansing water. And it was done.

Seven Intentions of 2015

I release my attachment to ‘romantic love’. I release my attachment to ‘outcomes’. I release my attachment to ‘home’.

I commit to not loving anyone more than myself. I commit to honouring and respecting myself as part of the beauty of nature. I commit to love as my driving, creative force.

Love myself
Love the (super)natural world
Love animals
Love people
Love my work
Love my space
Love my spirit

They are still a bit rough, a work in progress. Just like me.

Bless!

 

(Images by Me)

Longing is so very long

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

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

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

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

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

I would love to live

Like a river flows,

Carried by the surprise

Of its own unfolding. John O’Donohue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1. Home

2. Community

3. Purpose

4. Vibrant health

5. Abundance

6. Joy

7. Love

 

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

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

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

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

So come to the pond,

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

And live
your life. Mary Oliver

Affirmations on longing by Dee Walters:

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

End your affirmation by saying:

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

Bless!

 

Images:

The Mists of Avalon by prairiekittin

Paintings by Herbert James Draper