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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Manasatirtha, 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
No. 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
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
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
This 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