As we approach the solstice and winter holiday season, I am reminded of an experience I had some years ago, as I took a walk Christmas day with my son and daughter. We traveled our usual path over a footbridge that crosses a brook behind our house, a little meandering stream that plays host to a multitude of minnows and frogs, visible in fairer weather, bubbling happily in spring and slowing to a trickle at the height of summer.
That day, the water moved briskly with melt-off, gushing and gurgling around stubborn ice floes clinging to river rocks in the shallows, unperturbed by the unseasonably warm temperatures for late December.
My daughter, Kate, remarked at how high the water level was, as we crossed the rough-hewn bridge our elderly neighbor erected years ago for his wife, just so she could ford the stream on her Arctic Cat snowmobile during winter months.
We made our way into the woods. As we walked, I listened to the sound of the snow under my feet. There was a thin crust over the surface, my big boots crunched through it, as I trudged up the hill, noting with sadness how somebody dismantled the tree branch fort where my kids and I would sit on fall afternoons, looking at spiderwebs draping the rustic lean-to, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fairy folk we imagined might use it for their nightly revels.
I offered a challenge for the hike as we climbed further. “Whoever finds a crow feather gets a prize,” I said.
“What’s the prize?” they both chimed.
“I haven’t decided that yet,” I replied.
My son inquired, “What if I find some other type of feather?”
“What kind did you have in mind?” I asked.
“What if it’s an owl feather?”
“Well, that might just outrank a crow.”
“How about an eagle feather?” he countered.
“Ahh … I think that would top the owl for sure, though I’m not sure that this is eagle country,” I said.
My daughter, who trailed behind a few paces, dove off into a cluster of bushes, emitting a sound of excitement, then came back empty handed. She said she’d seen an eagle feather, but it had mysteriously vanished.
Two crows barked their benediction, as we entered their sanctuary, and my son stopped to point out some deer tracks, while my eyes scanned the earth’s cloudy surface for the highly-sought prize to add to my own feather collection, but only pine boughs and cones were left for the taking. It seemed as though our feathered friends were conserving their downy insulation, wisely waiting for warmer weather to shed their winter cloaks.
We made our way through the evergreen giants to the abandoned farm, with its quirky graveyard of rusted machinery and musty, broken-down outbuildings, a veritable museum of a bygone era.
As the kids began hunting for treasures in the dilapidated barn, I reminded them that this was someone else’s property, and besides, we were looking for Nature’s bounty, so the old tricycle wheel and the unidentifiable metal farm implements were left behind.
We wound our way back through the tall pines where the crows roost at night, sheltered from the piercing and predatory eyes of the owl, to emerge in the bones of a meadow that once hosted wildflowers and milkweed, now blanketed in a shimmering mantle of white.
The final leg of our walk took us down hill, which Coe and Kate descended in somersaults, while I navigated on foot. I walked slowly along the ridge running high above the same stream we crossed just an hour before, recalling to myself how, during previous treks, I had the good fortune to happen upon crow feathers by the handful, like so many black bouquets. This day, sadly, offered not a single quill.
I eventually came upon my son and daughter, lying on the ground, looking up through the trees at the passing clouds, taking a little siesta. It was then that I paused to take in the sound of the flowing water. The gentle rhythmic pulse was such a welcome contrast to the more insistent sounds of the holiday season that I sat happily and heavily, the snow giving way under my weight to create the perfect seat, a zabuton to cradle me on my turning inward.
I closed my eyes and inhaled, breathing deeply. That first inflow of breath was invigorating, the cold air penetrating my lungs, clearing my head, igniting the senses anew. I felt a vibrant awakening within me. My skin was now alive with the cold. I could smell damp wood and evergreens, and my ears were attuned to the sounds of the water down below and the birds up above.
There was this intense vibratory dance going on inside of me, but beneath that was a profound stillness that penetrated to my core. Within this feeling of aliveness, there began to emerge a sense of deep, abiding serenity. It felt vast, eternal … all encompassing. It acted as a soothing salve to my senses, a tonic for my soul.
Every wisdom tradition holds some concept of the soul, in one form or another. Of course, there are as many interpretations of what the soul may be as there are traditions, and it is referred to by just as many names: Still Small Voice, Inner Place of Knowing, Higher Self , Christ Consciousness. Buddhists name it Dharma; Jung called it the Seat of the Unconscious.
When we take the time to consider the soul, in silent contemplation, prayer or meditation, we often ponder its “essential nature.” According to my copy of The Reader’s Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary, a relic I found at a library book sale years ago, the word “essential” is defined as, among other things, absolute, complete, perfect, and also the fundamental nature of something.
The word “Nature” is defined as the inherent tendencies, innate disposition, or intrinsic qualities of something, and of course, Nature also means the sum total of all things in time and space, the entire physical universe and the powers, forces, and principles that regulate it.
So, the nature of the Soul, then, as I understand it, or what is essential to it, has a direct relationship – and an intimate connection with – everything in the Universe.
In the Yogic tradition, we call this awareness atman, which translates in the ancient Sanskrit as the supreme soul or Brahman, the all-pervading Spirit of the Universe. It is the Hindu belief that the atman, or soul dwells in something larger, it is a part of the Divine, the great “I Am” or Parusha, and therefore Eternal.
If we accept this, then we would naturally see our soul-selves as limitless, vast, and unbounded as the Universe itself. This we would understand as our natural state of being, our true essence at our core. We are indeed made of the same stuff as the planets, the stars, the oceans, the earth itself. Yet most of us are unaware of or disbelieve this, or if we ever did believe, we have forgotten this Truth. We forget what we once knew so intuitively.
If you have ever observed a baby or young child for any length of time you know this to be true. They are fully open, trusting implicitly, blissfully unaware of boundaries. They are fearless. Children do not censor or discern. Anything and everything goes into their mouths, their ears, and their noses.
And, of course, they are just as free with what comes out of their mouths. The saying goes, “Out of the mouths of babes …” Children understand the world by experiencing it directly, no filters. Like sponges, they soak in their surroundings, extracting all they can from each individual moment, and experiencing each one exhaustively. It’s no wonder they sleep so much! You would too, if you were in a constant state of sensory overload. Do you remember what that was like? Well … it is possible to return to that state, though it may seem well beyond our present grasp.
You see, over time, most often through cultural experience and social conditioning, we begin to shut down. We lose sight of that level of openness and trust we once had in our lives, especially as children. The slings and arrows of our everyday existence buffet and pierce our original awareness of the deep interconnectedness we hold with the Universe, the unlimited potential of our soul selves.
As human beings, we too often view ourselves as defined merely by the parameters of our physical bodies; the limited envelope of skin encasing muscle, bone, organs, and a multitude of complex physiological systems. In Yoga, we refer to this as “Prakrti,” or the basic matter of our selves … which also includes our minds, thoughts and feelings.
It is our way of seeing, our perception of ourselves as separate from, rather than connected to, the Universe, or Cosmos, and the Earth, with all her life forms, human and otherwise, that throws us out of balance, that knocks us off our center. This disassociation with the Divine contributes greatly to our suffering.
In the book Job’s Body, Deane Juhan offers us a passage which suggests another, more holistic way of considering ourselves, in which he likens us to forces of nature, embodying the power and grace found in the elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth. He says:
"Indeed, since we have left the water and have become terrestrial creatures, subject now to special forces of gravity, we have become miniature earths, in the same way we first became miniature seas: we have added more and more solid features to support our containers of fluid on the ground. We have river channels and reservoirs in our circulatory systems, meadows and forests in our hair: we are mountains of flesh riddled with the caves and fissures of our pores and orifices: like enclosed valleys, we shelter our ancestral cultures, and like open hillsides and plains, we teem with a microbial bustle of new citizens and migrants. We have become an ecology of earth and air, as well as one of water."
When we view ourselves as one with, or as a mirror of Nature, intimately connected to the Universe, our perceptions begin to shift and broaden. We begin to remember. We begin to reclaim our power, our primal creative selves who formed in the void of Parusha, emerged from the vast abyss of pure potential to find our place here, having an experience of Space -Time.
Still, it may not only be our concept of our physical selves that causes this disconnect from our essential nature, our soul. We may also be limiting ourselves by thought and behavioral patterns, by the stories we tell about ourselves, the tapes we play endlessly in our minds that continually reinforce false or negative beliefs about who we are.
Granted, these ways of thinking may be useful for us at times in this life. Yet, just as the Universe is continually expanding and contracting and evolving into something new, so are we. Like the snake that sheds its skin, or the tree that splits and sheds its bark, or the crow that casts off its old feathers, we too must change, if we wish to grow.
When we cling to these old, outmoded ways of perceiving ourselves, we stagnate; we inhibit the primal call of our soul to evolve, to progress toward a more enlightened way of being in the world. When we do that, we’ve forgotten how truly cosmic we are, how we have the same immeasurable potential as stars. Similarly, when we cease to grow out of fear, or by conscious choice, we find ourselves mired in either inertia or fast-approaching entropy. One of the surest ways for us to remember our link to the Infinite and extricate ourselves from this dull torpor is to immerse our self in Nature.
It is here, in the profound majesty of Earth, within Creation itself, we can re-connect, we can remember. That Christmas day my daughter provided me with just such an opportunity, one that served not just as a wakeup call, but as an enlightening glimpse into the very depths of my soul self.
No sooner had I sat in the snow and begun my inward journey, I was stirred from my reverie by a call from Kate, who got up just as I sat down.
From down the hill I hear Kate say, “Mom, come look at this!”
I opened my eyes. My son had already bolted on ahead, eager to get back to his Christmas gifts. Kate, on the other hand, had made her way down the hill to the stream. She was kneeling before an enormous root cluster of a fallen tree now spanning the fast-moving stream below it.
With swiftness and agility, she wiggled her self through the knotty tangle and out onto the large trunk, where she plunked herself down, straddled its circumference, and began to inch her way over it. I stood there, momentarily paralyzed. I could feel fear welling up within me.
Kate turned around and, with a big toothy grin shouted: “Hey Mom, aren’t you coming?’
Then she rose to her feet and glided the rest of the way across. I stood for a moment longer, not knowing what to say or do.
I had just watched my young daughter – nimble as an equilibrist on a tightrope – effortlessly and instinctively sashay across this natural bridge, barely a foot and a half wide. I was humbled by the effortlessness with which she bounded across the brook with no hesitation. How was it she could do it with no compunction?
Suddenly a flurry of thoughts began to rush through my own mind. All of the stories of self doubt, all the limiting beliefs about myself flooded my consciousness: “What if I lose my balance? What if I slip and fall in? I’m too old for this, for God’s sake! I can’t do that!”
Then, this softer voice emerged from somewhere deeper, just whispering, beneath the din of my ego rantings, and I strained to hear it.Why are you hesitating? What is stopping you? Why are you resisting this? What is really holding you back?
In that moment, everything stopped. I stood there, stock-still, and simply began to breathe. I closed my eyes, dropped beneath all the chatter, all the static, and I envisioned myself, as only a few moments before, sitting at the top of the hill. With each deep inhalation, I rediscovered that feeling of expansiveness and the deeply felt sense of peace, the true essence of my being that exists there eternally. When I quieted myself long enough, I could sense it.
I could remember.
I smiled to myself. How interesting that my daughter could access that part of herself so readily. At the same time, how had I forgotten that I display similar balance and grace in my everyday life, in my yoga and qigong practice? That I had dance training, and was also a gymnast as a child?
As I continued to breathe, the Still Small Voice began to gain strength. I think I can do this.
Yes, I can do this. Just like “The Little Engine That Could,” I know I can do this.
I walked to the fallen tree. I squeezed through the snarl of roots and gingerly crept out onto the trunk. I supported the weight of my body with my arms, slowly lifting myself off the log, then maneuvered out over the brook. About halfway across, I could reach a branch, which I grabbed to hoist myself up. I found my footing and, with arms out stretched, I confidently walked the last few feet.
When I caught up with Kate, by the neighbor’s outbuilding, I scooped her up in my arms and shouted, joy ringing out through my words, as I shared my exhilaration with her. “Thank you!” I cried. “Thank you for challenging me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of! Thank you for helping me to remember!”
The reason why it’s such a joy to remember is often because it’s so easy to forget. It is so easy to forget that we, like forces of Nature, have the stability of the Earth, the fluidity of Water, the limitlessness of Air, and the light of Fire within each of us.
In the Yogic tradition, it is said that the Divine or Parusha, of which we are a part and that resides within each of us, is symbolized by a mountain, and we, as physical, mental and spiritual beings, are a lake in whose reflection we can often see the majesty of its peak.
Yet, if there are ripples in the lake, representing the disturbances we create in our minds, the water will be too turbulent to view the mountain’s majesty clearly. We need to dive deeply, down where the water is still, and center ourselves in our breath. When we rise back to the surface, the waves will have ceased and we will once again be able to see the reflection of the Eternal in ourselves.
So, while my children and I didn’t have much luck scouting for feathers, during that Christmas Day, I did discover something else, a treasure equally valuable and precious. When we are in need of reconnecting with our deeper place of knowing, that same valuable remedy can be found in the natural world. Spending time in solitude within Nature's stillness, we can reconnect with our soul, the see of the Self. We may not feel compelled to do so on rainy days, or those offering sub-zero wind chill, but we may just surprise ourselves with what we find, even if we take a brief turn immersed in the elements.
And if the Earth does not offer up her riches for the taking, we will at least have the opportunity to unearth an even more precious prize, away from the cacophony and distractions of our daily existence. There, we can fall back into the grace of the original awareness of our vast, unlimited, essential soul.
The greatest prize awaits us there, and we hold the map within our self.
So, be still. Breathe.
Reclaim the treasure.
Daily we are witness to the global effects of humanity’s production and consumption, reflected through changing weather patterns, impacted by the CO2 emissions that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, deeply, perhaps irrevocably, affecting the Earth’s balance.
New Delhi’s air quality has reached a critical state in recent days. Train and plane travel has halted, due to poor visibility, and is reported that breathing the air in the city is like smoking 44 cigarettes a day.
You may have seen the startling image of a colossal LED screen set up in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, showing the sunrise, which is no longer visible, due to rising levels of atmospheric pollution, exacerbated by increased carbon emissions and stagnant air conditions in the city. What I find so interesting, and what makes the image terribly ironic, is the solution to the problem is plainly evident, blazing forth from the screen for all to behold.
There is mass consensus that the primary contributing factor associated with what we have come to call “Climate Change” is our use of fossil fuels to drive the world economy. These sources of energy, so inextricably tied to energy production, transportation and industry, are those we extract from the earth itself. We are fortunately learning there are other sources of fuel that are safer and renewable to be harnessed in wind, water, and the “Big Daddy” of them all, the Sun.
As we consider global warming, not only should we be looking at the atmospheric conditions and climate changes affecting the external environment of the earth, and their causes, we must also focus on the nature of the climate within, and the atmosphere surrounding each of us. For the two are inextricably linked, succinctly expressed in the ancient Hermetic teaching, “As above, so below.”
First let’s consider the Earth for a moment. Like the Earth that has many layers of matter, beginning with the inner core, surrounded by the outer core, covered by the mantle, then finally the crust, we too have layers of our being, the physical body being the densest. And just as the Earth has many layers that make up its atmosphere: the Troposphere, Stratosphere, Mesosphere, and Thermosphere, we have more subtle layers enveloping us, which we call the subtle bodies.
Beyond our Physical Body we have the Etheric, the Emotional, Mental, Astral, the Etheric Template, the Celestial, and the Causal Bodies. These create an electro-magnetic energy field called the aura, which encapsulates us and interpenetrates each “layer.” We see how our energy consumption and the sources from which we extract it have affected the wellbeing of the Earth, from its dense body to its subtlest layers of atmosphere. We are affected in just the same way. The health of our physical bodies and the clarity of our auric field are inextricably impacted by what we choose as the energy source that fuels our being.
Though the tide is beginning to turn, currently, humanity still obtains its greatest supplies of energy from fossil fuels. These energy sources have their origin in the death and decay of the distant past. Even early humans looked to the earth for means to create light and heat. Oil, wood, and peat have been utilized for millennia. Then and now, oil is rendered from dead plants and animals, and dry, dead wood is collected to burn in fire pits and hearths. Peat, an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter, is a precursor to fossil fuels such as coal.
Petroleum is derived from fossilized organic plant and animal matter, buried deep in sedimentary rock. These reserves of decay that we mine from the earth are clearly the most debilitating to our health and detrimental to all life forms in the environment, creating pollution that poisons our natural resources, causing enormous upheaval in weather patterns that manifest in greater extremes of temperature, moisture and aridity. To one degree or another, everything is impacted.
“So what does this have to do with me?” you might ask. Well, metaphysically, the element earth is symbolic of the physical or material plane, our awareness and understanding of which are transmitted through the five senses.
So many of us are convinced that what we take in through the senses and perceive with the brain is the source and fuel of our experience. The material realm is the densest plane of existence. It is a cumulative, sedimentary expression of the eons of cause and effect chains our souls have forged in the crucible of time and experience. When we look out into the world, what seems like our reality is really the residue of our collective karmic history. What we might call the smog and soot of our limiting past actions that has created a film, a residue, which manifests as a barrier between us and our true “Source” of Energy - the I AM Presence.
More specifically, the element Earth also represents the physical body, the physical manifestation of the ego mind. Many believe that the body is what fuels existence. Certainly, this is what the ego would have us believe, so that it can maintain its own existence. When the body is hungry and thirsty, we eat and drink. When the body is cold, we seek warmth and shelter. When the body feels pain, we seek remedy for the discomfort. When the body is aroused we find fulfillment and release in sexual relations. So many only work to provide for the necessities of the body: food, clothing, shelter, recreation, all unwittingly in service of the ego. When we are driven by our physical needs, we are firmly bound to the material plane and imprisoned by the past, and to a form that will ultimately decay and die.
The body is a product of our parent’s union, who were the product of their parents’, back, and back to the dawn of humankind. Through our bodies, we have a biological link to the past. This is why so many people are deeply attached to their physical form. There is a sense of belonging, of community, that brings comfort. The past provides the setting and the characters of a story that we recount again and again and again. For many the family or clan is their main source of support and protection.
When we continually identify with the past, we become mired in the history of what came before. When we are attached to the body and allow it to be the motivation behind our actions, we continue to amass karma, which keeps us ever bound to the wheel of life. Our entrenched connection to our bodies and the past creates a haze that distorts our clarity of vision and keeps us from being fully present with others, and more critically, it perpetuates the illusion that we are separate from our true Source, God.
Hydro-power is another means by which we derive energy and is considered renewable. It has been in use since ancient days, as seen in early irrigation systems and the powering of mechanical devices such as water wheels and pumps. It is cleaner than fossil fuels, but also has its drawbacks. It has become evident that our consumption of fossil fuels is affecting the earth’s ambient temperature. As heat is trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, stores of water are being affected. Drought in many regions of the world is making water harder to come by. Uncontaminated sources are dwindling. As we need water to survive, diverting fresh water sources to create energy is becoming more unreasonable. Obstructing the natural flow of water also creates imbalance in all the surrounding eco-systems.
Esoterically, the element Water is associated with the emotions. Many of us are driven by our emotions. We act because we “feel” a certain way. We are forever using our emotional states to justifying our behavior. “I was angry, so I lashed out at you.” Still we may attempt to blame the other for our emotional state to justify our reaction. “You made me feel angry, so I lashed out at you.”
What we call emotion is simply energy vibrating at a particular frequency moving through our auric field that we then label as anger, frustration, or joy. Feelings are actually another thing entirely. We experience a feeling, a physical sensation in the body, triggered by a particular energetic impulse transmitted through our electro-magnetic field.
Water is malleable, it takes the shape of any vessel into which it is poured. It is changeable, as it can manifest as a solid, a liquid, or a gas. It is tidal, ebbing and flowing due to the magnetic pull from the Moon. When we consider our emotions, we discover they have the same qualities. Depending on our surrounding environment, the state of our emotions can adeptly morph and change. We observe that our emotional lives may be constricted, fluid, or all over the place, easily impacted by external conditions. We can also observe how changeable are our emotions, as one day we are “in love” and the next we despise.
The fundamental lack of stability inherent in our emotions makes them an unreliable source or impulse of motivation to drive our experience of life. Emotions can be quite viscous and murky. Fear can rise as quickly as an unexpected storm, or, like a tidal wave, engulf and drown us. So often, our emotions cloud our vision and obscure from our view the radiance of who we truly are.
As society continues to incorporate cleaner and more dependable sources of energy, many are harnessing the wind. Again, this is an ancient practice. Windmills and turbines have been used to exploit the air to mill grain and pump water for thousands of years. Wind has carried ships to the far reaches of the globe, making possible exploration of previously unknown lands and transportation of people and goods throughout the world.
Similarly to water, the wind is variable; if there is any major fluctuation in its velocity or consistency, its function as a reliable source of power is affected. Wind turbines generate a great amount of noise, and may be considered unsightly, many preferring they live in someone else’s back yard.
Wind current is a property of air, which metaphysically relates to the mind. Most of us are plagued by an undisciplined mind, populated by innumerable thoughts that constantly blow through, shaking us from our true foundation of peace. Many find it very difficult to separate their thoughts from their emotions. We may experience a hurricane of thoughts stirring up our emotions that inevitably come crashing down, capsizing or dashing us on the rocks.
In the Vedantic teachings of India, the mind is described as a lake that when calm and clear reflects the true nature of the Self, represented by a majestic mountain. When there is restlessness in the mind, our undisciplined thoughts create turbulence and stir up the lake; white caps fracture the mirror of the consciousness, distorting our perception of who we are.
The deafening sound of the thoughts that occupy the mind creates agitation and places a great amount of stress on our nervous and other operating systems. This static makes it impossible for us to tune into the frequency of the I AM Presence, which can only be accessed in the space between thoughts.
We may be frightened or repulsed by our thoughts, and instead of embracing them as our own and transmuting them through compassion and love, we project them onto others, not wanting to take responsibility for the state of our own mind. Still, we may be so unconscious of the thought forms blustering through, we are completely unaware of the impact they have on every aspect of our lives.
When we get too caught up in the mind, spiraling around in cyclones of thought, we may lose our connection to the Heart. Thoughts will stir up negative emotion, which is always fueled by fear, doubt, and uncertainty, the loyal servants of the ego. These energies inevitably propel us into a state of contraction, closing us off from the expansiveness of the Heart Light.
This powerful image from Bejing clearly illuminates the original source of renewable energy. Without the Sun, nothing on this planet would exist in its current physical form. The Sun is the Source of Light, and, therefore Life, as we know it, on Earth. Those who only consider the short term would have us believe that the upfront cost of implementing Solar Power makes other less efficient sources more viable and desirable, but the long-range benefits make it well worth the investment. As an energy resource, the Sun provides a clean, inexhaustible supply, with relatively little negative impact on the environment.
It is well known that without sunlight, living things quickly begin to decline. Research proves that exposure to the Sun, in reasonable doses, positively affects us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Our whole body is a photovoltaic cell that captures, converts and distributes solar energy to each specialized cell. The light and heat we absorb from the sun keeps the physical body’s temperature at a level that will allow blood to circulate, carrying oxygen throughout, nourishing cells that also keep organ systems functioning optimally.
It is well documented that sunlight is critical to our mental and emotional wellbeing. We indirectly convert sunlight into chemical energy through the production of hormones, which regulate various functions in the body, such as growth, metabolism and mood. Sunlight is essential for the production of vitamin D, which helps to maintain serotonin levels that help keep us emotionally balanced.
Sunlight also affects the pineal gland, which links nervous system signals with endocrine system signals, and produces the hormone melatonin that regulates sexual development and sleep cycles.
The Sun relates to the last of the four elements - Fire, which represents Spirit or Life Force. Astrologically, the Sun is at home in Leo, which governs the Heart. Leo also represents the ego. When our focus is wrapped up in perpetuating the needs of the ego, lower, or human self, our identity is one that is bound by the laws of mortality and limitation.
We are inextricably linked to God, Source, the One, through the Life Stream, which emanates from the I AM Presence, manifesting in the Threefold Flame, anchored in the Heart Chakra. When allied with the ego and the four lower bodies, physical, etheric, emotional, and mental, and through the misuse of freewill, we misapply God’s Energy, fostering darkness, instead of Light, fear instead of Love.
When the body, mind and emotions are polluted, this clouds and inhibits the proper function of the aura, creating a barrier between God and us. The Aura is a force field of energy that surrounds the four lower bodies that serve as vessel for the soul. Just as the soul is the amalgamation of all the experiences we have had through all of our lifetimes, the aura registers and reflects every thought, word, emotional impression, feeling, and action we have created.
As we move into days of bitter cold, we may need to clean our car windshield, from time to time, as slush from the road is kicked up, by surrounding vehicles, obscuring our view. At times the blue juice may not flow, because it is just too cold. At other times, it only trickles. Still, it may not be the cold at all that keeps the juice from flowing. Instead, it is simply that our well has finally run dry, if we neglect to replenish the source. The windshield of our car is like the aura; it needs cleansing from time to time, so we can receive the light of the sun to see the way ahead more clearly.
The aura, when purified, is clear and vivid, a radiant reflection of the Seven Rays that shine through the prism of the Christ Consciousness, surrounding the body, like a Cosmic Egg. As we misuse God’s Energy, or Life Force, in service of the ego, the aura becomes muddied. It displays grayed out versions of the solar colors red, orange, and yellow, showing the distortion of negative energy patterns.
The aura is an outer indication of the state of the chakras operating at the etheric level of our being. When distorted the chakras and aura no longer serve as an open energetic interface connecting us with our Source. Instead, they create a veil that inhibits our ability to receive the eternal flow of Divine Love, Light and Life, essential to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, as well as the soul’s evolution.
When we allow the fire of the Christ or Buddha Consciousness to blaze within us, the ego is divinized. When this comes to pass we shift our awareness from the lower self (ego) to the Higher Self (Ego), or Christ Self. The Christ Light dwells within the Heart Center of the 4th Chakra. This Triple, or Three-fold, Flame is the manifestation of the archetypal energies of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, energies expressing the God-qualities of Power, Love and Wisdom.
As we release our reliance on the lower energetic forms of body, emotion, and mind that pollute and destabilize our energetic field, we purify the channel linking us to our original Source. This energetic umbilical cord, called the antahkarana, flows from the Heart of the I AM Presence, through the Christ Self, into our spiritual and physical hearts, fueling the Triple Flame of the 4th Chakra and our very own heartbeat. The essence of this energy is Love, unconditional, generative, the elixir of Life that nurtures and sustains our being.
So how do we let go of our attachment to the lower aspects of our self? How do we cleanse the aura? How do we align more fully with the Christ Consciousness, the I AM Presence, and ultimately God? It is quite simple; we place our focus on the Light. If we wish to enhance an area of our life, what must we do? We direct the focus of our energy toward that which we intend to grow. If we intend to grow our relationship with the Light or God we must focus on the Light of God.
There are those who would have us believe the cost is too great. In surrendering to God, we must surrender the ego. For many this initial investment is too steep. The path of initiation diverges too far from the course most are traveling. It can be a lonely road, “for strait is the gate and narrow way that leadeth to life.” It is the way out of bondage that leads to freedom, the only escape from limitation, the bridge to liberation that reunites us with our Source.
Katrin, in her holistic healing practice, Inner Balance Life Works, offers 75 and 90 minute Vibrational Healing sessions, to cleanse the individual chakras and balance the entire energetic system. She utilizes the vibrations of sound, crystals, and Young Living essential oils, all of which assist in the purification of each chakra and the aura. She also receives and shares intuitive guidance from Spirit that brings to Light the underlying roots of the imbalances that manifest in the physical, mental, emotional and energy bodies. Contact Katrin to schedule an appointment at email@example.com or 315-289-3831. For more information select the Vibrational Healing tab on the Home Page.
THE MASK I WEAR by Charles C. Finn
Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks-
masks that I'm afraid to take off
and none of them are me.
Pretending is an art that's second nature to me
but don't be fooled,
for God's sake, don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure
That all is sunny with me, unruffled
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name
and coolness my game,
that the water's calm
and I'm in command,
and that I need no one.
But don't believe me. Please!
My surface may be smooth, but my surface is my mask,
My ever-varying and ever-concealing mask.
Beneath lies no smugness, no complacence.
Beneath dwells the real me
in confusion, in fear, in aloneness.
But I hide this.
I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my
weaknesses and fear exposing them.
That's why I frantically create my masks
to hide behind.
They're nonchalant, sophisticated facades
to help me pretend,
To shield me from the glance that
But such a glance is precisely my salvation,
my only salvation,
and I know it.
That is, if it's followed by acceptance,
and if it's followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself
from my own self-built prison walls
I dislike hiding, honestly
I dislike the superficial game I'm playing,
the superficial phony game.
I'd really like to be genuine and me.
But I need your help, your hand to hold
Even though my masks would tell you otherwise
That glance from you is the only thing that assures me
of what I can't assure myself,
really worth something.
But I don't tell you this.
I don't dare.
I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh,
and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing,
that I'm just no good
and you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game, my desperate, pretending game
With a facade of assurance without,
And a trembling child within.
So begins the parade of masks,
The glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that's nothing
and nothing of what's everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I'm saying
Please listen carefully and try to hear
what I'm not saying
Hear what I'd like to say
but what I cannot.
It will not be easy for you,
long felt inadequacies make my defenses strong.
The nearer you approach me
the blinder I may strike back.
Despite what books say of men, I am irrational;
I fight against the very thing that I cry out for.
You wonder who I am
for I am everyman
who wears a mask.
Don't be fooled.
I came across this poem, while I was in college, a time in my life when its sentiments resonated very deeply within me. It was featured in the textbook of a friend, who was taking a psychology class.
Though I have moved through and healed the underlying issues that gave rise to the affinity I felt when I first read it all those years ago, there is, in spite of that work, an undercurrent of recognition. It was not all that long ago I was grappling with these very same feelings.
My experience with my guru, Sai Maa, in the Journey of Profound Healing, provided me with the opportunity to begin to remove my own masks, in a safe and sacred space. In an atmosphere of unconditional Love and non-judgment, I was able to get to the roots of my own feelings of unworthiness. Not only was I able to understand them intellectually, and the function they served in my life, but with Maa’s guidance and Grace, I was able to transmute them energetically, to release what was holding me in my self-made prison.
As we enter the season of Halloween, masks of all sorts creep into our consciousness. Originally called All Hallows Eve, it is a holiday that has its roots in ancient tradition. Our current mode of celebrating Halloween evolved over hundreds of years, beginning with the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sah-win). In early Gaelic culture, late fall was the time of year to take stock of the harvest and make ready for the shorter days and longer nights.
The ancient pagans also believed that, during this season, the boundaries between the physical and spiritual planes were more fluid, and the dead would come back to life, causing mischief, or worse havoc, like sickness, or perhaps the destruction of the harvest stores that would carry them through the long winter. Bonfires were lit to ward off these evil spirits, and traditionally masks were worn, in an attempt to mimic or appease them.
Our current tradition of dressing up in costume can be traced back to the Middle- Ages, when people would don disguises and go begging from door to door. This is similar in purpose to the tradition of Christmas wassailing. “Trick or Treating” evolved out of the late medieval practice known as “souling,” when the poor would pass through town, receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on Hallowmas, Novemeber 1, what we now call All Souls Day.
The sentiments in Finn's poem, point to the fact that we wear masks all the time. Some are more obvious than others, like moustaches, beards, glasses, colored contacts, and makeup.
Many are now going to more extreme measures to change their features permanently, through implants, tattooing, plastic surgery, and the like. The name, plastic surgery, itself, indicates it is artificial, synthetic. Clearly, some procedures have more practical functions, but they all serve the same purpose, to alter our appearance in some way.
Halloween masks typically represent our worst nightmares - monsters, ghouls, ghosts, and various political figures. These terrifying creatures are, however, only reflections of our own fears, all of which are manufactured in the mind. They don’t exist anywhere but in the mind. So, too, is the need for a mask a construct of the mind, the false, or ego mind.
A mask, therefore, is a cover, a false face. One derivation of the word, according to etymology.com, is from mas que la cara, which in Spanish means “more than the face,” or “added face.”
The word disguise has its root in guise, first used in common parlance in the 13th c. It meant “style or fashion of attire”, from the old French guise, meaning “manner, fashion, or way,” which evolved from the Frankish or German wise, or weid, meaning “to see,” or “to know.”
Dis-guise has its roots in 14th c. French, deriving from desguiser: “to change or to put out of one’s usual manner or appearance.” In 15th century French, it referred to a “strange style of dress.” The Italian travestire, means “dressed in diguise,” from the Latin roots tran + vestir, meaning “over dress.” This is where the English word travesty has its source, which means “a false, absurd, or distorted representation of something.” So the purpose of a mask or disguise is to dis-allow others to see or know who we are.
The author of the poem speaks of his calm, cool, collected exterior as a façade that hides inner states of confusion, fear and aloneness. Yet he knows this is a game, and dislikes perpetuating the pretense. The narrator believes, however, that salvation will only come in the form of someone else’s reassurance that he is worth anything. The real confusion lies in the belief that the deliverance this everyman (everywoman) seeks can only be found through external means.
I have a friend, who was struggling with an alcohol addiction some years back. I asked him once why he drank. He said he felt like when he drank he could be more “himself.” The drink made him feel more confident, outgoing and funny. He felt that the booze was serving to open him up. I was hard pressed to convince him his thinking was convoluted, and the alcohol wasn’t his liberation, but his ball and chain. He wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge he had an addiction, or to address the years of patterning and conditioning that were at the root of his inability to access those innate aspects of himself. He was convinced he was his personality, that he was the mask. He didn’t want to remove the mask; he just wanted a better one.
Any addiction is a mask, a travesty, a distorted representation of our true selves. It may free up the personality to a degree, it may appease the ego that is fearful and seemingly in need of protection, but ultimately it entraps us, and adds, yet, another layer of separation between us and our true nature. I’ll repeat here what my guru, Sai Maa, teaches regarding maya. She tells us she is not interested in “making the illusion better”. She wants us to wake up and step out of the illusion.
In Shakespeare’s comedies, he often uses the theatrical device of disguise. In “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night,” Rosalind and Viola, the lead characters in each, respectively, disguise themselves as boys, as they journey into new, perhaps dangerous environments. A mask or disguise creates an air of anonymity, a clever veneer that provides a means of protection. It also affords a way to let go of one’s inhibitions, to lose all self-consciousness.
The disguise becomes a form of liberation for these characters, through which they experience a certain level of self-discovery. But many of the problems Rosalind and Viola encounter are, in fact, due to their disguises. Rosalind, instead of telling the man she loves who she really is, decides to use her disguise to get Orlando to prove his love for her, and in the process, another woman falls in love with Rosalind, believing she is a man.
Viola’s disguise keeps her from revealing her feelings for Orsino, and Olivia, Orsino’s love interest, falls in love with her, thinking she is a man. Though these disguises serve to create two brilliant comedies of error, which are eventually resolved, it is still undeniable that what first served as a means of liberation for these women, ultimately becomes their trap, a self-imposed prison for both.
The usefulness of the mask is ultimately limited. It can only serve each of these women to a point. It does, indeed, afford them a means to move beyond the bonds of their era’s limiting gender roles, and their station in life, even to express sentiments to the men they love that custom would likely have forbid them reveal. They do, in their duplicitous schemes, grow exponentially. They learn things about themselves they might never have know otherwise. Yet in the end, each discovers the ultimate cost of perpetuating the disguise: the loss of authenticity, of integrity, of true freedom.
The brilliance of Master Shakespeare’s works is their universality. He displays before us the depth and breadth of the human experience, so we may detect a bit of ourselves in each of the characters, and perhaps experience a catharsis that brings us to a new state of awareness. Through these men and women, we can easily appreciate our humanity. Still, if we look more closely, he also allows us to recognize our Divinity.
We may easily acknowledge, at one time or another, we too have behaved like one of these characters, donning a mask or disguise of some sort, to protect our fragile ego. We may even be able to see how, after a fashion, it no longer served us. But let’s now move beyond the world of appearances and delve a little deeper into what lies at the core.
In the poem, this soul, who is hurting profoundly, says, “Do not be fooled by me.” It is, precisely, to the Fool we must look to help us resolve the dilemma of the disguise. The Fools in Shakespeare’s plays, who may dress in motley costume, a disguise of sorts, represent true freedom and liberation. Though it may appear they are bound, in servitude to a duke or a king; they are the only ones who are actually free. They act as counselors and guides for their masters, they are the sole characters who freely speak their minds, and they always function as the voice of Reason or Truth. For the Fool, in these classic plays, the role of servant is never seen as a detriment, because for them, freedom is always a state of mind.
King Lear’s Fool, for example, looks to no one for acceptance, for assurance of his worth, not even the king. He knows his inherent value, because he truly knows his mind. He has control over it and his emotions, so he can be the voice of reason, even in the midst of chaos. It is this aspect of ourselves we too must access. This facet, what we might call pure consciousness or super consciousness, is what is hidden behind the façade. We must peel off, layer by layer, all that stands between us and our true selves, to reveal the Higher Self, that which we are inherently, that which is perfect, that which is Divine.
The Fool, the first card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot, gives us the initial key to unlocking our true essence (see image below). The vibrant youth walking off the cliff represents the super consciousness, and is a symbolic representation of who we are before incarnation. We are pure vibration, pure consciousness, pure Spirit.
Behind the Fool’s head is the Great Central Sun, the Limitless Light, the Source of our Being, and of everything in the universe. The Fool holds in his left hand a white rose, which represents pure desire. It is God’s desire to know itself that is the cause of our being, God’s Will that brings us, as vibratory beings, extensions of the Divine, into creation. At this point, our own will is passive, signified by the black staff; there is no personal volition at work here.
Personal desire and will constitute the seeds of polarity, the essence of duality. It is only once we incarnate that our own desire and will are put into play. When we enter physical form, we begin the cycle of cause and effect, action and reaction. We step onto the carnival ride called the Wheel of Karma, and the fun begins!
Were our desire and will to remain pure, our turn on the wheel would be very short, but the choices we inevitably make in our quest for experience move us into a state of imbalance. Through a series of life-lessons, each incarnation offers us an opportunity to reestablish our original state of being, to balance the energies we set in motion in other lifetimes.
So, time and again, we step off the cliff into the world of duality, symbolized by the two mountains below, depicted in the contrasting colors red and green. Each time we take birth, we, like Rosalind and Viola, journey to a new environment, and we take on a disguise. We put on this costume, this mask of flesh and bone, and we forget who we are, for the purposes of our own soul evolution. Limitless Light cloaks itself in the human body. For this reason, the black tunic the Fool wears is described as the “cloak of ignorance.”
The soul, then, is an amalgamation of all the experiences we have ever had, accumulated lifetime upon lifetime. This is represented by the Fool’s “bag of tricks,” the satchel on the staff he carries over his shoulder. Just to be clear, I say he, but, in actuality, the soul is genderless.
The bag is red, representing the soul in action. Once on the wheel, it is our own desire and will that keep us there. When we surrender to the Will of God, the path back home is much clearer and shorter. The eagle and the eye, depicted on the pouch’s flap, show us we must rise above our lower nature, raise our vibration and use the creative, Life Force Energy, or the kundalini, to ignite our spiritual sight. Once we have done so, we may access what is contained within the bag sealed with ten stitches. It remains sealed until we have control over the body, mind, and emotions. Then, in an elevated state of consciousness, we will have the discipline to use the information of our past life experience to further our evolution, rather than squandering it, lost in the illusion of the physical senses and material distraction.
The Old Testament story of Adam and Eve is symbolic of these very teachings. Once they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, meaning they passed from a state of Oneness with The All That Is into one of polarity, it is said they covered their “nakedness” with fig leaves. Their nakedness was their purity of consciousness, unblemished by dualistic thinking. Mistaken by the world of appearances, unable to recognize their true selves any longer, they donned these disguises in shame for their “transgression”. This word transgression means to "step across" or "go beyond". Adam and Eve, symbolize the conscious and subconscious minds. It is only in the mind that we ever go beyond our state of Oneness with God. Our "own" mind is a mask or veil that disallows our unlimited access to the One Mind, or Cosmic Consciousness.
When we wear a mask or put on a disguise, we lose the ability to truly see, to really know ourselves. A mask may, at first, appear to serve us, but like any crutch, it can ultimately hinder our healing and growth, particularly if we hold onto it well past its usefulness. Our salvation is our own willingness to look below the surface, first at our habits of thought and behavior, our karmic patterns that keep us bound, and then to go even deeper. We must remember who we are, beneath the mask of personality, beneath the disguise of our physical body.
We have spent too many years, too many lifetimes, being Masters of Disguise. We now have the capacity to become Masters of Transparency, with nothing to hide, nothing to fear. We may now choose to reinvent the ancient tradition of “souling.” Let us not go from house to house begging in exchange for prayers for the departed. Instead, may we knock at the door of our own heart. When we unlock this energetic gateway, we are not offering up some tasty throbbing meal for a zombie, but opening the portal to the soul. We can then invite the soul to take up residence in our body, and take control of our life, putting the ego in its rightful place as its servant. In this season of Scorpio, alive with the energy of soul transformation, instead of dressing up in costume, dare to be your Self, your true Self. Instead of reenacting The Night of the Living Dead, let this simply be the Dawn of the Living.
With the surge in climate change related extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey, that devastated the costal regions of the Gulf of Mexico, and Irma that pummeled the Caribbean and now bears down on Florida, we might feel helpless and confused as to what to do in the wake of Nature’s seeming fury.
As we fast approach the 5th year anniversary of “Super Storm” Sandy, I am reminded of my decision to walk into the Syracuse Chapter of the American Red Cross several days after that devastating storm. I had read on Facebook that they were collecting blankets for the survivors in NY and New Jersey, the states hardest hit by the storm. At the time, I had a fairly large stock of blankets that I used as props in my Yoga classes. I had plenty to spare, and there was a need. I didn’t hesitate. I heeded the call.
When I walked into the lobby there was a wonderful woman at the reception desk. She said, “Oh bless your heart, but we can’t accept those here.” I was a bit confused. I told her what I had read, and she said she would ask her supervisor for clarification, who happened to be standing next to her fielding a call.
While I waited for this young man to complete his business, I looked around the lobby. I saw the prominently displayed logo on the wall behind the counter alongside an image of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.
When he finished his call, I explained my intention to donate the blankets for the Sandy Relief. He said that The Red Cross was dispatching crews of volunteers who were providing their standard issue blankets with their Red Cross logo to areas in the storm’s wake.
He said he couldn’t use my blankets for that relief effort, but they would take them for use for local disaster or fire relief. He asked if that was acceptable to me. I said, “Of course, I came to offer the blankets, I don’t care to whom they go. I just want to be of service. Well that lit up his face and he said, “Would you be interested in volunteering?” I didn’t hesitate. I said, yes.
Clara Barton brought aid and solace to union soldiers during the Civil War. With no concern for her own safety, she charged into the front lines to bring succor to the wounded. For this, she received the title “Angel of the Battlefield.”
The symbol of the American Red Cross is iconic. It is the Equal-Armed Cross, sometimes referred to as the “Geneva Cross.” It was adopted by Switzerland, during the Geneva Convention of 1864, as a symbol of neutrality to be worn by those providing humanitarian-aid during armed conflict, who were entitled to protected status.
This symbol is one that is found cross culturally. Esoterically, the equal-armed cross embodies the concept of unification between the material and the ethereal realms of existence.
It symbolizes a perfect balance of these seeming opposites. Yet, when we examine them more closely, it becomes clear that they are two sides of the same coin, two expressions of the Divine Life Force Energy.
This representation of “The Complete Truth” is the foundation of all Creation. The Chinese taiji, or yin/yang symbol, depicting the white and black paisley shapes with a small circle of the opposite color contained within each, speaks to the same Truth.
In the equal armed cross, we have the vertical axis, which represents the activity of the “masculine” energy principle in creation, while the horizontal axis represents that of the “feminine” energy principle. The vertical axis is associated with the spiritual plane; the horizontal refers to the material plane. Both are essential for the embodiment of Divine Spirit in the physical for the purpose of growth and expansion of the soul. The crux, where these two planes meet is the Heart Center, the gateway that allows us to ultimately transcend the material realm and move into the higher planes of consciousness.
The symbol shows a red cross on a white field, which esoterically exemplifies action arising out of purity of intent. Clara Barton lived a life of service to those in distress, continually called to respond to humanity in need.
Her life was an expression of action in the material realm that was in service to a higher calling. In this case, the impulse to action has its roots in the seed of compassion. One is acting out of compassion, with no ulterior motives, no expectation of reward or recognition. We call this humanitarian aid, but it is truly an expression of our Divinity.
We call these people first responders. The word responsibility means, “the ability to respond.” Clara Barton, and those like her, are just ordinary people, or are they? Clearly their acts rise to the level extraordinary.
These individuals rise out of a life focused primarily on the material, fueled by the fire of Spirit, to be of service. The verb to serve means “to render habitual obedience to.” In this case, the obedience is to our Higher Self. When we choose to be of service, we certainly provide something worthy to those in need, but the greater offering is made to God. With each act, when offered from a place of compassion, we evolve as a soul, and this serves the greater glory of the Divine Whole.
I was privileged, humbled and inspired to witness my friend Ed Vassallo, a NYC actor, reveal his divine humanity in action. Ed was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia in 2010. He was in the midst of intense treatment for the disease, but in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, he got in his SUV and drove to the front line with no concern for his own safety to be of service to people in need.
The life-changing event of his grave illness was a wake up call to action. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, he directed his focus away from his own struggle outward to those whose need was greater than his own. He was alive, and mobile and he heeded the call. With such acts of kindness and compassion we heal ourselves.
Though “Fast Eddie” Vassallo has since made his transition, in the weeks following the storm, my regard for him grew, as I watched the recordings he made and posted on Facebook of his experience as a first responder.
Along with a merry band of like-minded souls, he brought food and water to those whose lives were so greatly affected. He delivered generators, contacted people’s banks, who could not make timely payments because they had no power or transport. I even witnessed him escort a woman, who was eight months pregnant, assisting her down nine flights of stairs, because her building had no power, and then drive her to the safe shelter of a friend’s home. Not only were Ed and his crew delivering humanitarian aid, they were delivering Light and Hope.
This same level of compassionate care we witnessed again and again in Houston and other towns in Texas and Louisiana, following Hurricane Harvey. I saw a group of people make a human chain to rescue an elderly man from his truck that was inundated with rushing water. Citizens with boats trawled through flooded neighborhoods looking for those still trapped in their homes. There were patrols rescuing pets and livestock left behind to fend for themselves as their people fled for their own lives.
Not merely after major catastrophies do we witness individuals transcend their seeming ordinary lives to do the extraordinary. There are people are going above and beyond at the frontlines of daily existence every day of their lives. I know a Case Worker for a county agency, who provides counseling and support to people in transition, who are currently dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.
She shared with me that she is conflicted and confused by her situation at work. You see; she has a gift, the gift of spiritual sight. A portal opened for her about two years ago through which she has been receiving messages from Spirit that she has been guided to share with her clients.
Her conflict stems from the fact that this is not “standard operating procedure,” and she is concerned she may be fired, if anyone finds out and reports her to the administration. If her spiritual sight is needed anywhere, it is exactly in this environment. We are told to “grow where we are planted”. She offers daily support and guidance to individuals, many of whom would not be able to afford such service otherwise. She is truly an “Angel of the Battlefield.”
We may not be in a position to offer our SUV to transport people and supplies in the wake of a disaster, or have the spiritual sight to transmit messages from beyond the veil, but each of us has something to offer of ourselves in service of others.
John F. Kennedy once said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." I would rephrase it this way, “ Ask not what others can do for you; ask what you can do for others. When we shift our focus from ourselves and direct it toward others, we begin to move toward the center point of the cross.
Master Jesus, an embodiment of the Christ Consciousness, did not teach that salvation would come through his death on the cross. His mission and his message have only ever been to bring us to an awareness of our own Divinity.
We, ourselves, are the only means of our salvation.
We are the creators of our own experience. If we are living in hell, it is of our own making. We are to take up the cross of this body, and follow the example of the Christ, opening our hearts to become the perfect balance of humanity and Divinity.
When this is our mission, we will experience the second coming of the Christ. He will not return in the flesh to again lead the way. The Christ Consciousness will be present and active in our own hearts, so we may continue the mission of bringing Light and Hope. We will serve as beacons, guiding those who are navigating through the darkness, offering safe passage to peaceful and brighter shores.
In these times of great upheaval in the world, when weather is more extreme and we are seeing a rise in more extremist views, we are being called upon to serve those who are in need.
We are all individual cells in the body of a greater whole, the Universe, God, whatever you choose to call it. Cells come to each other’s aid, because the health of the whole is crucial to each one’s ability to thrive. As long as we continue to operate on the false assumption that there is no connection between us as humans, or between us and the rest of this planet and beyond, we will continue to make short sighted, self serving, separatist choices that will ultimately be the undoing of our species, and perhaps the Earth as we know it.
Consider these closing words from JFK’s Inaugural address. “Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.”
We are all called to serve. The question is: have we heeded the call? Perhaps a deeper question is, “Have we paused long enough in the midst of our own concerns and the pursuit of our own goals to have heard it?
What are you called to do? How can you be of service? How can you express the perfect balance of your Divine Humanity in action?
It was a rare radiant afternoon, when I had the good fortune to sit for a few undisturbed hours in Burnet Park and read. I was grateful for the warm clear day, as the summer had been displaying resolute recalcitrance in her arrival. The few clouds that dusted the sky were the sort from which my kids and I conjured mermaids and dolphins dancing in the sea.
I sat on the grass, my back gently supported by a fortuitously placed rock, well worn by wind and rain. Birds shared their spirited songs from the shade of the maples above, as bees hovered low, scouting the clover patches at my feet.
As I drank in the warmth of the sun, I was inspired by the diligence with which one lone honeybee was collecting pollen. I thought what a wonder is this tiny creature. Her ability to fly defies the laws of physics. At just over a centimeter long, weighing only sixty milligrams, she should not be able to fly, let alone carry a load weighing more than she, supported on such gossamer wings. Yet, by beating her wings so rapidly, the vibration allows her to move aloft and journey out into the world to gather the raw materials that fuel her and her colony.
She ventured from home on this crystalline day to forage for nectar. I watched her move methodically from flower to flower. Periodically, she would light on a cluster of white and pink petals into which she dipped her dainty front legs to retrieve the golden prize. At times she would remain only a brief moment, and at others she lingered longer, as it seemed there in lay more treasure.
I noticed, however, that sometimes she would near a flower and then abruptly pull away, as though she knew instinctively that this particular blossom held nothing for her. It seemed as though she had received an invisible message, some signal that this flower was futile, thus she was able to move on, no time wasted in unfruitful territory.
As it turns out, a honeybee can discern from a distance that there is no nectar to be had of a particular flower and will depart immediately, as she senses that it has already been visited. It is clear because the bee that made the first foray leaves a drop of its essence behind. The next bee detects the scent, understands that the flower is spent, and continues on to another. Amazingly, it takes honeybee workers ten million foraging trips to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey. So effective transmission of information is critical.
By performing a particular figure eight pattern, called the waggle dance, successful foragers share with their hive mates specific information about the direction and distance to sources of abundant nectar and pollen, to water supplies, as well as to potential hive locations.
I find it interesting that the horizontal figure eight, or lemniscate, demonstrated in the bees’ communiqué is also the symbol for infinity. As each bee extends itself to the whole, through it’s messages, it insures the survival of the entire population, endlessly.
Similar to ants, these insects are social beings that cannot function on their own. On the contrary, they flourish as members of a group, and each individual’s function is essential to the survival of the collective. The colony cannot succeed without each bee’s distinct contribution.
The ability of bees to communicate effectively allows these industrious creatures to create the divine substance we know as honey. This sticky, sweet concoction is created in a comb, a series of interconnected cells formed in the shape of the hexagon, notably an ancient symbol of balance, union, interfacing, and community.
To ancient cultures bees signified eloquence, speech, and intelligence.in Hebrew, the word for bee, Dbure, has its origins in the root word Dbr, meaning speech. And so it is not unusual that honey, the gift of their creation, symbolizes learning, knowledge, wisdom, and the riches and sweetness of life.
It occurred to me, while watching this small wonder of Nature that we have much in common. We too are social beings. As humans we function best in cooperation and communion with each other, and through our interactions we are capable of creating extraordinary things.
We, like bees, can suffer greatly if we are separated too long from others of our kind. As research shows, there is a direct relationship between the degree to which a person is separated socially and their level of anxiety. The adverse effects of prolonged isolation can range from a general lack of wellbeing, to extreme morbidity, and even death.
Our purpose, as human beings, in this lifetime is twofold: to communicate and to create, and these functions cannot be carried out in isolation. We need each other in this journey, just as bees depend on each member of the hive for survival. James L. Gould in his book, The Honey Bee, states that the whole fabric of honeybee society depends on communication- on an innate ability to send and receive messages, to encode and decode information.
It is their ability to communicate with such a high level of accuracy that allows them to serve out their functions. Not only do they create honey, but they also aid in the propagation of other life forms. The level to which we communicate successfully also impacts our ability to create, and directly affects the well being of everything else around us.
As form inevitably follows function, we need only observe our physical makeup to understand for what it is we were made. As one can easily detect, we are all created with virtually identical attributes that serve the very same purpose.
We each have two eyes, two ears and one mouth centered on the front of the head, which conveniently pivots from side to side giving us the ability to direct our focus where we like. These features come standard on every model, and are the primary means by which we carry out our functions in this life. My children tell me we were designed this way because we are meant to observe and listen more than we are meant to speak. Yet so often we, literally or figuratively, close our eyes to what it is we would not see, shut our ears to what we care not to hear, and run our mouths for fear of the silence.
To serve our greater mission, our bodies are formed with two arms, each with a hand that is uniquely designed to create. With these arms we are able to help selflessly and to hold gently, and with these hands we can touch and form, both objects as well as ideas. Yet very often we use them counter to their intended purpose. We pull others close only to push them away, when we perceive our needs are no longer being met, or we grasp and hoard, only to discard what we’ve claimed once we determine that thing or person no longer serves its intended purpose.
We also have two legs and feet. Their function is to carry us places, to move us into the world, and bring us closer to others. Yet these ingeniously designed features are falling into disrepair for lack of use, as we turn more often to other means of connection like the telephone and computer, rather than walking down the hall to our colleague’s office to ask a question, or over to a friend’s home to seek much needed advice.
It is no wonder that so many of our relationships are in crisis. More and more we live in isolation, as we move through the world in plastic, metal and glass pods, plugged into devises that distract and cut us off from our fellow human beings. We don’t know our neighbors’ names and we have no idea about our partner’s needs. We have ceased to, or have forgotten how to effectively use the tools that have been given us to carry out our primary tasks in this life.
It is virtually impossible to engage in effective, substantive communication, if we are unwilling or able to extend ourselves to others. So often we assume that those in our lives know, or we feel they should know what it is we need. But how can they? They do not live inside our heads. Their lack of understanding is no fault of their own. It is we who are the cause, because so often we fail to express what it is we truly want, either because we ourselves don’t even know, or we are afraid of the reaction asking might produce.
When we don’t know what it is we want, how can we expect anyone to give it to us? In order to have our needs met, it is our responsibility first to determine what those needs are, and then to communicate them clearly.
Yet, even when we do know what we want, we are often afraid that we will be rejected if we ask. It is unreasonable to believe that by communicating we will be abandoned, and yet many of us do. We believe our minds must be kept private, or we will lose control of them, and of the relationship. Even when we are intimate with someone, we may withhold what is really on our minds for fear of giving too much away, or of pushing the other away. But can such forms of interaction be considered real communication or true intimacy, or are they just hollow shells, illusions of real connection?
It is important to understand, that these fears we hold of rejection, or of a negative response, are simply projections, constructs of our own ego mind. They are the result of a need to disassociate from aspects of ourselves we perceive as objectionable or inappropriate, and so we place them on another.
When we engage in the act of projection, which inevitably hinders communication, it is because we are not willing or able to accept responsibility for the situations in which we find ourselves, all of them ultimately of our own creation. It seems to be far easier to place blame elsewhere than it is to turn the mirror around and be confronted with those things about ourselves that we believe to be unacceptable.
But this is where our true work lies. We need to bring what remains in shadow into the light. When we can finally embrace all of our self, even those aspects we deem undesirable, and absolve our own perceived imperfections, we will begin to release the judgments we place on others, and we will finally taste the rich sweetness of forgiveness.
The Poet Antonio Machado expresses it this way:
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt - marvelous error! –
That I had a beehive
Here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
Were making white combs,
And sweet honey
From my old failures.
Yet many of us are not willing, or able yet to do this demanding work, and so we hide. We hide in our homes and offices, in our computers and televisions, in our Androids and iPods, in our addictions of every kind. These are the physical barriers we create that keep us isolated.
More critically however, we hide inside our own heads. We remain locked inside fortresses of our own devising, peering out through tiny slits in the stone slab walls we have erected. We sit within these self-made prisons, afraid of connection, afraid of intimacy, and wonder why we feel so terribly misunderstood and so desperately alone, when ultimately, what we fear is ourselves. Our colleagues, friends, parents, siblings, partners, and children are merely mirrors of our own inner lives.
Consequently, what we need to heal and become whole is to engage, to communicate with others in order to understand ourselves, and to realize our essential connection to the Universe. The work cannot be done alone. We need one another, as we are all One. This is key to our spiritual awakening, critical to our salvation, both individually and collectively.
This anonymous quote speaks to this point most eloquently:
I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see.
I sought my God, but my God eluded me.
I sought my brother and I found all three.
Essentially, it is our failure to communicate that keeps us separated. This is at the core of our impressions that we are alone. When we feel alone we are not at peace. So it is only through communication that we can bring about inner peace, and, ultimately, peace in the world around us.
A Course In Miracles reminds us that we never lose what we communicate. So, if I am afraid to express my love for you, because I fear that love won’t be reciprocated, what I am going to get in return is the fear, not the love, which is what I actually want.
When I communicate love, that is what is returned to me, and, in the end, is a gift I offer to myself. I am not losing it by giving it away. When I give truly, unconditionally, love will always be given back in equal measure. What we sow, we will reap.
Similarly, when we communicate anger, jealousy, or revenge, all basic expressions of fear, we convey those feelings, believing we rid ourselves of them. The truth is quite the opposite, however. When we express fear, that is exactly what we receive back, and ultimately what we retain. Moreover, when we express our fear, we are actually engaging in attack, and this act, as we know, is antithetical to communication, making it utterly impossible.
Not only do we attack the one on whom we project our fear, but, more critically, we attack ourselves. When threatened, a bee will sting, and this act leads to it’s own death, for the stinger, along with part of the abdomen and poison sac is pulled away from the bee. When we lash out at others, in essence we, like the bee, are only harming ourselves.
Communication is simply defined as the transactional process of creating meaning. We are forever asking ourselves, “What does it all mean?” So in every encounter we have with another, each of us is constantly creating meaning. Yet, our individual perceptions of a specific encounter, a first date for example, are drawn from our own past experiences, and those experiences form the basis of our beliefs. And we can be sure that what we believe we do see.
So if I believe I am unworthy of love, everything I experience, during our first date, will serve to reinforce that belief structure. Every subsequent interaction I have with you I will interpret as support of my belief that I am undeserving of your love. The impact of this cannot be underestimated. Our beliefs, which are simply constructs of the ego, ultimately determine our perception of every situation in which we find ourselves, however misguided those beliefs may be.
Perception always involves interpretation, and this means that it is not whole or consistent. And as all meaning is based on perception, it is ultimately subjective in nature, and therefore highly prone to misinterpretation.
It seems Gorgias, an ancient Greek philosopher was aware of this when he stated:
“It is impossible for an idea to be the same in two different minds. Therefore, nothing can be truly known by all humans, and nothing can be communicated.”
Now it all may seem futile, or appear that the nature of our innate mode of communication is inherently flawed. Yet this is not so. We have merely lost sight of a critical element that can rectify our errors of interpretation.
Many ancient sources of spiritual wisdom, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Yogic traditions, as well as more contemporary spiritual movements like Unity, hold an awareness of this fundamental principle. Current spiritual teachers like Ram Dass and Eckhart Tolle, are also reminding us to Be Here Now and to tune in to The Power of Now.
A Course in Miracles refers to this principle as the holy instant, a moment when we are in full awareness of the interconnection among all beings and with the Divine. In this moment, now, we are whole and therefore holy.
With the holy instant we are called upon to release one another from any guilt we would lay, for guilt only serves to disrupt communication. The ego tries to convince us that loneliness can be solved by guilt. Who among us has not been on the giving or receiving end of a guilt trip? “What do you mean you’re going out with your friends again tonight?”
The purpose of the holy instant is to suspend judgment entirely, which always rests on the past, as past experience is the basis on which we judge. “Well you have gone out with your friends for the past four consecutive Friday’s! Why don’t you want to spend time with me?”
In the holy instant it is understood that the past no longer exists, and with its release the drive for guilt or vengeance is gone. Everything is gone except the Truth, which lies here in the present. We are here, now, together in this moment. This moment is all there is, and in the present exists perfection.
Years ago, my daughter Kate shared some words of wisdom with me she had heard in school when she asked “Mom, why do we call this moment the present?” As I took in her question, she quickly chimed, “Because every moment is a gift!”
When we release the past, we give the gift of forgiveness. To forgive is merely to remember only the loving thoughts you gave in the past, and those that were given you, and to release everything else, and so the gift of forgiveness is passed on to the future in the form of Freedom.
The holy instant is a time in which we give and receive perfect communication. It is experienced now, in the present. This moment is one in which the mind is fully open to give and to receive. In this moment of awareness there is the recognition that all minds are in communion with one another and the Divine.
Thoughts of the past are simply noise. They are like static that keeps us from receiving a clear signal from the person with whom we are trying to connect. Projecting into the future can be equally disruptive to the clarity and truth of now. Both are inhibitors.
When we can quiet the noise, what in Yoga we call the vrittis, or the fluctuations of the mind, we can open ourselves to more authentic communication with one another and with the Divine. This is what we attempt in the practices of Yoga and Meditation.
So often our communications with others are disrupted by this noise, this cling and clatter ringing in our heads. It is deafening, and deadening to our relationships. These distractions come from within and also from without.
The practice of pratyahara or drawing the senses inward is the 5th of the eight limbs of Yoga. This practice, in combination with pranayama, or breath awareness, the 4th limb, is key to quieting the mind and tuning in to the present moment, which allows for the cultivation of dhyana, or the practice of meditation.
In this instance, shutting the eyes and closing the ears to external stimuli is very beneficial. But it is not done in an effort to shut off the outside world, as much as it is to open to the realms of the world within. It is from this place, in stillness, that we can begin to make a deeper connection with our Higher Self and with the Divine, which will ultimately translate to our relations with others.
When our interactions with others stem from center, the place of calm clarity within us, then real communication can begin, and when communication is open and unencumbered, our creations will then be nothing but inspired, for the Divine in you will be communing with the Divine in me, and we will be one.
And then, like the bees, we will come to understand the power of communication; we will learn that each of us must give of our own unique gifts, unselfishly, in the pursuit of the common goals of wholeness and healing, so that all of humanity will benefit from the richness of those sweet rewards.
We will once again know the meaning of this powerful Hindustani greeting:
I honor the place in you of Love, of Life, of Truth, of Peace. I honor the place in you where the entirety of the Universe resides. And if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.
The English Philosopher, Herbert Spencer, coined the well-known phrase “survival of the fittest,” after he read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The concept paralleled some of his economic theories with certain of Darwin’s biological ones.
Subsequently, Darwin used it as a synonym for “natural selection,” his theory, which outlines that there is consistent preservation and evolution of organisms that are better adapted to live in a changing environment.
Darwin was readily aware that it is adaptability in the face of change, often under adverse conditions, that leads to the evolution of species. We, as human beings, along with everything else, are riding the wave of the eternal, universal current of evolution.
Not only are we evolving biologically, but we are also continually undergoing spiritual evolution. Whether consciously or not, we inexorably make our way from the darkness and limitations of the illusion of material “reality” into the light and unity of All That Is, often referred to as the I Am Presence, Christ or Buddha Consciousness, or the Tao, among other names.
We continually become involved in the material plane, the realm of polarity or contrast with each incarnation, often facing adversity in the process of restoring balance to the energies we set in motion in other lifetimes.
If we are on a conscious path, we will eventually take stock of what our nets have pulled in, and gradually cull through it, throwing back what will not nourish our souls. When we understand what we reel in is determined by that with which we have baited our hooks; the Law of Cause and Effect or Karma will no longer be a mystery, and will ultimately empower us to live the joyful, abundant, fulfilling lives that are our birthright.
Our spiritual evolutionary process may, at times, strike us as harsh, as we appear to meet obstruction after obstruction on our path toward illumination. Yet, this is all necessary, and as it should be. A diamond, radiant in the Sun’s light, begins as nothing more than a black lump of anthracite, or coal, that has been exposed to tremendous pressure in the darkness of the earth.
It is only through the process of restoring balance that our souls evolve. It may prove at times very challenging, but ultimately what we undergo or endure will bring us closer to an awareness that we are the cause of all we experience, and are not merely at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We eventually come to view what was at first perceived as struggle, pain, or hardship as a form of grace that carries us across the abyss into a new more expansive state of consciousness.
These truths came into clearer focus for me, as I drove east, on a glorious sun drenched afternoon, over the undulating ribbon of Old Seneca Turnpike, in Marcellus, NY. I noticed a tiny chartreuse grasshopper glued to my windshield. I had no idea how long it had been there, but I imagined it had hopped aboard back at the artist’s studio in Skaneateles from which I came a half a dozen or so miles back.
Earlier, I was parked under a canopy of trees, amidst a profusion of color and texture that are my friend’s gardens. This little insect, very likely, was making its way from the shade of the fern bed toward a patch of sun pouring down through the overhang of beech, maple and oak. My car, an interloper in this pastoral haven, was a temporary way station on its journey toward the light.
The grasshopper, emerging from the darkness of the dense ground cover toward the pool of sun to which it was instinctively drawn, took the path that seemed to be the most direct, landing smack dab on my car. Little did it know that it had just signed on for the ride of its life!
As I considered this intrepid traveler perched precariously on the wind-screen of my Toyota, I couldn’t help recall a statement printed on one of my son’s T-shirts, which reads, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I was immediately flooded with a profound sense of recognition and compassion for this wind blown little bug.
As I observed the tiny creature, I found myself rather conflicted. I was thoroughly intrigued by its display of strength and determination, as it faced the onslaught, like a beautifully carved figurehead on a clipper ship sailing directly into the wind. Yet, at the same time I thought, "I should really pull over and remove the poor thing, before it gets blown off and crushed in the oncoming traffic". But something made me resist.
It might seem like my decision arose from some perverse desire to see the bug suffer, but that is far from the case. I was in awe of this amazing insect. It displayed a humbling and heroic show of courage and nobility, in the midst of such tremendous adversity. I was rooting for it the entire way, wanting to see it surmount the forces beset against it. I wanted it to succeed, to be carried far beyond the limited confines of its point of departure.
I would periodically peel my eyes from the road to peek on the condition of my passenger. During one such stolen glance, something didn’t seem quite right about my miniature stow-away; something was out of balance. On closer inspection, I made a startling discovery; the grasshopper was missing its left hind leg.
Now if you know anything about grasshoppers, you are well aware that it is primarily their powerful back legs that propel them forward, up to distances 20 times their own body length. Without a pair of back legs, this little fellow would be relegated to a rather restricted world-view. It wasn’t likely going to make it very far afield on its own.
Just like this grasshopper, we are often deterred from expanding our own horizons by the physical limitations of our bodies, or the restrictive belief systems and concepts we cling to so tightly. Off balance, we can find ourselves going around in circles, only able to turn left, when what we really want to do is move forward.
Yet, even with its seeming limitation, now plunged into a situation it clearly hadn’t planned for, it was adept at riding the current, able to withstand the force of the oncoming wind, all the while remaining completely poised and unperturbed, in the face of such hardship.
What I found utterly fascinating was watching how this grasshopper behaved under these extraordinary circumstances. It could easily have jumped off at a number of points, during our excursion from Skaneateles to my destination in Fayetteville some 20 miles away. Yet it remained fixed and focused, like a guided missile honing in on its intended target.
Occasionally, I would see the grasshopper attempt to alter its orientation. Several times it began to turn its body so the whole side flank was exposed to the on rush of air. Buffeted more heavily by the crushing current in this position, it quickly readjusted to meet the onslaught head on, its little antennae blowing like pennants in the powerful breeze.
So often, in our own lives, we find ourselves in this same predicament, set on a particular course, only to be redirected by some unforeseen circumstance. We typically view such a disruption as an impediment to our progress, and turn away from it. But if we look with broader perspective, and face the challenge directly, withstanding the urge to bail, bolt or throw ourselves overboard, we will come to the awareness that this perceived obstacle has ultimately propelled us farther along the path in our evolutionary process than had this seemingly undesired event never occurred.
When such incidents arise, we may find ourselves falling into the “Why me?” mode, bemoaning our state and railing at a co-worker, family member, the Universe, or God for having done this to us. This kind of thinking places us in the realm of “Victim Consciousness” and renders us impotent. We, in fact, are the creators and arbiters of our own lives, and therefore responsible for all we experience. As divine sparks of the Eternal One, Light Beings, we are actually always in a position of omnipotence.
If we can look at our situation from a more expansive viewpoint, we will come to understand that this seeming accident of fate, the car wreck, the lay-off from work, or the breakup of a relationship, was not an arbitrary hit from the Universe, or some sick, sadistic punishment from God, but an ingenious creation of our own soul’s design, a means for our own salvation.
When we have become stuck or complacent in our patterns of thought or behavior, our souls get to work, magnetically drawing to us the perfect antidote to our spiritual stupor. We continually manifest a pattern until it is brought into balance, until there is atonement, otherwise pronounced at-one-ment.
These moments of elemental disruption can capsize us, leaving us clutching for something of substance to hold onto. If we struggle, we can quickly be pulled into the undertow. Very often, instead of rising above the currents churning around us, and drifting on the surface toward safety, we thrash about, stretching and straining to free ourselves from the clutches of old outmoded habits and concepts.
Though floating peacefully in the direction we care to go would be an infinitely more pleasant experience, the challenge of trying to keep our heads above water amidst the tempest does have its benefits.
These twists and turns of fate that seem to come out of nowhere are like tidal waves that launch us into a new dimension of consciousness. We are picked up out of our complacency, and deposited somewhere entirely new, our cloak of ignorance torn from us, leaving us raw and bare. Yet through this torrential initiation, everything that keeps us bound to the limited, ego mind is stripped away, until we wake up from the dream of separation, cleansed of all our illusions, and remember we are God.
So you might say I was “playing God,” taking that little bug, against its will, to a place it never intended to go. I say that bug was playing God. It chose to take that ride, consciously or not. I did not lash it to the mast. Undoubtedly, we served each other that day. We became partners in the eternal Cosmic Dance of cause and effect. I piloted it beyond the limitations of it’s own physical form and current experience, and it expanded my spiritual horizons, by bravely enacting lessons I needed to learn for my own evolutionary process.
As I placed my leggy little teacher in the grass, at the base of a gnarly old willow, awash with the afternoon light, I expressed gratitude for the shared experience, and the new insights I had received from this accidental tourist, hoping its hopping would continue to propel it forward on its evolutionary path.
The following day, those lessons became even more clearly defined while I was in yet another studio, modeling for a sculpture of Dr. Mary Walker, a woman who, ironically, faced tremendous adversity in her lifetime, and met it with grace and dignity.
She was born in Oswego NY, in 1832. In 1855, she was the only woman in her graduating class at Syracuse Medical College, embarking on a bold career path for a woman of the 19th century.
She had a clear vision of what she wanted to accomplish and would not be deterred. She might have taken the easy path, but had she done so, she never would have risen to the heights of her own potential.
Subject to ridicule throughout her life, for her views and behavior, Mary was an outspoken proponent of women’s rights and dress reform. She eschewed the corset, wore pants under her knee length skirts, and in her later years, opted for full men’s attire, and cut off her waist length hair, as to better serve her needs as a physician. She had long since stopped adhering to what society had dictated as proper for a woman of her era.
She went on to serve, amidst great opposition, as a physician during the Civil War, and was even held for a time as a prisoner by the Confederacy. She remains the only woman ever to receive the Congressional Metal of Honor for dedicated service to her country. A woman advanced beyond her time, Mary Walker used the adversity she faced as a means to create profound change in the social structure of 19th century society.
While I stood on the platform in my cobalt blue, silk antebellum costume, replete with wool trousers and feathered hat, I heard a furious sound coming from one of the high placed windows in the northwest corner of the sun soaked studio.
I looked up to see an enormous insect hurling itself against the glass pane trying to make its way out into the light. It was hard to discern what kind of bug it was from my vantage point. All I knew was it was big and appeared to be very frustrated.
There would be a frenzy of activity, wings beating frantically against the glass, and then nothing. A moment later the flurry would begin again. The silences soon became more and more frequent, as if the insect was giving up, resigned to its condition, locked away from the light that it so desperately sought. I was relieved when I was able to take a break, as I wanted to ease the creature’s burden, and release it from its invisible cage.
I took the broom I was using to support my arm, which in the final sculpture would eventually be resting on a podium, and held it out to what I discovered was a beautiful electric blue dragonfly.
At first it resisted my offer of assistance. It continued to heave itself against the window, like a ship continually being dashed against the rocks. It finally released, and grabbed hold of the bristles of the makeshift lifeboat I floated in its direction.
It clung there delicately, dazed from its battle to breach the wall of glass. I pivoted around and held the broom toward the vast opening of the garage door on the eastern wall. As soon as it caught a glimpse of the wide expanse of light, it lifted off and flew to its freedom.
Though our challenges in the process of our spiritual evolution are of our own creation, it doesn’t mean we necessarily need to go through them alone. It is especially useful to accept assistance when we are too beaten down by the struggle, or too blinded to our own condition to see the way out.
Just as we attract to us the bitter but necessary antidotes to our spiritual ailments, we also draw forth those angels of mercy who can assist us in our healing. If we continually resist the hand that would pull us to safety, we will eventually drown in the teacup of our own ego.
There is a well-known story that illustrates this point very cleverly.
A state trooper in a Jeep knocks on a man's door and tells him to evacuate due to a pending flood; the man says "God will save me." A few hours later the water is rushing through the man's first story, and the coast guard pulls up to his second floor window in a boat, but he sends them away, saying "God will save me." A little later, the man is on his roof, with floodwaters ravaging his house. A helicopter flies over and dangles a ladder, but the man waves it off. The man is swept away and drowns, and when he gets to heaven, he angrily confronts God with "why didn't you do anything to save me." God says "I didn't do anything? I sent you a jeep, a boat and a helicopter."
When we are faced with adversity, we must remember that our soul is responsible for creating this crucible to burn off the dross and leave the pure metal that may then be fashioned into a ship that will sail us home. Should we find ourselves in troubled waters, we must not be afraid to reach out to the hands that would carry us to safety.
The Grace of God comes in many forms, often appearing as hardship and loss. But during those times of struggle, others come to lift us out of the fray and carry us to dry land, where we again can take up the path that leads us to the higher ground of illumination.
A few years back, I was listening to music while driving. Dido’s “Life for Rent” began playing, and I was struck by the synchronicity. The song came to my attention, during a period when I was thinking a lot about the buying and selling of homes, with all of the attendant implications. Slowly, over the next several days, my inner dialogue and the resonance of Dido’s words began to merge into an allegory for living, and subsequently developed into the focus of this reflection.
"Life For Rent"
I haven't ever really found a place that I call home
I never stick around quite long enough to make it
I apologize once again I'm not in love
But it's not as if I mind
that your heart ain't exactly breaking
It's just a thought, only a thought
But if my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
I've always thought
that I would love to live by the sea
To travel the world alone
and live more simply
I have no idea what's happened to that dream
Cos there's really nothing left here to stop me
It's just a thought, only a thought
But if my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
If my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
While my heart is a shield and I won't let it down
While I am so afraid to fail so I won't even try
Well how can I say I'm alive
If my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
If my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Cos nothing I have is truly mine
During my adult life, I’ve lived in many flats, and owned two homes. A number of years ago, I went from being a homeowner to living in an apartment again. Renting and owning have each held their particular appeal for me, for different reasons.
At times, apartment living can be far more preferable than being a homeowner. As a renter, I am afforded a certain amount of mobility. When I live in an apartment, there is an undeniable sense of freedom. If the landlord turns out to be a jerk, if a live-in relationship falls apart, or a job-offer leads to a new city, I can pick up and go with relative ease; nothing is hindering me from moving on. As a tenant, other than general care and cleaning, there is little or no maintenance required of me, and I can generally rely on the landlord to tend to the grounds and fix what ails my apartment.
These exemplify some of the assets to being a leaseholder, but there are also things about it that I don’t enjoy. Foremost, is that I am required to live by somebody else’s rules. I am beholden to the “establishment”, and there is always a list of thou shalt not’s that comes with signing a rental contract.
Perhaps more important still, there is no equity in renting, no investment made each month when I write my check. I receive the monthly bill, but the landlord receives the major benefit.
Surely, living the life of a homeowner also has its highlights and drawbacks. As with anything, it all depends on your perspective. For example, the initial outlay of a down payment, holding a mortgage, or paying property and school taxes can be daunting prospects for many. For some, the constant upkeep of home and yard is undesirable. There is an endless flow of maintenance required to keep a home in good condition.
So what is it about homeownership that has so many clamoring for it? If the rewards were not great, would it be held as such a strong goal for so many, would it be considered a cornerstone of living the “American Dream’?
To be in possession of a home can provide great satisfaction for those fortunate enough to have made that dream come true. Pride in ownership often out ways the impact of the punch list posted on the fridge. Great fulfillment can be found in creating a cozy nest for one’s family, and an inviting place for gathering friends. There is also the value of stability, having a sense of grounding as one puts down roots, and being a part of a larger community.
These dynamics speak to the idea of commitment, of taking responsibility, and investing not only money, but also time and effort to create a supportive environment that will nurture the growth of self and family.
Now, I find it very interesting that in the symbolic realm of Dreams, a house or home represents one’s self and/or soul, both the physical and the spiritual aspects of one’s existence. In dreams, the rooms of the home refer to various parts of the self. For example, the attic symbolizes the intellect, and the basement, the subconscious.
Not so long ago, we experienced a “Housing Crisis” or what was termed a “Housing Bubble, “ which, is typically characterized by rapid increases in the assessment of homes, until levels are reached that are unsustainable relative to incomes. This is then followed by plummeting home prices that find many owners in a position of having negative equity—which is to say, they have a mortgage debt higher than the value of their property.
So, how do these circumstances reflect our lives in a larger sense? Well, if we examine more closely the relative state of the current housing market, we may begin to see that metaphorically, the macrocosm mirrors the microcosm. It has become increasingly evident that as individuals, and collectively as a society, we too are in a crisis of body and soul.
It is as if we are embroiled in a drama of epic proportions. Like Oedipus Rex, in the Greek Tragedy by Sophocles, we are the cause of our own undoing. In the course of this classic play, the viewer comes to understand how the plague that has infected the city of Thebes is a metaphor for the internal state of the King. His figurative blindness, which, ironically, the blind seer, Tireseas, brings to light, and his inability to “Know Thyself,” along with his hubris, or excessive pride, are, ultimately, what lead to his fall from Grace.
Gnothi Seauton- “Know Thyself” and Maden Agon- “Nothing in Excess” flank the proneos, or forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The ancient Greeks held these two tenets as paramount to maintaining a balance in self and society.
This metaphor of the “state of the state” is also seen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. During the medieval period the sovereign was often referred to by the name of the country. So when Marcellus, a sentinel, expresses that, “…something is rotten in the state of Denmark…,” he is insinuating that the state is decaying because the King is corrupt. Analogously, the disintegration of our housing market may be viewed as symbolic of our internal states as individuals.
Practically speaking, we are currently putting out more than we are taking in… In a society where leveraging buyouts and hedging ones bets are the norm, the market value now placed on our homes has far outreached their true worth, because we have fallen into the trap of “living beyond our means.” Individually, we face the same plight, because our moral and spiritual bank accounts are languishing…
Metaphorically, we are all homeowners, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are being good stewards of what we possess. We’ve all been witness to homes in various states of disrepair, with overgrown lawns and gardens. We see detritus piled high on front porches, and spilling out of garages. Even if the home looks pristine on the outside, and the yard is immaculate, that doesn’t ensure the interior reflects the same, or that there is actually anything of substance on the inside. The same might be said for us. How do we outwardly reflect our internal lives?
This anecdote highlights the insidious problem of living beyond one’s means, and more poignantly, underscores the root cause of our physical and spiritual dilemma.
Family friends have a huge house a couple of blocks away. They drive two late model Mercedes Benz, she has a Cartier watch encrusted with diamonds... yet their house, according to one contractor, is "one snowstorm short of falling apart." It's completely empty inside, devoid of furniture - see as long as the flower planter is the biggest on the street no one realizes you can't afford to furnish the place…. But remember people, life in the Village is all about showing and not telling.
Like this family, so many of us have finally maxed out our resources, and are now in the midst of circumstances that will undoubtedly alter the way we function as a society. Should we choose to, however, we can use this crisis as an opportunity to create significant change within ourselves. It is no wonder we find ourselves in this predicament, as our value as individuals in this culture, according to documentarian, Annie Leonard, “is currently measured and demonstrated by how much we consume.”
She goes on to explain in her short film, The Story of Stuff (see the video attached at the end of this post) that there was a key shift in our attitude toward consumption, after World War II, because Industry wanted to perpetuate the wartime economic boom. Noted retail analyst of the time, Victor Le Beau articulated a notion that has become the standard for how our market functions, and underscores the source of this crisis of self and society.
He said, "Our enormously productive economy...demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.... We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate."
So it could be argued, then, that a major contributing factor to the critical “state of our state” is an inordinate level of dissatisfaction, rooted in our individual egos and spiritual selves. But how have we come to be so dissatisfied, and more importantly, what can we do about it?
Le Beau’s thesis points to the origin of our current condition. Far too many of us have lost our ability to find personal and spiritual satisfaction apart from our ability to acquire stuff. Many of us lack the resources and the tools to find contentment in our daily existence, or to plumb the depths of our spiritual nature.
Our rituals have come to include going to the mall, happy hour, acquiring the latest version of the new “it” item, serial dating, “reality” TV, surfing the net, and curating and posting the content of our lives for all the world to see. These things, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad. Though, they do become detrimental, when they are used as distraction from the immediacy of our experience, or a substitute meant to fill a deeply felt void. That void, I would venture to say, is a spiritual one.
We feed our bellies, our wallets, and our addictions, because we have forgotten how to feed our souls. We have mortgaged our mega Mc-Mansions on tree-lined streets, in our gated communities, but they are barren, devoid of spirit, on the inside. It seems these outsized fortresses now serve as symbols of our own inner-lives. They function as armor, as shields to protect us, not from the outside world but from ourselves.
In his book “We”, Robert A. Johnson, acclaimed Jungian Analyst, states that “… Westerners don’t really believe that we can experience…our spiritual life … while pursuing our ordinary daily lives on earth. It is hard for us to think of the two worlds, inner and outer, coexisting simultaneously in one human being. This is why we always try to embody the divine world in something or someone else outside ourselves.”
So it is, then, that we now pay homage to the Almighty Dollar, celebrities, and our manufactured mythologies of romantic love. These have become the focus of our adoration. They receive our worship and our reverence. Not our Self, not our soul…
Johnson goes on to say:
“Worse yet, some of us…simply don’t believe in the inner world; therefore, whatever we do with that unlived side of ourselves has to be unconscious, has to be projected out into the physical world…We talk of “soul” and “spirit,” but we don’t really believe in them. Over the centuries we have lost contact with the inner life and with its symbolism, as our culture has turned ever more literal and materialist.”
As a result, many in our Western culture only accept as reality what is tangible, that which can be perceived with our five senses. The rest, we feel, is all illusion. Conversely, many Eastern cultures believe that the physical world that surrounds us is illusory- that only the spiritual realm is real.
In Hindu myth, Maya is the goddess, who choreographs the dance of illusion, weaving an ethereal veil suspended between our human existence and reality, warping our perception of what is. It is often said that the purpose of practicing yoga or meditation is to “see through the veil of maya,” or illusion, to get to the heart of what is.
Jung believed, according to Johnson, that illusion is neither the inner world of the psyche, nor is it outer physical existence, but, rather, illusion is a distorted relationship between the two. We take what belongs in the realm of our psyche or soul self and we project it onto things outside of us. The homage we pay our possessions or to our romantic partners should be returned to its rightful place, to the Divine within us, and to the vessel that holds it.
It is safe to say that most of us readily accept we are physical beings. We are of the earth, made of flesh and bone, with drives, desires, passions and instincts. To our detriment, though, we are afraid of, or worse yet, reject out of hand, our spiritual complement. In so doing, we deny our self and others the benefit of our birthright, the Love, Light and Life Force that imbues us.
As human beings, we have the capacity to exhibit the full spectrum of emotions and actions of which our species is capable. That is not to say it is always appropriate or advantageous to do so. However, should we deny or disown the elements of our inner life, or the parts of our soul self that we construe as negative, should we reject or suppress what Carl Jung called our shadow self, or the unlived parts of our psyche, it will, inevitably, manifest somewhere else in our life. Try as we may, it will not be held down for long, and it will eventually rear its head in far more destructive ways, than had we acknowledged its existence all along with compassion and acceptance.
We may then project these unclaimed aspects of our self onto others, attributing our own fallibility, or worse yet, the greater aspects of our self, to others - friends, family, even our enemies. More often than not, however, we wind up thrusting them on the ones we hold dearest. In doing so, we clearly do our self and our loved ones a grave disservice. We endow and empower them with what we should rightfully claim as our own, both our positive and negative attributes.
We mistakenly confuse our inner life with the outer. We see the physical world refracted through the lens of our own inner distorted impressions. As Saint Paul so keenly observed, “Now we see as through a glass, darkly.” Maya’s veil of illusion is obscuring what is real.
So how do we rectify this distortion of reality? It comes back to taking ownership. Do we want to be mere renters or the owners of our life? We can choose to go through our days living the life of a leasee, living in fear of making commitments, picking up and moving on to the next thing, when we become disenchanted with our current situation, allowing others to be in control of our destiny, unwilling, or unable to make a true investment in our life, or we can make the choice, and take the risk to begin the process of nourishing and tending to both our outer and our inner existence.
We can begin this process simply by be willing to own all of our experience, in all its complexity, accepting it with reverence, excluding nothing. We can make the effort to embrace life utterly, with all its triumphs and tragedies, all its rewards and responsibilities. The great spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, so wisely shares that “we have to enter into life fully, in order to be free”.
Living a full life means not only inhabiting our daily existence. Were we only to focus on the mundane, we would find our self greatly out of harmony. The imbalance many of us are experiencing currently is the result of our neglect of our inner life. In order to be healthy, whole human beings, we must awaken to our spiritual life and inhabit it with equal conviction.
Taking ownership of our own destiny begins by making the effort to truly claim our life, to accept, without judgment, each experience and every aspect of our self with open arms. This requires unabashed courage.
The first rule I ever learned during my improvisational theatre training was to respond to anything that was offered with a resounding “Yes, and…. In essence, what this means is I accept what is given me, and I then work with it in a creative way to move a scene forward. The most challenging thing about saying “yes” is that it means we take everything, without exception, that life hands us.
That doesn’t mean we should accept things blindly, that we need stay in jobs that are demoralizing, or that we should remain in relationships or habits of mind and behavior that are destructive. What it does mean, rather, is that we take responsibility for our situation, and acknowledge that we always have a choice. We can take the wheel and become the master of our destiny, or we can remain in the passenger seat, living a life not of our design.
Taking control can be a difficult challenge for us, because more often than not, our habitual reaction to life is to say “No, but…”, the antithesis of forward motion. The response “No” inevitably stops life in its tracks. It dams up the flow of energy, or creative life force, and everything comes to a screeching halt.
We have the tendency to say no to the things that break with the status quo, that require us to change our current modes of thinking and behaving, and we say yes to those that allow us to continue on our tried and tested paths, even if we are spinning our wheels in ever deepening ruts. Yet, every experience we encounter creates our life. Denying or negating any of them won’t make them go away. They will continue to resurface, until we muster the courage to face them head on.
If we can’t or won’t take the risk to face both our inner and outer fears, or to meet the challenges of the spiritual and physical realms, then we are merely renters of our life; we do not truly own it. Are we worth the risk and commitment it will take to make a lasting change of value?
Moreover, what can we do, in practical terms, to begin to claim full stewardship of our life? I believe we need to start by changing our rituals, by replacing those that are soul suppressing with ones that are soul sustaining.
There are many paths to ownership, and it may be overwhelming to think that we have to change our whole way of doing things. So as not to throw us into shock, we begin with small steps. We pick one aspect of our life we’ve neglected or that has become out of balance and we begin there. Slowly, but deliberately, we start to change the patterns, erase the tapes; clear some space to receive the new.
How can we create some new rituals in our life? Perhaps, we begin by becoming physically active, if our life has become sedentary. We may spend an hour a week cleaning out the clutter in our house, remembering that the outer reflects the inner. We can clean out the clutter in our head, by spending an hour with our therapist, or an hour in Nature, or both. Treating our self regularly to some soul affirming activity, an “Artist’s Date”, as Julia Cameron refers to them, like visiting a museum or going to a concert is a nurturing, soul affirming act. Taking up a contemplative practice, like meditation, qigong or yoga supports our inner awakening to Spirit. We may begin to eat a more holistic diet, or jettison an unhealthy habit of body or mind.
Regardless of what it is, say, “ Yes”! By making an intention to change, we can create a supportive nurturing environment for the growth of our self and our soul. With this first step, we can begin the often arduous, but ever rewarding journey toward wholeness, as we integrate both the physical and spiritual aspects of our being. The Universe will support us, our friends and family, and our colleagues and lovers will support us…
“For, as Robert Johnson quotes in his book “We”, “…deep within each of us rises a “castle of white marble; at each of its thousand windows burns a lighted candle; at each a minstrel plays and sings a melody without end.” To find that wondrous palace we must look neither to things, to another person, nor to the other side of the grave, but within ourselves.”
"The world is a veil; pull it aside. Its comforts are snares; do not be caught. Its sorrows are fires; breathe none of their smoke. Beyond waking and dreaming, there is another intelligence. There is an elusive reality, glorious, overpowering, pervasive, changeless, and incorruptible. Yet we fall to disputing a single beam of light. Through the prism of self, we describe different colors with different words. We assume certainty and finality imagining that red contradicts violet, that green opposes blue. How far this is from the truth of things. From within this dream, you doubt what is real. In the waking world, you put aside your dreams. Yet asleep or awake, the world is false and fleeting. Shake off the sleep that you have called life, and the magic of these words will never diminish, the bowl of their excellence will never be drained."
~ The Trial of Paris by Da'ud ibn Tamam ibn Ibrahim al-Shawni
The week before I traveled to Albany to participate in a spiritual practice called Shiva Nights led by my guru, Her Holiness, Sai Maa, Laksmi Devi, I had a bout of food poisoning, I think. All I know is that something in me needed to be purged, and it was. It took most of that night, but I was rid of it by the next morning, though drained by the experience.
I have grown accustomed to these purgative experiences, as preludes to programs with Sai Maa. Without fail, some aspect of my life, about which I have been in denial, is brought to the surface so it can be washed clean. The transition may be rough, but the transformation is always worth the discomfort.
I have also come to understand that what makes the transition challenging or painful is resistance to the needed expansion. When we get locked into a pattern of thought or behavior, very often it is too close for us to see clearly, like holding a book right up to our face, or standing only inches away from a painting. The words or image become a blur. We know there is some meaning there, but our proximity distorts our view.
Shiva is part of the Trimurti, the triune Hindu God, expressed through Bhrama, the Creator, Vishnu, the Sustainer, and Shiva, the Destroyer. Shiva Nights is an opportunity for us to come face to face with the greatest impediment on our path to enlightenment, the ego. In order to reach attainment, we all must undergo a death and rebirth. We must die to the illusion, and relinquish all of the thoughts, behaviors, beliefs and concepts that perpetuate that unreality, all of the lies we tell ourselves about who we think we are.
My second Shiva Nights event, was truly a lesson in surrender, from performing seva, or selfless service in Sai Maa's room, to remaining present to the experience throughout the long nights of spiritual practice, to yet another purging that was going on in my Throat Chakra (I wound up with laryngitis Sunday morning when I woke up.)
Seva was exquisite. I was part of a team of four women, all of us were totally new to the process, but we collaborated well, worked efficiently, and enjoyed each other greatly. We mostly worked in silence, which amplified this act of reverence and devotion.
I knew this experience would likely provide me many opportunities to recognize the hold ego has on me. Initially, I thought I would be helping to prepare Maa’s wardrobe, as I worked as a Costume Designer for over 20 years, but instead I spent a lot of time washing dishes. The redirection of my efforts might have triggered some sense of indignation, but instead I felt blessed simply to be there and immersed my self in fully in the tasks I was given. Whatever was asked of me, I performed with humility and devotion. My act of service, more than anything, shifted my focus away from myself, and opened me to the grace of the Divine.
Later, I did get to draw on my aesthetic sensibilities and fabric draping experience, when I was asked to cover the hotel chairs and couch in white fabric, to create a sacred space for Mother Divine.
I was also tasked with helping to make up Sai Maa's bed, and arranging flowers throughout the rooms. While vacuuming the suite, I was even reminded of how much fulfillment I got from the job I had cleaning a professor’s home, during my undergraduate years at St. Lawrence University. It’s curious that I have never experienced any of the resistance to cleaning other people’s homes that I do with the prospect of cleaning my own, but that exploration is best left for another day. We fluffed a bit more and then went downstairs to await Sai Maa's arrival. After helping carry her luggage to the suite, I went back to prepare for the program.
The event itself was deeply transforming for me, a profound spiritual initiation. Leading up to the weekend in Albany, I was keenly aware of my intermittent sadhana practice, at times very focused and consistent and at others distracted and periodic, at best. I had asked Maa while in meditation for help with this.
Friday evening began with the administering of bhasma and kum kum, symbolic markings made on the forehead. Vibhuti, or ash collected from sacred fires, is drawn in three horizontal lines across the forehead. This bhasma, which literally means “disintegration,” reminds us of the ephemeral nature of life. Additionally, if we are to reunite with the Supreme Self, the “little-self,” the ego, must first be “burned to ash”. Our physical body, too, will eventually be reduced to the same. The ash that remains, after the disintegration of the false, represents the imperishable truth, that which cannot be destroyed.
The three lines represent the gunas or forces that create everything in the universe, seen and unseen. The lower line represents tamas, a state of inertia and darkness, the middle line symbolizes rajas, dynamic activity, and the top line is sattva, balance and illumination.
A dot of kum kum, made of ground turmeric, which is dried and powdered with a bit of slaked lime (not the fruit) that turns the rich yellow powder into a deep, red color, is placed beneath the bhasma, and is symbolic of Shiva-Shakti, the divine union of energy and matter, the foundation of all creation. The red dot or “tika,” symbolizes the transcendence of the gunas that the shkati, or creative energy can activate through the discipline of sadhana, or practice.
Steeped in meaning, adorned in white, we entered the hall in silence. Maa arrived in silence, as well, greeting us with nods, smile beaming and full of grace. As Maa spoke on the topic of discipline, a slow gradual change occurred. By the time darshan was offered, wherein the guru offers a blessing to each individual, Maa's demeanor was very intense, unlike I have ever experienced, except, perhaps, when Maa transformed into her guru, Sai Baba, before my eyes, during a program I previously attended in Albany.
There was an implacability and aloofness that was uncharacteristic. Once darshan ended, we began rounds of japa or chanting, followed by periods of meditation. At one point during meditation, I heard Maa near me. I felt really compelled to open my eyes. It seemed I could resist no more, and I did, and there was Maa in front of me. Our eyes met, and Maa pierced through me, forcefully saying, "Meditate!"
In that moment, I felt a shift occur, a shift out of my complacency. This lightening bolt of shakti, coupled with Maa's teaching on discipline, and it's critical role in the path toward enlightenment, had a powerful effect on me. The next night, Maa spoke of Baba's "eyeball erections," when Baba would penetrate Maa with laser beam eyes. I now knew what that felt like. It was similar to the shakti blast I received, during my Journey of Profound Healing, when Sai Maa expressed to me that if I wanted Maa to be my guru, I must understand she would not allow my ego to get any bigger.
Saturday night it was clarified for us that, in fact, it was not Maa who offered us darshan, but rather Shiva. This explained the unfamiliar energy Maa was emitting, and the detached air we all noticed, but could not reconcile. Then Sai Maa asked Trilokanad, her personal assistant, to explain that often members of Maa's "gang" will come through, using Maa’s brain and vocal chords to convey messages. Sai Baba, Saint Germaine, Arch Angel Michael, and the rest, evidently, all have very distinct personalities. Maa is completely unaware when this happens, and was not pleased that Shiva stepped in uninvited.
Little did I know Friday night that it would be the destructive force of Shiva that would propel me into a whole new relationship with my sadhana. When it comes to Shiva, it is always trial by fire. I reminded myself, I had asked for this, and I definitely got it. The reward of discipline is discipline, and the fruit of discipline is perfection, more specifically enlightenment. With that as my goal, surrender is critical. Resistance is futile, as the Borg would say.
Another thing I have learned over these last several years is that when I am preparing to write these blog posts, I can expect to receive assistance from unexpected sources.
One morning I was at the studio of renowned artist Jerome Witkin, who was a professor of painting at Syracuse University for decades. He had been working on a series about the Holocaust, and he was making the final painting, completing the opus he had been creating for some 20 years.
He asked me to model for him, calling me just about a week after my earlier mentioned purgation. Ironically, I would be posing as a woman throwing up, after having viewed a movie reel from the liberation of a concentration camp. The denial our country had been in, regarding the devastation and deprivation caused by the Nazi Machine, could no longer be ignored, and it was revolting and retched to behold.
I am very fond of Jerome, and every time I pose for him is a very rich experience. Though he has experienced a great amount of suffering, he seems to live a very charmed life, brimming over with extraordinary people, places and events. That day we talked about Music, Art, Philosophy, Spirituality, Theatre, and Movies. Somehow these topics weave together seamlessly. He ended by telling me I needed to watch a movie called Flight, staring Denzel Washington, directed by Robert Zemeckis. I told him I would.
As I sat down to work on this reflection, I kept being tugged toward the living room, guided to watch Flight. I kept resisting, because I knew the following day would be full of chores and appointments, and I wanted to be sure I had enough time to dedicate to writing. Self, my inner guide, was unrelenting, so I surrendered, leaving the laptop for the big screen.
I was not surprised to discover that thematically the film was right in tune with the focus of my writing. The hero, played by Washington, who might better be described as the “anti-hero” is a former navy pilot, who now flies commercial liners. He is riding high in more ways than one, and goes on a bender the night before he is to pilot a flight. He manages to crash-land his ill-fated plane with minimal loss of life, at once thrusting him into the spotlight as a hero.
Under the scrutiny of the government and the media he enters into a tailspin, fueled by alcoholism and drug use, both of which are supposed by the NTSB to be factors in the plane going down, which comes to light as a result of toxicology tests given all the crew members, evidence that his lawyer manages to get stricken from record. The suppression of this information does not make it go away, however. It only serves to amplify the Captain’s addiction.
What struck me in watching the film is that Whip Whitaker’s experience is characteristic of any mythical hero’s journey. He ventures into the unknown at a time of prominence, where he encounters challenges of various sorts. He then descends into a dark, mysterious place, performs certain rituals and is then called to return. I’ll refrain from getting too detailed here, so as not to spoil it for any of you who wish to view the film on your own.
Needless to say, the descent into darkness is the crux of the journey. Here the hero always must do battle with his shadow self. In the depths of the unconscious, the void, the realm of Shiva, the destruction of the ego begins to occur. In Whitaker’s case, as with most addicts, he had to hit rock bottom, the nadir, before any chance of redemption, but resistance to that expansion was powerful.
In deep denial, he claimed he could stop any time he wanted, that he was in control of his drinking. He was blind to his own bondage. He had surrendered to his addiction. It was only when Whip could not bare to continue perpetuating the illusion, could not stand to tell one more lie, that his salvation became possible. In order to be set free, he had to admit he was bound.
Sai Maa spoke of this bondage to which we are all subject. Alcoholism, drug use, gambling, sex, shopping - all are only symptomatic of a more insidious addiction, one that is at the root of all suffering, our addiction to the ego.
Maa asked, “Why it is so hard for us to surrender to God?” Why do we resist so desperately? Have we not already surrendered to the ego? How is that working? Why not give God a try and see what happens?
If we truly desire enlightenment, we must willingly journey into the unknown, yet the ego stirs up uncertainty, doubt and fear to keep us hostage, or it continually draws our attention to various distractions.
Surrender means to submit, to yield, to crumble, to cave. In the military sense, it means to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority. Do we not consistently submit to the authority of the ego?
To surrender in the spiritual or religious sense means we completely give up our own will and subject our thoughts, ideas, and actions to the will and teachings of a higher power. To give up our will, we must raise it in vibration, aligning with the Higher Will.
In the 12 Step recovery model, among other things, one must:
As I looked more closely at this model, I realized most of these steps strongly correlate to the hero’s mythic journey of transformation, which always begins with a struggle, leading to the decent into the unconscious. The hero or heroine caves into darkness, resulting in the rediscovery of Self. Along the way, skills are gathered, allies provide guidance or resources, atonement is required, and a reunion with the soul is necessary. Ultimately, the hero must share what he has learned with others.
In answer to my plea for help, the experience of Shiva Nights brought into focus my own ego addiction. I was in denial, thinking I had everything under control. In the dark of these two consecutive nights, I plunged into unfamiliar territory. In this crucible of intense spiritual practice, I struggled with myriad distractions and patterns of thought and behavior, which I am now aware no longer serve me. I battled my shadow self, and brought to the surface what needed to be cleansed, burned up in the sacred fire of Shiva. I was taught skills, provided resources and guided by others, laying a new foundation on which to reestablish my spiritual practice. I acknowledged and accepted my ignorance, and recognition of the Divine within me allowed for a joyous reunion with my soul, and I now have the opportunity to share my experience with others.
Our path toward enlightenment is individual, because no one else has ever walked it before. It uniquely reveals itself to us, and is carved out in each unfolding moment of our experience, manifesting the energies we have taken birth to bring into balance. Others have created their own paths before us and may serve as guides, but ultimately we must find our own way.
Our sadhana, or spiritual practice is like a machete we use to cut away at the thick undergrowth that obstructs the clear way through. Our discipline is the manner in which we wield the knife. If we are lax with our grip, our sadhana will lack focus. If we are too aggressive, there is likelihood we will injure ourselves in our over zealousness. As we remove the impediments, all distraction falls away, and there is nothing left separating us from Self. The ego generates obstacles, clinging vines of thought that string us up, pit falls of past patterning to trap us in emotional quagmires, believing that if we move we will surely drown.
Recognition of our current state of bondage is essential. We must be willing to come out of denial, to stop lying to ourselves that we’ve got it all under control. Surrender. Cease resistance and submit to the authority of our highest aspect, the Self. It is only in giving up that we can rise to the height of our potential. This is our hero’s apotheosis, our crowning glory, when we are exalted, in full possession of our birthright and using our power for the greatest good of all.
Several years ago, as I sat in a darkened theatre with my children at Syracuse Stage, awaiting the start of Looking-glass Alice, a play adapted by David Catlin, I knew that I was in for something very special. What I never anticipated was that the evening’s entertainment would strike such a resounding cord in me.
I was poised to be transported, for the span of an hour and one half, into another world, to be whisked away for a brief time from what we might call “reality” into a world where nothing is as it appears. Game for adventure, I was oh so willing to go along for the ride.
The production, a highly stylized adaptation, traced the arc of Alice’s journeys down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass into Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s themes and metaphors, adapted by the playwright and expressed in visual terms by the designers and actors, resonated with me deeply, and clearly reflected my own spiritual journey back to me. The experience ultimately inspired me to revisit the books that informed the play and to see Tim Burton’s film, which I also attended with my children, and finally to write about my insights here. This blog will only scratch the surface, though I have intentions of exploring these notions further at some point.
Imagine for a moment a few select scenic elements artfully arranged on a stage that create the impression of a Victorian drawing room. A high winged-backed chair and end table sit to the right of a large marble fireplace, topped by an enormous, ornate gilt framed mirror, which commands center stage. Long, black curtains hang from the grid above, extending to the stage floor, either side of the fireplace, creating the appearance of a wall. Two delicate statuettes, also under glass, flank a domed chime clock, centered on the mantle. A chessboard lies on the floor in front of the chair, the game already underway. Downstage left a tasseled ottoman rounds out the stage picture.
As the house went to black, sweet youthful laughter, underscored by a child’s tinkling piano, punctuated a montage of well-known nursery rhymes. A gentle man’s voice then wove into the soundscape expressing that “Alice, in her later years, would keep the dream of Wonderland alive in her simple and loving heart.”
The lights came up, and there was Alice sitting in the chair, legs flung over the side, scolding a stuffed animal named Kitty, who was all tangled up in a ball of yarn.
In due course, I came to learn that the disembodied voice belonged to Mr. Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, Alice’s friend, to whom she and her siblings played muse for his seemingly nonsensical tales of whimsy. Alice then offered the suggestion to the stuffed cat that they pretend to be queens. Kitty would be the Red Queen and Alice, the White.
As Alice explained to her friend that when pretending “shutting one’s eyes tighter and tighter is always of some use”, the mantle clock began to chime. With 11 o’clock Alice began counting the chimes aloud. Dodgson’s voice joined in at 12. There was a slight pause and then…one final chime. “Thirteen? Curious?”
Struck by the oddity of the extra toll of the bell, Alice proceeded to the mantle to look at the clock, shocked to find Dodgson gazing back at her from the other side of the mirror.
Alice and Dodgson, each needing a closer look, began to climb up onto the mantle, movements perfectly synchronized. Hands outstretched, just shy of touching, they mirrored each other in a choreographed pantomime, until they simultaneously passed through the looking glass to the other side.
At that moment the work lights on stage came up, the curtains were torn asunder by the stage crew, and the stage manager’s voice, giving sound and light cues, came over what we is ironically call the ‘God’- mic. The 4th wall, a theatrical convention, which creates the illusion of time and space, had been completely shattered.
The world of theatre, in which I spent over 20 years working as a designer and actor, is one of imagination and illusion. Through a series of stage conventions we co-create whole worlds that begin with the power of the word.
From those mere words of the script, we theatre artists begin to visualize all of the possible expressions for the author’s intent. We then begin to make choices from the inspiration we have gathered in our research. We weed out the images that don’t support the author’s intent, and we hold onto only those concepts that serve the good of the play. From those visions we formulate pictures, fine tuning as we go, always returning to the source, the word, for our inspiration and guidance, and finally from those pictures the world of the play becomes manifest.
This world is complete, a unified whole, a sensory symphony of component parts, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and even sometimes oral. It is the perfect environment, created specifically for a particular cast of characters to unfold their story in space and time.
We have all heard the phrase, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” The beginning words of a much longer monologue from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Essentially, these words point to the fact that like the world of the theatre, what we consider the “reality” of our lives is, in effect, an illusion. It is just as ephemeral, transitory, and impermanent, a fabrication born in the mind of the creator. And each of us is that creator.
The English poet and aesthetic philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, coined the term “willing suspension of disbelief.” In the context of the theatre, it refers to the willingness of the audience member to overlook the limitations of the form, and agree, for the duration of the play, to accept what he or she is viewing as truth or “real.”
Is this not exactly what we do in every moment of our existence in this physical form we call a body? Are we not all authors and artists, each creating in every moment the reality of our experience? I say, “Yes!” emphatically. However, most of us just aren’t doing it consciously. As I watched the play and film, and reread these Lewis Carroll stories, it became clear to me that Alice represents us, or more specifically, our souls.
Before incarnation we are one with Source, or God, until that Divine essence decided it wanted to know itself more fully, at which time it scattered itself into myriad forms, the un-manifest became manifest in the act of creation, and our souls were “born.” Something within our souls stirs us to go forth into the realm of duality, and we enter into a world of time and space, cause and effect. Thus we begin the cycle. We step onto the Wheel of Fortune, the wheel of karma, the circle of life.
As sparks of divinity wanting to experience ourselves through creation, we choose to separate from Source, the One, to descend, or lower our vibration, and enter into this world of infinite contrast, into a world that we create in every moment through our sense perceptions. Why, you might ask, would we do such a thing? Curiosity. We are just like Alice.
Sitting in her garden, rather bored with her idyllic, ordered life, she takes the fall. “Burning with curiosity” upon spying a waistcoat wearing white rabbit carrying a pocket watch, (a metaphor for space and time), she, like the Fool of the Tarot, takes the leap, willingly plunging down the rabbit hole after him, “never once considering how in the world she was going to get out again.”
Thump, she hits bottom and finds herself in a darkened room, or is it a womb? Before her are a number of doors, all of which are locked. There is seemingly no way out. Then she spies a curtain, behind which is a tiny little door. It too is locked, but there is a key resting on a glass table. At her size, how will she ever get through?
Beneath the table she sees a little bottle, with the words “Drink Me.” written on it. Without question Alice quaffs it down, and the transformation begins… Expansion and contraction, evolution, first too big, so we try the little cake, then too small, until finally we find the right size and shape.
As Source Energy, we are too vast, infinite in fact, to enter into this world, so we lower our vibration and come into a state of being, the human form, which evolved over millennia, a body perfectly fit for our entry into our lives on planet Earth.
All that life force contained in such a tiny package makes the passage out a rough one. Key in hand, we make our way to the door, unlock it, and squeeze our way through into the light of day, into a world of duality, a world of opposites, where nothing is what it seems, where everything is upside down and backwards.
Only, in all the activity and commotion of our entry into this strange and magical world, we leave the key behind. This golden key is the knowledge that we are Source Energy, we are God, and that we chose to come forth to co-create our own experience.
Throughout these fantastical Alice stories, our young heroine holds several specific intentions. In each story she is trying desperately to make her way to a garden she sees off in the distance. She also wishes to be a queen, and in the end to make her way home.
When we begin to wake up and to walk the spiritual path we come to realize that this is what each of us is attempting to do. But like Alice we encounter various obstacles we need to overcome, in order to become the sovereign of our own lives, and find our way home to the garden. The biggest one of these is our own mind. For it is from here that all our impediments emanate.
These seemingly nonsensical tales hold great wisdom. Quite often truth is shown to us through unconventional means. The language of the soul is very often not heard by the rational mind. Generally, it comes to us in dreams, in visions, in “out of the way” experiences, as Alice would say, and through a curious cast of unlikely characters, just like those she encounters in her Adventures in Wonderland.
There's a story in which a professor visited a Japanese master to inquire about the nature of Zen. While the master quietly prepared and served tea, the professor spoke about his understanding of Zen. The master began to pour tea for his guest. Though the visitor's cup became full, still the master kept pouring. Tea spilled out of the cup, and onto the table.
The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer contain himself. "Master,” he cried, “the cup is full!" "It will hold no more!", he blurted. "You are like this cup," said the master, “full of your own opinions, concepts, and perceptions. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
For Alice the journey through Wonderland is a process of unlearning, of letting go of her attachment to everything she ever believed about herself and the world around her, in order to finally embrace a world of unlimited possibility. She must step through the looking glass, leaving behind her firmly rooted concepts of reality, so she can ultimately claim her full power and crown herself creator of her own dream.
Not long after Alice arrives in Wonderland, she is mistaken for somebody else. The White Rabbit takes her for his maid. And not being one to question his authority, and fearful of what might happen should she contradict him, she accepts the role that is thrust upon her. In no time, she is expanding and contracting again, trying to conform to the wishes and desires of someone else. She becomes so misshapen that she gets stuck inside the rabbit’s house.
Most of us, at some point in our lives have fallen into this same trap. Not firm in our own sense of who we really are, we accept other’s opinions about us, thus giving away our power. Like Alice, we are made prisoners of our own fear, afraid to be our true selves. Real authority, which comes from the root word, author, means we take control and responsibility for writing the scripts of our lives. When we consciously begin to create our destiny, authority will come.
Alice is repeatedly asked a series of questions. The most critical comes by way of a hookah-smoking caterpillar. This peculiar little guru asks of Alice“ Who are you?” She responds rather shyly, “I~ I hardly know, Sir, just at present~ at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.” The caterpillar replies rather sternly, “Explain yourself!” “ I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir” says Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
You see, when we get into a pattern of changing ourselves, morphing and adapting to meet the needs and wishes of others, we lose sight of who we really are, until we don’t even recognize ourselves anymore.
As she makes her way onward, Alice next encounters a friendly, toothy grinned feline, whom she asks, “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” the Cheshire Cat replies. “I don’t much care where,” says Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” is the reply.
The truth is, when we are unspecific or confused about our intentions, we cannot claim the help the universe and our Higher Self are continually and consistently offering us. We only get back what we put out. So, if we are ambivalent, our experience will lack focus and be filled with confusion. We must know our intentions, stand firm in them, and only then will the path unfold to lead us in the direction we want to go.
Alice then meets up with the Mad Hatter, March Hare and the Door Mouse. They only serve to unravel her sense of reality even more, challenging her concepts of language, time and space, and ultimately of her self. The Mad Hatter says of Time, “If you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you like with the clock.”
We continually speak of wasting time, losing time, and being out of time. Is it any wonder we never seem to have enough of it? The truth is that time is an illusion too. When we begin to understand this we realize there is enough time for everything we could possibly need or desire to do. It is malleable like clay, we can mold it to our needs and no longer be a slave to it.
In Through The Looking Glass, Alice happens upon Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee and is presented with probably the most confounding and troubling information yet from this dynamic duo. The peculiar pair directs her attention toward the Red King, who is sleeping under a tree. Tweedle-dee asks, “What do you think he is dreaming about?” When Alice says she couldn’t possible know, he goes on to tell her, the King is dreaming about her. “And if he left off dreaming, Tweedle-dee continues, where do you suppose you’d be?” “Where I am now of course.” says Alice. “Not you! You’d be nowhere.” he replies. “Why you’re only a sort of thing in his dream! If that thing were to wake, you’d go out – bang- just like a candle!”
In the Hindu tradition, the God Vishnu is pictured as the divine dreamer of the world dream. Vishnu sleeps on a great, coiled serpent named Ananta, which means "Endless." The serpent floats on the cosmic ocean, called the Milky Ocean. The ocean, the serpent and the sleeping god: these are all aspects of the same thing, Mind. It is from the One Mind that all creation is born.
The God Vishnu sleeps and the activity of his mind stuff creates dreams, and we, and everything in the material plane, are components of that dream. Just as all the images that we perceive and all the people who appear in our dreams are really manifestations of our own sub-conscious mind, so are we all manifestations of Vishnu or God’s dreaming power. We and everything in our environment are no more “real” than the characters in our own dreams.
Tweedle-dee really begins to strike a raw nerve with Alice. She becomes mightily defensive, because now he is threatening her concept of her very existence. Not her physical existence, mind you, but that of her ego. It is the ego-mind that resists the notion that we all thoughts in the mind of God, cells in the body of God. It is the ego that clings to the illusion that we are unique, separate individuals with limited means and a finite shelf life.
One of the most memorable characters in these tales, and certainly the loudest, is the Queen of Hearts, also referred to as The Red Queen, who is oft-times heard screaming, “Off with their heads!”
The Red Queen in all her brazen bluster is the representation of the ego mind, or the false self. Alice, in both tales, comes up against, and firmly butts heads with this mad Queen, whose reaction to anyone who threatens her authority is to relieve them of their crown. Neither does Alice escape her ire.
It is only by facing her head on, pun intended, and challenging her authority that Alice comes into her full power and finally sees how insignificant and puny the Red Queen really is.
This is our ticket home. Only when we let go the strangle hold our ego minds have on us, can our souls begin to regain their strength and sing. When the voice of the ego is finally subdued and brought into balance, we will hear the still small voice within that tells us we need not look outside ourselves for directions to the garden.
Paradoxically, the Queen of Hearts actually had something there. We, in fact, must lose our heads in order to regain awareness of our souls and our true nature. The costume design in Tim Burton’s movie, depicting the Red Queen with an outsized head is brilliant, indeed.
I love the message on my Uncle Paul’s voice mailbox. He is a Jesuit and a brilliant, profoundly funny man. When I call, and he is unable to answer, I hear his rich baritone voice say, “I’m either out of my room, out of the country, or out of my mind.”
It is ironic that the character in these stories that is the least kind, the most selfish, and un-evolved, is the Queen of Hearts. The irony is not lost here, the message is very clear; in order to rediscover who we really are we need to “lose our minds;” we need to move out of our heads and into our hearts.
The heart is the gateway to our creative, intuitive and spiritual centers, the home of the sub-conscious mind, fertile ground from which springs our imagination, and all that we ultimately create. This is where our souls reside. When we turn inward, and turn off the Jabberwocky in our conscious minds we can begin to open our hearts and hear the inner word, our true song that will sing us home.
We are often told we need to follow or chase after our dreams. However, this implies that they are somewhere out ahead of us or beyond our reach. This is why Alice was having so much difficulty making her way to the garden. The fact is our dreams and the garden dwell within us. We do not need to look without for the answers. They already exist right where we are. All we need do is turn our focus inwardly… return to the home of the Word, the Source. Only then will the garden, and our dreams reveal themselves to us. We too, like Alice, must “keep them alive in our simple and loving hearts.”
What is life? Simply defined, we might say life is movement. It is the Vital Life Force pulsating through us, the vibration of the Universe stirring creation into being. In the Yogic tradition, this Life Force is referred to as prana; for the Chinese, it is called chi or qi, and the Japanese name it ki. Prana, in Sanskrit, also translates to breath. The Greek word for breath is pneuma, which also means “soul” or “spirit,” and is referred to as spiritus in Latin.
One day, while peddling away on a bike at the gym, I was reading an interview with the actor Bradley Cooper, in a copy of Details Magazine. In the piece, he was discussing how his father’s death had impacted him, responding to the question had it made him more religious. I was struck by his answer. After paying homage to his father for planting the seeds of faith in him through his Catholic upbringing, he concluded by saying, “Am I a spiritual person today? Yes. I don't know how I could not be. It's like saying, "Do you breathe?"
We are all spiritual. Whether or not we know it or believe it, because we breathe, we are spiritual beings. The breath that fills our lungs, that nourishes our bodies is the breath of the Cosmos. You might say our inhalation is God’s exhalation. Through the breath we comingle with the Divine. Breath is sound vibration, the music or underlying soundtrack that accompanies the dance of life.
I’ll repeat Cooper’s question, “Do you breathe?” “Well, of course I breathe,” you would say. But, really, do you breathe? Do you breathe? What is it that breathes? Do you consciously say to yourself, “I am inhaling; now, I am exhaling.” That would be ridiculous and debilitating. Fortunately, the breathing, along with all the other functions of the body, is governed by the subconscious mind, one aspect of the Higher Self or Super-Conscious Mind. If we consciously had to think about breathing, we would not be able to do anything else. More importantly, if breathing were ruled by the conscious mind, when we went to sleep or lost consciousness, we would stop breathing and die in mere moments.
In essence, the breath breathes us; the Universe or God is breathing us. This Divine Life Force animates, supports and sustains us. We are, or rather this body is, simply a vessel, a container, the vital energy may flow through, for the purpose of experience in the material plane.
Now, this vessel must be in a condition suitable to house the Life Force, or prana. When there is contraction or constriction in the body, emotions or mind, the Life Force becomes obstructed. When this occurs chronically, the body moves into a state of imbalance, or disrepair. Should this continue unresolved, the Life Force can no longer be properly supported and will, eventually, leave. Once gone, it is not long before the body begins to decay. We refer to this process as death.
There is a Vedic story about prana found in the Upanishads. The five main faculties of our physical nature - mind, breath, speech, the ear and the eye - were all arguing over which was the best and most important. (This illustrates how these faculties, when not well integrated, compete for dominance of our attention.) To resolve their conflict, it was decided that each would leave the body and then it would be determined whose absence was most critical to the wellbeing of the whole.
First speech left, and the body continued to function, though mute. Then the eye left, and the body continued on blind. The ear left next, and the body kept on, though deaf. Subsequently, mind left, and the body carried on in unconsciousness. Finally, prana began to depart, and the body quickly began to die, so all of the other faculties started to lose their energy. Immediately, they all rushed to prana and begged it to stay, hailing it as supreme among them. Prana/Life Force provides the energy for all our physical, emotional, and mental faculties, without which they could not function. If we do not honor prana first, there is no energy with which to do anything else. Thus, Breath is Life.
Contrary to what many believe, it is not the lungs that breathe, but rather the cells. Every cell of the body breathes. Every cell requires food to function optimally. Oxygen is the primary food that nourishes every cell. Each cell cries out for oxygen. Like Audrey ii from Little Shop of Horrors, they shout, “Feed me! Feed me!”
Our ability to breathe is affected by the functionality and effort of every cell in the body. Generally speaking, we only allow a fraction of the cells in the body the oxygen they require; most are sorely neglected. For cells to function properly, they must be able to access their food, the oxygen, from the breath.
If the cells are not working, they are not hungry, and therefore do not draw in the requisite food or oxygen necessary for their vital function. If the cells do not eat or take in oxygen and then release their waste, such as carbon dioxide, they die. When the cells die, we die.
If we do not work, we are not hungry. Consider what happens when someone is depressed. They are likely, before long, to become lethargic, and very soon may follow a loss of appetite. If our cells are inactive, they too lose their appetite.
How do we encourage the cells to eat? We must encourage their appetite for oxygen, which means we must get them moving. Certainly exercise is one primary way to get all of the cells in the body moving - that is, functioning to their full capacity - firing on all pistons, you might say.
All the body’s cells engage in cellular respiration. They use oxygen and glucose, a sugar found in many foods we eat, and convert them to ATP (adenosine triphosphate), or cellular energy, and carbon dioxide. ATP transports chemical energy within cells to support the metabolic function.
This is how a cell eats and then excretes its waste. If that is not happening in a balanced way, the cell becomes poisoned and dies. Imagine what would happen if we ate but were unable to properly eliminate the waste. Our body would toxify and we would become very ill and ultimately expire.
The cells receive their nutrients through a continuous interplay between the blood and lymph, which is a salty liquid that bathes the cells. The lymph carries toxins and waste away from the cells and transports infection fighting white blood cells through the body. In addition to the rhythmic contraction of the lymph cells, the abdominal muscles serve as a pump that helps move the lymph and blood into and out of the chest cavity to other parts of the body.
Cells are microscopic, tiny little living beings. We must feed them oxygen in increments they can handle. If we were to eat without chewing our food, we would choke, and if we were able to get the huge pieces down, the body would not be able to effectively absorb all the vital nutrients contained in it.
Similarly, if we were to drive a car, alternately flooring the accelerator and then jamming on the breaks, not only would we get really car-sick, but pretty soon the car would revolt and stop functioning.
This, in essence, is what occurs with our breathing when we are consumed by our emotions, stuck in a pattern of what might be called “negative” emotions, such as hate, anger, fear, anxiety, depression, or grief, to name a few. When in these states we are caught in a pattern of choking or interrupted breathing. Remember that poor car from a moment ago.
When we stop and start the breath in an arrhythmic pattern, we can vacillate between high and low blood pressure. Sometimes we hold the breath and the carbon dioxide too long in the body, causing an overly acidic environment, creating inflammation, which leads to dis-ease. And very often, the body is too tired to work, incapable of taking in the required oxygen. Regardless, one or all of these scenarios will eventually kill us. So, in order for our body to remain in optimal working order, we must move the body regularly, encouraging the cells to work, and we must breath mindfully, slowly and rhythmically, so the cells can readily absorb the oxygen that nourishes them.
An article in Time Magazine written by Clare Grodon posits, “when choir members sing together, it’s not just their voices that join in harmony.”According to a study published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, when choir members sing together, their heart rates tend to synchronize and beat as one. A team of Swedish researchers discovered this synchronicity induces a sense of calm, consistent with the effects of the practice of yoga.
This is how it works: A long nerve called the vagus nerve — Latin for “wandering” — trails down from the brain stem into the body, where it enervates the heart along with other visceral organs. Exhaling activates the vagus nerve, which slows the heart’s pulse. So, if a group’s breathing is in sync, then it makes sense that the beating of their hearts will be too.
According to the study, the unified heart rate isn’t just a nice warm fuzzy — it has real, emotional effects. The vagus nerve conveys sensory information about the state of the body’s organs to the central nervous system. So this primary nerve that affects the heart plays a major role in a person’s sense of arousal or calmness.
The more slowly and rhythmically we breathe, the more easily it is for the cells to take in oxygen, so they can function maximally. The slower the heart rate, the easier it is to initiate the relaxation response, the opposite of the fight, flight or freeze reaction. It is a “physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress.”
In the Yogic Tradition, we have a practice known as pranayama. Prana, as previously stated, is the Vital Energy in the body. It is also the breath or the vehicle via which the Life Force circulates through the body. Yama means to control or to direct, in this case. Through many of these breath practices, we can initiate the relaxation response, which raises our quality of life immensely.
Practice the following simple breath pattern, to awaken your awareness of the Life Force, to amplify the Vital Energy, and then to begin to direct it through the body for purification and healing.
Allow the breath to fill the torso from the bottom up, moving through the pelvis into the abdominal region, and finally up into the chest cavity. Let the belly be soft, as you inhale richly and deeply, and then gently contract the abdominal muscles throughout the exhalation. Inhale smoothly and fluidly for a count of 4. Then hold the breath for 4 beats (less if you find you are straining). Finally, release the breath gradually and completely for 4 counts, or until you can exhale no further. Repeat for 4 cycles. Observe how you feel physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, after you complete the practice. Gradually, with more practice, lengthen the number of cycles and the duration you inhale/hold/exhale. Eventually, you will find the ease of breath to exhale about 1/3 longer than you inhale. This particular ratio really serves the relaxation response.
BREATHE. LIVE. BE.
Katrin Naumann worked for 20 years as a Theatre Artist, both behind the scenes as a Costume and Scenic Designer, and on stage, film and TV, as an Actor. She has been a lifelong adventurer on the path of Self discovery, which has led to her current role as Director of Inner Balance Life Works. Her holistic healing practice focuses on offering pathways toward (R)evolutionary Self Transformation. Katrin serves the community as an Energy Healer, Intuitive Spiritual Guide, Qigong & Yoga Instructor, Author, Public Speaker, and Workshop Creatrix.