Unified Soul, Unified Self

Cornaro window

The elusive it we are seeking has so many different names. Union. Wholeness. Oneness. Balance. Wisdom. Enlightenment. Love.

All are shades of a desire to feel complete, to feel as if we can quit hoping and striving for Truth and just experience it.

An idea that keeps cropping up that I think helps us to get closer to this better place: non-duality.

Andrew Harvey was the first person I ever heard talk about having a non-dual relationship with the Divine. He offered the line by Sufi mystic Al Hallaj:

Between me and You, there is only me
Take away the me so that only You remain

The simple mathematics of this wisdom always stays with me. Meet the Divine by removing the only barrier that stands between us and God: the human ego.

Harvey talks a great deal about recognizing that we are not separate from God, but that we all carry the Sacred within us. We are all containers that hold Divine love and so we are always in union with God – if only we can allow this infinitely intimate relationship.

This idea of non-duality is also a beautiful way to look at the relationship that we have with our own true selves.

When we try to fool ourselves and the world that we really are several different people (the work self, the home self, the practical self, the creative self), we are setting up another set of barriers between us and happiness. We pretend that we can be productive and accomplished only if we can create a cast of characters who manage different aspects of life.

But, where ever you go, there you are – right? We need to lose the illusion that we can ever actually splinter ourselves or get in the way of our relationships with the true self.

What would happen if we all realize that the true sense of who we are does not have to be kept separate from the real world because we feel like we need to wear masks of protection?

How sweet could life be if we stopped living according to the dictates of the fragile ego and started living through the wisdom of the soul?

Between false self and true, there is only fear
Take away the fear so that only truth remains

Healing is the Dance to Awakening

And so the first year of my healing classes concluded today. For all of the mad and beautiful directions that I have flown in the last few days, I give you something simple, a definition of healing that I love to wrap my mind around:

To heal someone is to facilitate her awakening.

Dornburg fuschia

It is not about the healer, it is not about specialized training, it is not about trying to do anything specific. It is about helping another person, in some small way, move from the fog of daily life into a place of glittering awareness.

Again, that idea of acting the midwife rises to the surface, and again it has nothing to do with the physical journey of bringing forth a child. The deeper I get into training as a healer, the less mystical the process begins to seem in some ways. I am realizing that the nation of healing is a truly democratic one, a place that is open to all people who look upon others with compassion and wish for the very best in this world.

Every day, I begin to understand that change really does begin within the individual and then ripples into the greater pool of life. This belief allows me to say that healing really is as simple as opening our eyes to our true selves. From that place of wholeness we can then see that we are all connected to the Divine Source. Connection to the Great Spirit, in turn, binds us all to one another because if God is in one of us then God is in all of us. We can always hold that sacred nature in common with all beings.

We are not all called upon to take up the title and duties of healers, but we are all born into a relationship with the earth and the life that surrounds us. In that relationship can we find the connection and the compassion to help carry others along to new senses of awakening?

Let Go of the Stories that Bind You, Grab Hold of the Universe

End of a Cape Beach Day

Today was the first of my three day long healing class. It’s a two year program that meets at the change of every season and this session marks the end of the first year. An eclectic program mainly informed by our teacher‘s studies with the indigenous people of Peru, the class has taken me further into an experience of energy healing than my previous work with Reiki every allowed me to imagine.

One thought I want to share before I drift off to sleep (kind of funny how having been exposed to tons of new energy can make you exhausted). It is actually something I would have expected to pick up at a yoga retreat or in a workshop on Eastern thought because it is all about attachment.

I think Westerners’ most common negative reaction to their first introduction to Buddhism is rooted in a wariness of any philosophy that directs adherents to avoid attachment. What kind of life would it be to walk around refusing to care about anything or anyone, right? I understand that this is a gross misreading of one of the Four Noble Truths, though I admit, beyond the little epiphany I had today, which had nothing directly to do with Buddhism, I know relatively little about that path.

In class we were discussing the images and impressions that we as healers might receive while working on a client. Our teacher cautioned us against putting too much stock in those stories because, without a great deal of experience, it is very difficult to tell if those visions are refractions of the healer’s state of mind. In the same vein, she suggested that any information we get about our own or others’ past lives should be valued for the themes and the real emotional stuff contained within rather than be savored for their fascinating plot turns and exotic characters.

At first, I was sort of disappointed to be told that as soon as we begin to sharpen our intuitive skills we should ignore a lot of the information we receive. As a reader and writer of fiction, I was dismayed to think about tossing out all of those perfectly good stories!

Then the idea began to take shape in my mind and I was able to absorb the wisdom at the core of these warnings. Rather than limiting our experiences as healers or as spiritual seekers in telling us to forget the juicy stuff, we are actually being passed the keys to a much greater kingdom.

If we had the chance to connect to all of the energies that swirl around at the level of the Soul and tie us to the Divine, why would we decide to play it small? When we get stuck in our own little stories we choose the narrowness of one human lifetime over the infinite potential of the Universe. Getting trapped in our own narratives, be it during a healing session or during meditation or prayer, keeps us from experiencing true consciousness, real awareness.

The reason to pursue non-attachment is not because we fear having possessions or getting too close to other people. The reason to try to attain non-attachment is that only by walking away from our own little dramas can we truly connect with God.

Does putting it this way sound as foreign as when a monk in saffron robes describes it? Like I said, I am entirely too sleepy to string sentences together and I may not be doing this idea justice. Somehow if I think about detaching from the mental junk that ties me down not because it is bad to have desires but because it’s all just static that keeps me from deepest wisdom, I become a lot more relaxed about just letting go.

Isn’t a chance at getting a glimpse of Divinity worth sacrificing a few lousy childhood memories or knowing that you were once reincarnated as a tribesman in the Amazon or the Pope in Rome?

MORNING AFTER SYNDROME WISDOM: Looking back on this post (I thought as I was going to sleep that I was missing something), I want to make sure to say that our stories are still important, it’s just that we cannot get exclusively caught up in the details. We need to mine our own stories for deeper truths, for the real threads that create the tapestries of consciousness.

Also, I also understand that though I borrowed the concept of “attachment” from Buddhism, it has very little to do with that tradition – I think it is more spun by a 21st century Western spiritual seeker ethic (oh, wait, that’s me) than anything else.

The Spiritual Mix: Oneness Across Faiths

Two and a half years ago my perspective on spirituality shifted dramatically to encompass a new world of faiths and possibilities. Unknowingly, I had been working the soil for this new flowering for some time, but it was at the Omega Institute’s Being Fearless Conference that I heard Caroline Myss and Andrew Harvey speak and everything changed.

Caroline Myss gave me a new window on my own Christian heritage as she introduced a full ballroom of people to their interior castles. Through her lecture I found the courage to to find solace in the wisdom of a saint for the first time. For all that I internalized my Catholicism, there were major aspects – namely the bits I now find most compelling, the saints and mystics – that were largely absent in the sanitized “Spread the good news: Jesus is love” catechism of the 1980s. I knew Myss’s work as a healer (The Anatomy of the Spirit had long been a bible of mine), and I was so thrilled to follow her on this new path back into my own history.

Andrew Harvey’s sessions interested me because the titles of his seminars mentioned the divine feminine. For all my goddess worship over the last decade, I was pretty sure that I had heard it all, but I could use a refresher. Hearing that familiar message from the mouth of a man would be an interesting new twist. Man, was I wrong! The world was turned upside down when the words of a Catholic saint offered comfort and the Great Mother, for all her power to nurture, was also the avenging Kali telling us that we had gone too far as we destroyed the planet and each other. Harvey helped pull my adoration of the sacred feminine into adulthood, stripping it of the girl power pablum I had needed when I first began to understand womanhood and instead offering a mature realization of the mothering nature of God and its essential relationship with the masculine principle.

Harvey is a scholar of the great world religions, and he also introduced me to the undiscovered territory of mystical Islam, Sufism, and the spiritual power of the poet Rumi. At an extended weekend workshop I attended shortly after that first conference, he gave the group Rumi’s own chant and offered it as something to “use at the core of our lives.” Having never found a Sanskrit mantra that really “stuck” in my yoga practice, I was amazed to realize that this little line in Arabic became a gentle, perfect hum in the back of my mind that I could call upon whenever I needed solace.

Reading Sister Joan Chittister’s blog today, I was immediately drawn in by the title of her post “A Glimpse of Oneness for a Change.” “Oneness” is such an important yet amorphous term – to me it means the understanding that every person who speaks to a higher energy with a pure heart is in fact communing with the same basic, omnipotent entity that can be called God or or Goddess or Spirit or Universe. “Oneness” is what gives me hope that there truly is a unifying principle in this world and that a greater, more compassionate global consciousness is within our grasp.

What really amazed me was that she invoked my own sacred mantra in the first paragraph of her post. Sister Joan talks about witnessing a zikr, the remembrance of God, not as a purely Sufi ritual but as a celebration of divine unity as “Buddhist monks, Jewish rabbis, Hindu swamis, Christian monks, Muslim imams, Indian Sun Dancers and lay practitioners of all the world’s great contemplative traditions” joined together to praise the Sacred. She was at a summit that happened in Aspen a few weeks ago, “Gathering Spiritual Voices of America,” organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

As I move along my own spiritual path, still a magpie pulling wisdom from every tradition that will open its heart to me, I take great comfort in knowing that this desire to bring the kaleidoscope of religious perspectives together endures on a great scale. I seem to be a person who will never be tied wholly to a single creed, but I can pray to all of the names of God that I know that we can find a true place of Oneness.

Saint Anthony’s Priorities

Rustling through my closet, both trying to organize things and avoid the chores in the kitchen in advance of the beautiful family invasion due in on Thursday, I marveled at the odd assortment of life’s detritus that has traveled with me. Expired student IDs from Galway, Halloween greeting cards, cryptic notes from my grandfather that were once attached to long forgotten newspaper clippings about libraries or the Hudson Valley. Memories, lovely and otherwise, enmeshed in it all.

I’ve made the prayer to Saint Anthony my new mantra as I casually riffle through closets too new to have dark, concealing corners. That August morning we move in I know I made sure I put my hands on my grandmother’s jewelry. Now, the nice flat white box is somewhere quite safe, I’m sure. If we leave the house unlocked no thieves with a penchant for houses on winding country roads will be able to find this stuff. Of course, neither will I…

At any rate, I am a new but fervent believer in what seems like little more than a children’s nursery rhyme “Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around. Something is lost that cannot be found.” I just love the way the reciter abdicates all responsibility for losing the treasured object in question and sort of indicates that a certain something wandered off like a naughty child on a busy train platform.

Once I lost a handwritten letter my grandfather had sent while he was on an Ignatian retreat. It was one of those letters that seem to have been written in a mythical bygone age when one could pour out his soul in scrawling script and theological discussions were the topic of the day. Foolishly tucked in a paperback, it vanished during a lunch hour I spent walking across most of campus. (Please note, I did not lose said missive, it obviously jumped from its place.) Two days later after ransacking house and car and office, I chanced a trip to the College lost and found. When the girl at the desk said, “oh, this letter?” I began to weep and blubber with gratitude and became more than convinced that only a being with some seriously divine status could have inspired someone to save this gem from the ubiquitous recycling bins and send it on its way back to me.

It seems that Saint Anthony sometimes makes his own decisions about what needs to be found, however. Tonight, in this box of mementos and junk I found two things that I never would have realized I needed to find: a rose quartz heart and a bit of tortured poetry.

I had received the heart at a ritual years ago and given it to my Nanna when she was battling cancer. Funny how my buddy Tony seems to think that I need to find the guidance of my other grandmother right now – not the one with the jewels, but the one whose heart I knew the best. I am thinking that Nanna is trying to tell me that I need to pass this stone on to my sister as she tries to heal her own heart from the loss of yet another loved one to that wicked, voracious disease.

The lines of poetry are written in blue ink on an index card, and I can only guess that I scribbled them down while sitting at a job that seem bent on destroying me, body and soul. One good thing about a job as a medical receptionist before everyone had internet on their office computers: I would spit language onto scrap paper rather than numb my addled brain with gossip sites and Daily Show clips. I cannot say much for the quality of the little rant, but it amazes me how much my life has changed in the last six years yet how some things have become so much more true than a lost twenty-three year old could have ever imagined.

—–
Spools of integrated soul
aching for reprieve, expression, air
[…]
Buried in verse, believing in my own mountaintop
even as I am entombed in these feet of clay
—–

I know I was given that crystal for a reason, so I think I must set about why I was sent a telegram from this younger voice of my soul…

Oh, and Saint Anthony, thanks for also helping me find something to write about tonight (the writer’s block had been killing me all evening!).


Softness and Strength, In the Soul and On the Job

Hanging up the phone, I stretched and sighed and immediately got up to fill the office teapot. I had to get back into my body and find peace in my rapidly beating heart. It had been a success – I had just convinced a vendor whose faulty service had disturbed the smooth flow of a conference I had organized to cut our bill in half. Mixing firmness with resignation, verbal gymnastics with pregnant pauses, I had gotten my way and saved some of the grant money that I badly needed to apply to other causes.

This is one of the things I am good at – making the person on the other end of the phone realize that he is dealing with a redhead who knows what she wants and what her organization needs and refuses be denied. It is a valuable skill in my professional life and was essential when we bought our house, but sometimes I wonder if it is a liability as I search for a deeper connection with my soul.

Swagger and confidence are treasured commodities in so much of the world, and I know that I have cultivated more than my share. These qualities have been a fine shield that have insulated me from that dreaded vulnerability. Thing is, such a shield blocks a lot more than just a few guys who seek to swindle a poor defenseless maiden. Walking around with an acquired tough girl attitude has made too many people believe in my callousness and irreverence. It is awfully hard to convince someone that you are a healer interested in affairs of the spirit when you just threatened (oh-so-hollowly) to make somebody come to the library to fix the leaking pipes.

At the same time, there are rings in this steely suit of chain mail that have their own spiritual purposes. Schools of thought in the world of energy healing differ about whether or not the healer can take on her client’s negative energy, but regardless, it is necessary to establish boundaries between practitioner and recipient. I know that I have an ability to say “no, I am sorry, but that is not acceptable” when I am staring down a contractor, and I can do the same if something comes up when I have someone on my table.

In the same vein, it requires a great deal of strength to be the firm hand that guides people through the places within that scare them. A healer encounters a great deal of resistance when she tries to help someone break their deepest patterns.  Even as she listens to the needs of the client, she must have the confidence to take a stand in the battle against a person’s well constructed – but essentially harmful – defenses.

I fear the extremes – weakness on one side, stridency on the other. If I become a completely spiritual being, will I lose that edge that can be so useful in the world? If I indulge the parts of me that dare someone to mess with me, am I making this endeavor for wisdom nothing more than empty rhetoric?

There has to be a way to marry these aspects of myself, to cultivate supple strength and mighty tenderness. It is a vital sort of balance, one that permits me to revel in my humanity and yet still linger with the Divine. Dancing, always dancing, with these seemingly opposite drives…

A Spiritual Midwife During a Dark Spell

Now that I am alert to this November chill, these late autumn doldrums, I see lives being eked out in the shadows all over the place.

It is happening on a global and national level as economies falter and threaten to fail and we come to realize that capitalism might have been some sort of cruel joke. This gathering darkness even after all that shiny hope of only a week and a half ago (can you believe that the elation over our new president has slid into naked financial fear in only eleven days?) is crippling everyone to some degree.

I am watching it happen to the people in my own circles. Relationships are changing irrevocably or are falling away. New illnesses are emerging and some are losing in their battles for wellness. The ability to pretend everything is fine is dissolving. It is time to admit that life cannot continue on this twisting track, at this breakneck pace.

Like I said, I am watching this happen to those around me right now. I find myself wrapped in a blanket of blessing and abundance that I thank the Gods for every day. My friend BlissChick talks about how such good fortune can set us questioning this luck, and sabotaging ourselves because we fear we have been granted “too much blessing.” I completely understand that impulse to throw on the hairshirt and deny ourselves the joy of what we have been given, and have fallen into that trap countless times.

This time around, however, I am able to look at my blessings and comfort as a divinely given shield and solace. I am so well shrouded in a soft cloak of peace that I can stand beside those who suffer and absorb their stories without the interference of my own fears and losses. None of this is to say that I am cleansed from all of the selfish whining that I regret occasionally mars my conversations, but I recognize that I am free of the deeper dramas that others need to be supported through right now. I can strive to be a vessel that takes in tears and offers them back as different brew of solace and hope.

For all that we are all marked by the wheel of the year, but the ebb and flow of nature, I think that we are occasionally chosen to stand outside of time. With all humility, I admit that I am caught in a time of joyful midsummer even as the skies turn a dirty pearl and wasted wet leaves choke the walkways. I give thanks for this role as spiritual midwife, a candle burning in the fog for those who are lost in the early evening gloom.

Have you been given a warmer coat to ward off the first frost? Is it big enough to wrap around a friend who needs it?

Carrying Around Your Own Universe

tarantula_brimacombe_big

To spend much time considering the soul and the inner workings of the self is to recognize that we each carry around an entire interior universe.

It is so hard to understand the limitlessness that is inside of us, the expansive intricacies of the psyche and, even more importantly, the infinitude that is the Divine within us all. What can be even more difficult to grasp is that a similarly limitless universe exists within all people, even those we believe to be ignorant or cruel or uninspired.

I know myself to be someone who strives to be aware of every seismic shift in consciousness, of every tremor of new perspective that passes through my life. All too often I find myself baffled by the behavior of people who seem to live unexamined lives, marked by monotony and routine and something I perceive to be a lamentable narrowness.

Of course, the first problem there is that I am allowing myself to be swayed by my own perception of their stories. There are times when I decide that people who are not digging around in their own heads like they’re on some sort of archaeological are somehow getting less out of life than I am. If they do not show me immediate glimmers of their own interior universes, I start to believe that there are people out there whose stories are somehow less complex and vivid than my own.

Working on the development of one’s soul can make a seeker a terrible snob. I know I fall into this trap when I forget that all people are fellow journeyers through the mystery of life. When I allow myself to forget this truth I allow myself the luxury of disrespecting the people around me. My often tarnished version of who they are burns more brightly than the truth that they are fellow humans walking across this earth, doing the best with the tools that have been given to them.

One gets weary of trying to be a saint though, trying to be kind and understanding in the face of people who are set on acting out the darkest parts of their nature. I have tried the sainthood approach, and I find it just makes me nervous and repressed and worried about my own inadequate, non-canonized future prospects.

I am finding, however, that I can deal with those difficult creatures who cross my path if I remember that, just like me, they have an entire universe inside of them and all sorts of possibilities I might not be able to see. A universe goes on, well, forever. And in something the size of forever you can store a whole lot of beauty, as well as a whole lot of ugly. You can keep great vats of potential, as well as vast sink holes of worthlessness. There is light and there is shadow and there is that wide space in between that informs the way that most of us live.

And, like I said, the most important resident of these inner infinities of ours is God. I may find ways to despise the behavior of a lot of people in this world, but I am pretty sure I could never figure out a way to disregard the divinity that they all carry about.

Little Bits of Bliss and Balance

Christine Kane is collecting intentions. She is inviting everyone to contribute their dreams in delicious sort of group effort to manifest their hearts’ desires. I threw my wish for balance into her Great Big Prayer hat. I want to be able to dance more effortlessly between all that I want to be and all I want to do, and yet still live in accordance with the plans that the Universe has set for me.

Essentially, I want to quit fighting with the fact that there are only 24 hours and I am only going to be functional for 16.5 of them. I want to quit worrying about all that I cannot do in a day (90 minutes doing yoga, 30 minutes meditating, 60 minutes writing a blog post, churning out 1,000 words of fiction, practicing as a healer, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, reading inspiring books, being a fully present spouse, talking to God) and just be content with what IS possible.

This morning, fifteen minutes of yoga to really wake up my hamstrings took me to a place of such deep breathing that it felt as powerful as a half hour on a mediation cushion. I was a couple of minutes late to meet my carpool buddy because I stepped out on the back porch to hear the birds and watch the squirrels.  I  was offering my prayers and setting my intention for the day more powerfully than I ever could if I had scheduled time for the Divine. Though I dislike being in  perpetual rush,  I know I was a better commuting partner and a better employee because of those few precious, stolen minutes, so it was a fair exchange.

We miss out on so much when we hold ourselves to all or nothing rules. How simple it is to limit ourselves by refusing to engage in all the activities that nurture and sustain us, just because we decide we cannot give them enough time or focus. I am not about to start advocating leading a half-arsed life, but I am rethinking my perspective on the fact that a little is almost always better than nothing at all.

There may not be time to make love, but there is nearly always time for a lingering kiss. I may not be able to immerse myself fully in the world of my novel, but I can at least add a few lines of dialog. These days I may not be up for a full speed ahead one and a half hour yoga class, but how can I expect to get back there if I will not reintroduce the postures a little bit at a time?

I was blessed tonight to steal away for the 37 minutes that a yoga podcast by Eoin Finn requires. It is a sweet little sequence of standing postures that reminds me that there is so much truth in the union that is yoga. Find this little gem, called “Honey Routine,” as well as several others at http://www.eoinfinnyoga.com/downloads.php or on iTunes. There’s my unsolicited free plug of the day!

So here’s to taking little sips of bliss and balance and walking in abundance instead of running ever onward in that torturous state of “not enough.”

November Chill

In a post looking back at an unobserved All Hallow’s Eve, I thought about the madness of the encroaching holiday season and the need to find sacredness in all of the other days on the calendar. As I recognize this odd in-between time that spreads from Samhain (the final harvest and the start of the Celtic New Year) to the return of the sun on the Winter Solstice, I think it is even more essential to find the touchstones that connect to our vitality and to the Divine.

I am watching several people I love experience a sense of dissolution in their lives. Illusions are stripped away and they are confronted by resurgent realities that they had once been able to escape. There is solace to be found in the belief that this too shall pass, that God offers nothing more than one can bear, and that it is only possible to be truly alive when all of the veils that lay between you and the true presence have been ripped away. And yet, the desire to just keep driving away from all the problems is so strong and the need to ask “why” is so persistent. It is so hard not to shiver in the brutal winds of our fate as the bitter chill of November settles into our bones.

To stand as naked as the trees is to be living in direct contact with nature, and though it may threaten to turn you to coldest stone, it is nothing more than the Earth herself is going through at these moments. Cold comfort, that, but perhaps it is just the Universe’s way of reminding us we are alive. She cannot wake us with the calls of birds and the warmth of a July sun, but she can remind us that she is always there with us by allowing us to feel the rattling of her bare branches and her sorrow of another summer passed.

The world will keep turning, the secrets will be uncovered, and the globe will tilt back to the sun again so that light may return. We just need to find the faith to witness its sweet, slow progression.