Just… Listen, cried the black cat to woman with the madness in her eye

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Still allowing myself to be pulled in a million different directions as I try to balance my writerly instincts and my healer’s imperative and rollercoaster of marriage and our economic worries, I am feeling anything but aligned right now (my chosen theme of 2009). Priorities will have to shift and I will have to let some things fall away – at least for a little while.

In hopes of finding some guidance, I let my body unfurl in a few precious minutes of stretching this morning and then lit some candles and settled onto the meditation cushion. (My folks’ dog is back roaming her Cape Cod beaches, so I can finally set a pre-work rhythm for myself.)

And so I called in guides and conjured up prayers and let the mantra begin to flow. I was beginning to feel something. Those elusive fingers of the divine were wrapping themselves around my all too distracted soul.

But I just kept chasing after God, distracted by the caterwaul of a black kitty on the other side of the glass door. With no dog to harass, she was again 100% interested in human companionship. For several minutes she wailed and then she unsheathed those claws and let them sink luxuriously into the fresh white trim of the door frame.

From a place deeper than my fragile meditative state, a voice burst from my belly: SHUT UP!

I swear the angel on my altar looked at me with reproach for bringing that sort of aggression to what is meant to be sacred space. And so I grumbled as I stalked across the room to let the plaintive creature into my cozy lair.

Purring louder than my heavy footsteps, Banshee (aptly named, yes?) danced over to the candles and seemed to warm her heart shaped face in their light. When I sat down she wrapped herself around my hands and climbed gently to nestle her head in my neck.

“Cats are the Mother with fur,” spiritual teacher and writer Andrew Harvey once said. I am more than a little inclined to believe him. Here I was, forcing myself upon the sacred, demanding guidance and solace, dictating that solitary silence was the way to get there.  And there was Banshee, teaching me that I am not the one in control.

Again I am reminded that my spirit guides are not figments of an over-active imagination. They are breathing and purring and meowing beside me all the time. “Listen to me!” Banshee was calling. In all of this frantic madness to produce more and manifest more, I am seeking so desperately for clues and trampling every heaven sent sign in the process.

“Listen!” the little cat said, as she reminded me that she too is a child of the Goddess. Listen, she reminds me. Stop straining for that radio station just out of range. Stop and listen and realize the truest tune is what you’re calling interference.

Unified Soul, Unified Self

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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

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.

Recognizing that “Six Degrees Could Change MY World”

NASA The dryer is humming in the background, but the house is only lit by one compact fluorescent and the glow of the television and my laptop. There’s a cup of cold, forgotten coffee next to me, but I am drinking water we filter at home out of a Nalgene bottle I have used a thousand times. We went for a nice hike today, despite the gusty wind and the snow, but we drove to the top of the mountain for a change of scenery rather than take the path from the backyard.

My husband is watching a National Geographic special called “Six Degrees Could Change the World” and I am finding it impossible to focus on an Andrew Harvey book about Christ. The idea of the infinite love of God is tough to focus on when a voice is saying that “a change of just one degree could change American cattle country into a wasteland swallowed by drought.” I have never heard Alec Baldwin sound so terrifying – he’s the narrator of this scary little story I find impossible to ignore.

Instead of listening to the proof of “the dangers posed by global warming,” the litany of awe-inspiring changes that could occur with each degree increase in the global temperature I am writing this and trying unsuccessfully to keep my own fears at bay. It’s cable, so I know that this program will be repeated again and again, so later I can catch those details about how many thousands (was it 500,000?) of species that could be lost if one coral reef died so I can rattle off some statistics next time someone speaks dismissively about climate change. For now, I will watch and worry and wonder how on earth I can stop another polar bear from drowning and whether I will bring my grandchildren to my favorite Cape Cod beach someday.

Is this show going to give us any answers beyond reminding us to recycle and walk more and buy a hybrid (or wait, maybe you shouldn’t since there are so many resources already tied up in your current gas guzzler that putting yet another car on the road just makes it all worse)? I’ll keep watching and let you know.

At the very least, I think I can answer the question that Andrew Harvey posits at so many of his lectures “If you wake up at three o’clock in the morning and look at all of the injustices of the world, what is it that breaks your heart and forces you to action?” I cannot pretend anymore that someone else is going to take care of the corners of this earth that I love; I cannot withdraw into the fear that the science is too contradictory for a mere mortal to understand. The disappearing Arctic ice is my heartbreak; the rising seas will not recede into the neglected background of my modern life.

A Lenten Offering from the Tabletop of My Body

PEI Sunrise, MGGMy knowledge of Lent has not progressed very far since I once gave up chocolate until a trail of shiny wrapped candy lead my sister and I to our Easter baskets. This year, I intend to spend some time understanding the real significance of this season starting with Andrew Harvey’s Son of Man. In the meantime, I have tried to focus less on abstention and more on creating the life I want to lead for a set period of forty days. How many days is it that you have to engage in an activity before it becomes habit? I am making an attempt to wake up early enough to write or meditate every morning and to practice some form of yoga each day.

At class tonight I was able to move deeply enough into my breath, beyond the soreness of muscles that took me through a vigorous class yesterday to a place closer to my spirit. After a series of postures that brought to my core what instructors sweetly refer to as “heat” and what I bet many part time yogis like me know as screaming sinews, the teacher guided us into reverse tabletop position (I can’t seem to find the Sanskrit term – any ideas?). It is a relatively simple pose: hands and feet planted on the mat; stomach flat, facing the ceiling; head and neck relaxed back towards the floor.

In this moment when a position I would never adopt in everyday life seemed comfortable and effortless in comparison to the the other things I was asking my body to do, I was able to feel my heart open to the Universal. An circle like a great bowl that was without color or weight, merely marked by a sense of space, glowed from my chest. I felt as if my being was offering itself to the Divine. I was a table upon which a feast of worship was spread.

An unorthodox to begin to understand what it is to surrender to God in this season of Lent? Perhaps. But I know in that moment I shone with the purest sense of my true self.

Just Three Breaths – My Practice

“Like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre… [the] Divine Mother and Brahman are one.” (full passage)

When Andrew Harvey first quoted this bit of wisdom from the nineteenth century Indian saint Ramakrishna I had my first introduction to the intertwined nature of transcendence and immanence. I began to realize that the adoration of the Goddess did not preclude God and that, in fact, the two faces of the divine are inextricably bound to one another.

For whatever reason, these metaphors made sense to me almost immediately, as if they were elucidating something I had always known but never understood. Brahman is the supreme spirit in Hinduism, the unchanging heavenly power associated with the transcendent Father God. The Mother is the energy that dances through us and all of creation, the universal love of the heavens in action upon the earth. All that we know is the union of these two aspects of God.

At the conference at which I first heard these ideas everyone was high on potential spiritual power (both real and imagined), yet there was a palpable sense of worry because people did not know how these feelings would translate back at home in reality. I think this little practice that I cobbled together from the ideas I gathered that weekend is my response to the concern that I would forget the resonance of such words. It is informed both by Harvey’s description of the divine and Caroline Myss’s journey into the soul, Saint Teresa of Avila’s interior castle.

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After closing my eyes I search around to find my center for a little while until I remember yet again that only in stillness can one find that peaceful place of silence within. When I have stopped struggling with my own mind, I can just experience what it is to be for a few moments until a breath that seems to come from the earth itself begins to fill me. It is the power of the Mother, the earthy glory of the Goddess that I have identified with for so long, but here there are no rules or separations, just the wash of creation and growth itself. It is green, it is gold, it is the rich black of fertile soil. I pull this breath up and all the way through my body, filling with the Mother’s love and then release it, letting this energy flow back into the universe.

The second breath comes from above, the transcendent essence that arches over us all. It is the peace that lifts me out of my body to a place of complete freedom. There all human definitions of God might fade away so that the power that is the Absolute can wash the ego away. It is white and silver, it is cool and warm all at once. I pull this breath down through mind and heart, down and down to root the heavenly in my feet, and then release it, letting this energy flow back into the universe.

Finally there is the breath of synthesis that pulls every facet of creation into my own soul. It comes from every side, it is the very air around me. It is every color, texture, scent, taste. The beautiful mixes even with the horrible because to be truly present is to recognize all threads in the tapestry of this life. With this inhalation I realize my place in this incredible universe, this constant interplay of the divine with itself, of the sacred with the material. Rather than retreating from the world because I find solace in the spirit, I am driven to delight in all that is so that I can see the spiritual in everything.

Om Tat Sat