How to Lose Your Skin and Be Consumed

The title is not what you may at first think. It’s not about being eaten alive in the literal sense. But I did want to get your attention. It is about being consumed to the degree that you come alive in ways you may not have experienced.

I found the work of Will Johnson through Future Primitive, a podcast co-produced by Joanna Harcourt-Smith and José Luis Gómez Soler. Joanna interviews guests using a framework: What is it like to be in sacred communion with our living Earth? Will is a Buddhist practitioner with Sufi leanings dedicated to breathing practices that wake up the body. He’s long been offering retreats and teachings through the Institute of Embodiment Training, now in Costa Rica.

What first caught my attention was a statement Will made early in the interview. He was at an event and looked out over those gathered, noticing how very still, even stiff, people were in their sitting meditation. That let him know most of those gathered were not breathing fully, nor engaging the body as part of the process. Shallow breaths.

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©2015 Carla Woody.

I reflected on my own daily practice that has evolved over 35+ years. I was all about the breath, particularly in the early days, directing it in such a way that it opened my energy field and sometimes instigated involuntary movement. Then later for several years I participated in the local Sufi circle, especially zikr, which was anything but inactive.*

Listening to Will, I began to wonder if I’d become complacent. I no longer actively use breath or chants in the way I did in the past, but sit first thing in the morning, say a prayer of gratitude, then close my eyes. When I do, I become engulfed in palpable energy that ebbs and flows. It’s always there no matter how long I sit – 5 minutes, an hour or more. I feel tremendous connection. The witness part of me has noticed there are often times it appears I’ve stopped breathing for periods, but am not holding my breath. When I do finally take another breath it’s subtle. I call it “the breath of no-breath.” I’ve read about such occurrences in literature from Kriya Yoga. My body is quite still but doesn’t feel stiff in my awareness. What I’ve come to has worked for me.

But I decided to undertake the method Will calls the Hollow Bamboo Dharma Practice that focuses on the body and actively uses breath to open six points, freeing energy. This method can lead to a state of unity he calls the Great Wide Open and being breathed by the Divine, Universe, God or whatever anyone may call the Force Field of Creation.

I’ve experienced the state he describes. I call it “losing my skin” where there’s a sense of no separation, a state of being permeated by All That Is, in a way hard to describe, slipping into it with no intent of doing so—that gives deep comfort. Time disappears. I disappear. In the times it has occurred, I’ve almost always been meditating in nature. I can remember one time it happened during a prolonged Sufi retreat. The difference is my experiences have occurred spontaneously, infrequently. I don’t know really how such a sacred unity occurred.

Because of the pandemic, stay-at-home orders and uncertainty of the world, I decided to enter retreat and use this new-to-me approach to meditation as a framework. In his generosity, Will has on his website downloadable audios of a 3-evening presentation where he introduces his philosophies related to what he teaches, and the actual practice he calls Breathing Through the Whole Body. He’s quick to state this shouldn’t be considered a technique, that it’s a natural way of breathing and will feel that way over time.

Of all his books, I chose to get his newest one, Breathing as Spiritual Practice: Experiencing the Presence of God, because the title appealed to me. It turned out to be rather synchronous. I hadn’t read the description very carefully. This book is largely from his personal journaling over his own 10-day retreat several years ago using what he teaches, with each chapter given to one day. I decided to read a chapter each day of my own retreat, usually after I’d done the meditations according to his direction introduced in the audios. When I started reading the book, I found his retreat site to be one where I’d stayed myself, albeit for a very brief time, just a taste with a promise to myself to return. So, his recounting of Christ in the Desert, an isolated Benedictine monastery of silent retreat, in a box canyon at the end of 13 miles of bad dirt road in northern New Mexico, was already alive within me.

Here I’m offering a synopsis of my own process in retreat using the methods on the audio tapes.

I normally sit on my sofa cross-legged with a straight back. To make sure my knees were lower than my pelvis per his instructions, I transferred my meditations to the floor and sat at the edge of a zafu, legs crossed with knees on the floor. I noticed it straightened my spine completely, allowed me to elongate more and sit much taller without effort. The first instruction was about body awareness. I noticed immediately that, in this posture, my sacrum was unhappy and the muscle around my right clavicle was tight, exactly the place my massage therapist always goes after. It was achy but wasn’t unmanageable. This told me I was compensating and, as a norm, ignoring discomfort. This is the kind of thing Will said would be noticeable if you’ve been numbing out pain in the body. On point.

In the audios, Will is good about gently guiding the breath, spot by spot, introducing subtle movement, until the last sequence where you’re breathing in the six directions he identifies. I soon recognized I hadn’t done really deep breathing in years, which was the second point. The idea is to begin your breath in the belly—no problem there—and continue the in-breath all the way up to the uppermost sacs of the lungs at the top of the ribs…up the neck and into the cranium. Wait, what? The cranium? Now I can tell you it’s possible. But for me, not at first…

First time out of the bag, I was able to take in breath until my chest swelled. But I hit a wall when attempting to continue to the top of the ribs. Persisting over a couple of days, I guess I finally experienced body memory. My breath then found the pathway and continued right up into the cranium. Really. Well, I’m not so sure if it was actual breath but perhaps the energy of the breath. Something physical happened though. First the base of my skull popped and then it felt like my entire cranium subtly began moving with the breath.

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©2015 Carla Woody. 

One of the other things wonderful was that, through the breath, I was receiving an inner massage that affected my outer body and relaxed those spots that were protesting. My lumbar let go almost immediately. It took more for that muscle below my right clavicle to release. But I could feel, at the end of 10 days, it was stretching outward and loosening.

It doesn’t take long to get into the state. Once learned, your body knows the way. A by-product, thought also dissipates in such a way there’s just a feeling presence. Even if thoughts return—because they will—it’s easy to return to the breath, and they release.

I did have something occur that was distinctly unpleasant but wasn’t surprised because it had happened once before. About 20 years ago, I was going through a very difficult phase in my life. In order to maintain equilibrium, I was meditating long hours a day. It had a profound impact on my wellbeing. But when you do so, it loosens things that have been trapped, or consciously shut off, deep in the psyche that can come to the surface in different ways…in order to release.

I normally do not remember my dreams. When I do, it usually has to do with some deep spiritual meaning, awe inspiring but not scary. I have so rarely had nightmares in my life, they wouldn’t number the fingers on one hand. But during that time long ago I’m referencing, I had some kind of waking dream where I was surrounded by lepers reaching for me, brushing me. Like something biblical. I felt it all. I was terrified. I started to move and leap out of bed when a voice said to me…Just go into it. Merge with it. Like the story goes, invite the demon in to tea. I did that, and the fear and revulsion released. A sense of calm replaced it.

I’ve never had such a dark night experience recur until about 10 days ago. I think I was on Day 5 of my retreat when I had another waking dream like some godawful place out of Hieronymus Bosch or Dante’s Inferno, and I was in the middle of it. My chest was heaving. I felt electrified. I leaped out of bed, my entire body shaking. The visuals stopped but my body was still there. No saving voice this time giving wise counsel. I had to walk around for a while to calm myself. I was up the rest of the night.

As if it had arrived on cue, two days later reading Will’s Day 7, he had a similar dark night. Not necessarily the same content but within the same spirit.

At least I’d had some previous experience of this territory, and wasn’t caught by surprise. I’m quite sure this was brought on by the pandemic, the global chaos, level of death and destruction of what is familiar. I’d been aware of how very calm I’d been about the whole thing, even had some remarking on that. Not at all cavalier. But stopping short of entering the horror, which as somewhat of an empath, I can easily do. So, it’s no wonder fear of the unknown and real grief for this worldwide devastation had to surface, in order to break any internal paralysis, and be released instead into the realm of compassion.

It’s not pleasant to go through such things, but I don’t at all begrudge them. It’s part of the spiritual path. It’s just good to know the possibility exists. I was glad to see Will brought that particular aspect up in his writing.

In the book, he mentioned you could do the practice of breathing through the whole body anywhere, suggesting when laying down or walking out in nature. I tried both but didn’t have the same effect as I do during sitting meditation. Laying down I didn’t feel the full energy of my body as much. Walking out my front door onto trust land may not have been the best place to try it out in nature. I was too distracted by the roughness of the trail. I suspect I will get better at these other settings with more practice, once this way of breathing is second nature.

My practice continues. I recognize what I’ve undertaken here has health benefits, increased my physical energy and my sleep is so much better. I have a keen appreciation for the spiritual aspects. I didn’t yet get to the place where I lose my skin but imagine that may come. I’m grateful for this additional way of breath, body and energy and am incorporating it into my early mornings.

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* Quoting Pir Shabda Kahn, Spiritual Director of the Sufi Ruhaniat International: “The mysticism of breath is central. Repetition of sacred sound is central. And the art of living wholesomely is also central. Our effort is to learn to live in the breath twenty-four hours a day. The actual practice is to outwardly connect with the breath, be conscious of the breath, and let the breath fall into its natural rhythm of inhalation and exhalation. And we combine sound and breath. We put a sacred phrase ‘on the breath.’ We do this in meditation, and we do this throughout the day. It could be Om Mani Padme Hum. So, we might put Om Mani Padme Hum on the in-breath and then again on the out-breath, and breathe it out throughout the day, throughout our life.
We recite sacred phrases out loud. Repetition is important. Sound has an effect apart from meaning, based on the rhythm it creates in our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies. One of the phrases we recite is called ‘zikr.’ The phrase is La Ilaha Ilaha Allah Hu. It includes both negation (there is nothing but God—separateness is a false notion) and affirmation (experience yourself as the ONE).”

To read this interview in full, go here.

 

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Meditation | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Breath, Energy and Lifeforce

[This article includes a free download of a breath meditation at the end.]

It seemed to me like something was coming. I had a similar sense when I was in my late thirties. Back then, I knew something was hovering on the horizon, but I just couldn’t see what. It turned out to be a big shake-up in my life. A time of new awareness. Clarity. A recognition I could no longer live the way I had. That recognition led to significant choices that placed me squarely on the path I’ve been on ever since. I still don’t have a word for it…this walk that chose me. But know when I’m aligned to it, and when I falter. This is at the personal level.

What I’ve been sensing, as many had—long before it happened—is global upheaval. Now here it is. Something like this had to happen to rip the foundation out from under us. Something big enough to stop us short. Indeed, it has. Collectively, we couldn’t go on much longer without things coming apart in a catastrophic way. We’ve been forced into lockdown, to shelter-in-place—a phrase I’d never heard before now.

I prefer to say that we’ve been called into retreat. We have things to consider, foundational things…each of us.

I know I do because I’m relieved to be here, at home, having been forced to reschedule commitments and journeys all the way into next year. I see open space stretching out in front of me and relish it for the rich possibilities it brings. It’s been a very long time since I allowed myself to meditate for longer than an hour during daily practice. Not so now.

After a few days, it’s no longer about allowing. I’m naturally slipping into those longer hours, finding it to be a familiar place that I haven’t stepped into in a long time but always remember…because significant clarity came from that space. And I became different as a result of being there.

But it wasn’t at all a place of mind but rather a space of Unity with the Absolute from which Silence is naturally delivered…and unseen, unheard but felt guidance is offered. And the entry is through breath and energy. You could say mysticism is the by-product.

I’m looking to emerge from retreat with another perspective. I’m holding out for a deeper way of living and appreciating.

For several years, back in the late 90s to early 2000s, I held a regular meditation circle. I’ve never had any religious affiliation so felt free to borrow from Sufi, Buddhist or any other sources that that worked well to enter a non-mind state.

There was one meditation I used frequently with the circle I called Chakra Breathing. People found it particularly useful to deepen their state of being, relaxation and alleviate physical issues. I’ve had folks use it pre and post surgeries to support healing. I actually created it for myself in my late 20s for healing purposes. They asked me to record it.

It occurred to me that some may find it useful in the environment we find ourselves now.

We’re all in this together after all.

Connection

Download Chakra Breathing here.

Please feel free to download and share this 20-minute meditation.

Intended to accompany meditative practice, this recording uses the breath as a conduit to still spaces against a backdrop of Tibetan bells. Chakra Breathing is a tool to cleanse and vitalize the energy centers of the body and lead to that inner sanctity called Silence.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Energy Healing, Global Consciousness, Meditation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: It’s What I Do

One of my keen interests is about risk-taking—the people that take them and what underlying pull nags at them to take the leap consistently. Is it the adrenaline rush? That’s certainly there depending on how great the risk. Or is it something else that’s driving them?

It'sWhatIDoBookLynsey Addario is one of those people. Her memoir It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War tells her story. She didn’t start out to be a conflict photographer, one who goes into war-torn areas and refugee camps, right in the middle of it. This eventuality wasn’t even on her radar when she took a job as a professional photographer at the Buenos Aires Herald at the age of 23, never having trained as a photographer. Yet, as willingness lays out a path, at 26 she traveled to Afghanistan to interview women living under the Taliban. How did she even do that? I’m guessing troubling thoughts at least flitted through her mind. She was moving into a field almost solely dominated by males and all it came with…that the course was filled with threat of all sorts around nearly every corner…that she was sacrificing any ‘normal’ love or family life. All this in addition to witnessing graphic horror, so much on a daily basis, the kind that typically gives nightmares for years to come.

Clearly, she set these concerns aside. Lynsey Addario wanted to tell the truth, what was happening in such places and times. Not the media spin or political propaganda. She had something most men in the field wouldn’t think to entertain. She had the women, and men who let themselves, willing to tell their stories, which she captured in images. She knew how to hear them and wanted the world to know. That was her calling—humanitarian issues and human rights.

Over the years, she’s twice been kidnapped and periodically in areas where troops had been ordered to kill journalists, which happened. Her photographs relayed people’s stories and the realities of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, South Sudan and the Congo. Sometimes her images weren’t published—too politically sensitive—she was told. And the truth remained veiled.

Sometimes she was called out by critics for the photographs she took. Too intrusive, disrespectful. Lynsey Addario’s images for Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone: The Story of Mamma Sessay (!) is the graphic accounting of a teenaged mother traveling by canoe from her village seeking medical intervention to birth the second of twins, still in her belly.  She did not get the help she needed and died a terrible death. “In Sierra Leone, 1033 women die for every 100,00 live births…This  statistic is made more tragic by the fact that the deaths are almost always preventable.” Unnecessary maternal deaths are high across much of the world, including the US. It’s because of such publicity, keeping nothing under wraps, that it can’t be ignored and prevention is more likely. As brought to its attention, the UN created Every Woman Every Child, “a long-term effort with global health partners to create a world where no woman has to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.”

I imagine this is the effect she hoped for when she took those photographs of Mamma Sessay.

Recognizing Lynsey Addario and other female photo journalists like her working for good in the midst of war, poverty and suffering. They’re a rare breed. Sunday, March 8 is International Women’s Day.

It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War is available in print, ebook and audio book. I listened to the audio book and highly recommend.

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! A warning the images—shot by Lynsey Addario and published by Time Magazine—contained in the link are a graphic series of suffering and maternal death in childbirth. The child survived.

 

Categories: Book Review, Compassionate Action, Global Consciousness | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Spiritual Travel and the Vanquishing of Dryness

It’s normal for a state of connection to wax and wane, to sometimes experience great spiritual presence and other times less or none at all. We’re human and influenced by so much swirling around us. That’s so even with a strong, consistent spiritual practice. Mostly, if we attend to it, we can weather the ups and downs. But when the absence of connection extends itself for months or longer, when instead there’s an ongoing emptiness, flatness…life feels brittle and sense of purpose becomes lost or heavily questioned…it begins to affect every aspect of our life.

When this happens, we’re actually receiving a special calling…not to succumb…but to evolve…to expand and deepen. I can say this because it happened to me.

In 2011, I traveled to northern Scotland with good friends Phoebe and Paul Hoogendyk from Australia, Jo Elliott of New Zealand and Lucinda Brogden and Doug Easterling of the US…in December. Prior to that I’d felt cut loose for quite a while. I may have hidden it well from others, but it was there.

I’d had a long ‘empty’ spell with my painting, and I was unable to get excited by much, akin to what’s called spiritual dryness. We went in December—Isle of Skye, Isle of Lewis with final destination the Orkney Islands. Paul had had a strong message that time of snow and strong, snatch-your-breath winds was the span to complete a ceremony in a long string of other ceremonies Phoebe and he had undertaken across the world. We especially spent time at standing stone circles.

That spare landscape did something to break me open. For years, I’d often call myself a monk. At some point in our travels, I’d decided that probably wasn’t a metaphor I wanted to embody—at least with some of the elements it contained. At the Ring of Brodgar, a place of significant lightning strikes, I spontaneously undertook my own ceremony, putting my back against each of the 27 remaining standing stones and ‘released my monkish ways.’

When I returned home my creative energy was so strong, I turned out a series of paintings in a flurry dedicated to the Druids, embodied in the stones, and landscape of Scotland.

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Callanish Croft. ©2012 Carla Woody.

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The Disguise. ©2012 Carla Woody.

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Winter Solstice ©2012 Carla Woody.

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The Visitation ©2012 Carla Woody.

These are the words I ascribed to The Visitation.

At a certain point in human time The Light appears, inviting us all to join our ancestors. In the next phase of the journey, the body is no longer needed⏤thus vacated. Our imprint on the landscape is left behind as legacy, as memories and deeds, touching those who will come after us. Connection endures.

The Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis in northern Scotland inspired this piece. When I visit such places, I see the stones as Druids who were transported en masse, through ceremony, leaving the physical remains as a testimony to timelessness.

Simultaneously, I picked up a barely begun manuscript for a novel, I’d put away in a drawer 7 years prior. The story fairly flew out of me, as a movie in my visual field. I merely had to write it down. Portals to the Vision Serpent was finished 3 months later.

The ‘dryness’ had left me through that journey in Scotland and has not returned to block my creative urge or sense of spiritual purpose. Paul was directed to hold the ceremony they had come for, and we others were to witness, at the very edge of the sea, right outside the isolated house we’d rented. A few months later, there was a discovery. Archaeologists had found another stone circle covered by water, just off the shore, where our final ceremony was completed.

From the point where I am now in my life, I look back on that journey and all it personally produced with amazement.

When you receive a strong calling, in essence you’ve been chosen. You’re being directed by a higher sensibility to depart the places known to you—through conditioning, mindset, outgrown choices, geographic location and culture—and strike out…to open up to the wider world beyond the point where you’ve been rooted.  You’re being asked to enter a land foreign to you, to partake of things outside your usual influences that strive to keep you tethered in the same old place. You need a disruption.

In order to take this step, time and space must be set aside from the ‘normal’ life, to the point it becomes sacred. It must be something finite, not a glancing thought or empty promise you make to yourself that you’ll get to it someday. It must be something clearly intended and acted upon so that it becomes a spiritual journey, in whatever form it may take, wherein you give yourself permission for everything to be presented that will usher you through the threshold, producing an evolution over time. Perhaps one never even imagined…until you look back on the path you’ve taken and realize who you are now.

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On another personal note: I’ve been sponsoring spiritual travel journeys for 20 years for those who are drawn to take a leap through the threshold this way. Leading these programs and making my own pilgrimages  has led me to consistently deepen my appreciation for the human condition—including my own—and informed the choices I’ve made. I’ve found myself undertaking things I never even dreamed of and live with great gratitude for the outcome.

As you’re drawn, here are upcoming spiritual travel programs.

Spiritual Travel to Bolivia and Peru: The Heart of the Andes, October 17-30, 2020

Spiritual Travel to Chiapas, Mexico: Entering the Maya Mysteries, January 18-28, 2021

For other spiritual travel programs, go here.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Re-membering Process

The chaotic times we’re living through right now are calling upon our values and beliefs to surface — when otherwise they’re mostly unconscious, but structure how we live. They’re rising to the forefront for us to consider who we are in relation to the larger world…and our Core Self. At the most significant level, it will call into question how aligned or misaligned we are, in our daily life, to those things of deepest importance to us. It’s a time ripe for clear choices and mindful transition to a greater lifepath.

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Ceiba: Tree of Life. ©2018 Carla Woody.

I’m sharing an article of mine — The Questions We Live By — originally published in 2001 in a professional journal called Anchor Point for Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)* practitioners. It is still relevant today. Over the years, my clients have found what I describe here to be quite helpful. They are able to pinpoint where they are in what I consider a spiritual growth process and provides a map of sorts to guide them as a foundation, along with any other inner work they undertake.

As synchronicity would have it, this morning a short article by Carol Dweck, A Summary on Growth and Fixed Mindsets, popped up in my newsfeed. I suggest you read it as an overview in conjunction with more detailed guidance below in what I call The Re-membering Process.

The Questions We Live By

The edge of our reality depends on what we hold inside our minds as true and possible. We tend to recycle our lives — past, present, future all becoming one in the same  — continually validating the filters through which we live.  We continue to attract to us what we self-select through rote unconscious processes until we don’t. When we don’t, it’s because something has awakened us to a wider life. With that wake-up call, different metaquestions are projected into the psyche from a place of higher wisdom. We begin to run those unconscious questions in our minds instead to attract to us the answers that will fulfill them. In alignment with the new metaquestions, a particular stream of metaprograms enact themselves to provide the thought and behavior orientations that serve us to step into the forest beyond the familiar compound where we used to live. As well, if we take on certain creativity strategies we better support ourselves on the journey.

In my book Calling Our Spirits Home: Gateways to Full Consciousness, I documented the path of what I call the Re-membering Process. I overlaid a variety of world traditions, transformational modalities and tied the process to examples of everyday people undertaking the leap. The model I present in this article is drawn from my book, as well as additional observation and research.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell named three phases to an unfolding:  Departure, Initiation and Return.  From an intimate viewpoint of my own journey and my work with others, I’ve seen that there are two other main developmental points to the path.  While there is no prescription or prescribed schedule, I’m aware of these stages:  Sparking, Separation, Search, Initiation and Re-Entry.  Many of us are on this path, in different phases and timetables. We are being propelled forward by the energetic momentum present with us in the world today demanding transformation now. If we’re not involved and committed to the Re-membering Process, then we’re still anesthetized, betraying ourselves and deceiving others.

THE SPARKING

Sparking is what awakens us from sleep and an unconscious life. It usually happens over a period of time, but can happen within an instant.  It often occurs at mid-life, but if we’re lucky or more conscious it happens much earlier.  Even the Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha or Enlightened One, was once asleep behind the castle walls.  It was only when he finally stepped outside the compound in which he lived that he began to see the wider world.  So, we all live within a container of some sort and are in a stupor to some extent.  We can’t escape it.  It’s part of the human condition. The questions are:  how deep is the sleep? How big does the spark to awaken us have to be?  What will jostle us out of the daily shuffle?  What will cause our heads, bent over so intently eying our shoes, to rise up?

There are some of us who unconsciously decide, without really knowing why, to look up one day and really see the sky or a tree and the Sparking takes place.  For others of us, it may be a seminar we attend or a book someone gives us at just the right moment.  Only a month before, we wouldn’t have heard the message or heard it in a lesser way.  Then there are some who must be dynamited awake.  These are the souls who have to experience a major crisis in their lives.  For them, it’s a significant illness, loss of a loved one or way of life that finally gets their attention.  The important point is that no matter how we receive our Sparking it happens as it needs to for each of us.  It’s at that point we begin to be more aware of how we have been living our lives.  In our semi-wakeful state, we slip ourselves these questions:

Where am I?

What am I feeling?

What am I lacking?

These are the unconscious mantras that run within our minds at this stage. A state of confusion exists that seeks to reach out into the fog and grasp onto explanations. The task of the Sparking is to wake up. We have an orientation to the present. Soon we may even become hyper-aware of the state of our lives.  At this point, we transition to the next phase in the journey.

SEPARATION

 The task of Separation is un-learning. Once we begin to wake up, if we are truly going to continue on the journey, then leave-taking has to take place. It’s a prerequisite of the course.  We cannot travel a path toward authenticity maintaining a false life.  The Separation phase is a major sub-transition in the evolution of Re-membering.  Those who successfully carry it through find within them the great internal resource of courage to hold firm against the forces — internal and external — that struggle to re-establish homeostasis.  It may be particularly dicey for individuals who are externally motivated and used to dependence on others for validation of their identity.  What is required of Separation is a shift to internal motivation.

It’s at this point that we begin to look at our lives and notice what really fits for us and what doesn’t.  Having been metaphorically asleep for so long, it was very easy for things to  sneak in under the cover of night to nestle comfortably around and within us without our real knowledge — becoming a sort of prison containing our very self-expression.  Through the conditioning process we all received messages, verbally and non-verbally, regarding what was “good” and “right” from our particular families of origin, schools and other societal institutions.  Needless to say, “good” and “right” varied greatly depending upon our environments.  In order to make sense of it all, the mind set up “look-outs” to filter out anything that didn’t conform to the inherited paradigm.  But during Separation the “look-outs” are somehow duped into guarding a decoy instead and an opening is provided.

During the Separation phase, we wonder where we went in all the previous years and what stranger is there instead.  Operating in an away from metaprogram, the Critic becomes resident and runs these metaquestions about the past with a slight consideration of the future to move out of pain.

Who am I not?

How did I abdicate?

How do I serve myself?

In fine detail, we examine our jobs, relationships, homes — virtually everything in our lives that matter to us.  As we see how we haven’t been true to our own natures, discomfort and disorientation increase until a shift occurs.  That movement may generate drastic change such as dissolving relationships, transferring career fields, or leaving a geographic location.  There doesn’t have to be a complete break with the pre-existing elements.  However, discovery in this phase will allow the loosening of old beliefs, which will in turn begin to alter attitudes, feelings and behaviors to leverage possibilities to a new way of life.  We are then brought to the next fork in the path.  

THE SEARCH

The quest of the Search is to widen choices.  During the Search we are looking at other perspectives and beliefs and trying them out.  The Dreamer has been invited along as a guide introducing metaprograms to explore options and move toward them.

Who am I?

What are the possibilities?

We will find ourselves investigating areas that are new and different immersed in the present.   The promise of a fuller life may seem endless.  So, we undertake things such as going back to school, inquiring into other careers, moving geographically, experimenting with new relationships, trying out diverse spiritual traditions or religions; many things to bring in additional data.

The Search can be as exhilarating as it can be scary.  We may feel as though we’ve jumped out into space with no safety net to catch us.  This is the time to call on the great faith held by the Innocent, the archetype who knows she will carry herself through to the other side through guidance along the way.  Otherwise, in fear we would find ourselves clawing at the emptiness in attempts to head back to the compound.  The dirty little secret no one told us before we took the leap is that there is really no turning back.  Even if we would choose to turn our backs on the future, we’re still different than who we were before.  The future is guaranteed.  It’s just how easy or difficult do we want to make it. So, we might as well press forward and happily complete the road rally.  In the meantime, our minds may expand and contract.  But if we pay attention, we will be directed by our intent to those things that fit for who we are at the core.  We will know when we have arrived to the herald of our true home not by the logic of the mind, but by the response of the heart.

INITIATION

When the heart is warm, it will feed the mind and further direct intent. After having been on the Search, the traveler comes to rest in the comfort of self-knowledge.  The undertaking of Initiation is assimilation.  The Realist is introduced and experiences the present, to move toward the future with options with procedures and queries:

What are my gifts?

Where am I going?

What do I need?

 While many formal ceremonies exist the world over, the real Initiation starts and ends inside — where the self is finally proclaimed as whole and the wearing of masks no longer necessary.  In this stage we know and appreciate the old life for what it was.  We have made the decision to take the learning and discard the rest.  We also intuitively know that there is a new life on the horizon, a deeper one that stands apart from the one that passed before.  Having been on the trail for so long, we now stand apart from those who have not yet awakened.  We also know we have something to teach — even if only by example.  This is the cusp of a real beginning and the fog has nearly lifted.  We can nearly see.  We are readying ourselves for the journey back into the world.   After a pause and full integration of who we now are and what gifts we have to share, we will re-enter those places from whence we came originally.

RE-ENTRY

The mission of Re-entry is immersion. Having tilled the ground with early questions of authenticity in relationship, spirituality, healing, lifework and ecology and found some deeper realities, we come back to a world often not even yet aware of any need for evolution.  But by holding the questions and the empty space where answers could exist, we will find ways to Reenter and fill that void.  The Dreamer, Realist and Critic collaborate, still internally motivated but include some external  reference; and consider the future for options and procedures.

 How do I return?

What gifts do I share?

What is the structure?

How do I implement?

This is the final tasking of Re-membering, which furthers our own evolution as much or more than it may impact the environments in which we exist.  If we don’t come back, then we haven’t completed the journey and we would remain floating somewhere without any real grounding.  This is the phase of our own transformation that can be equally as major a sub-transition as Separation was.  It’s not easy to enter places where what we have to give isn’t always all that welcome.  It can be frustrating and many of us will just want to give up and close ourselves off.  But we can drop hints where we may. We can watch with our inner eyes for those who are ready for the Sparking, even if they don’t consciously realize it.  These are the people we can touch, even as we go deeper into our own transformation.  These are the ones who will receive the gifts, even if we have to carefully parcel them out over time.

Patience and intent are indeed the by-words of Re-Entry that allow us to ask our own answers.  Belief in ourselves and the possibilities of human potential cleave the way for what is to come.  Questers first had to adhere to the strong possibility that the path was so.  Then over time, the attractor of that energy created the magnet for events to align themselves to make the reality.

THE PRIVILEGE OF OUR TIMES

Cultural Creatives, a name given to change agents by Paul Ray, may be paving a new world pathway.  But evolution is an ancient road.  As far as the common thread of the human condition, we are very similar to people living in times past.  Yet we are fortunate to be born in this age when so many are waking up.

Even as we travel through the cycle of Re-membering, the circle never ends.  We will re-enter the world and integrate our gifts.  Over time, we will then again become anesthetized  while we rest on our laurels.  But sooner or later, we will once again arouse ourselves to invite in an even vaster existence.  The larger the entity the slower is evolution.  But Gaia is awakening and will soon be in the Separation phase.  Being residents within Her domicile, we are privileged to further Her Re-membrance as we do our own.  Any of us cannot help but act on each other because there is no division.  There are only macro and micro interconnecting systems of existence. One touch here will be a  wind on another planet in another galaxy.

♦︎ ♦︎ ♦︎

*Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is known as the study of human excellence. NLP has precision processes that allow you to quickly cut to the core of your own template. You are able to gain a profound understanding of how you operate. Through NLP, you are able to uncover the unconscious beliefs that serve you well and lead toward your successes in life. You are also able to discover specifically what blocks your progress. While NLP builds an even stronger foundation for your strengths, it also enables you to break through the barriers that have held you back by transforming limiting beliefs  — creating movement beyond the dictates of old programming to a enjoy a wider life.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Healing, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Music Review – On the Wings of a Butterfly

KathyM_CD

Kathy Marshall has released her third CD in just the time we so need her thoughtful, heartfelt lyrics. On the Wings of a Butterfly took five years to come into being. Worth waiting for, her words and music are reflected against the backdrop of a world that has gone off the rails. Kathy poignantly acknowledges her own challenges in these times, but gently pulls us back toward realignment. And she reminds us…together we matter in building a world that embraces love. We gather strength for this journey. That is the effect this new album has on me.

Some works of art unconsciously, naturally create themselves as a whole within the artist first. Then emerge in purity and perfection to touch others in such a way that we—the listener—become the one singing the song, having the experience.

From It Takes Love: Carry me across the water…Fly me through the air…it takes love to flow that way…Help me light the fire…Walk with me on the earth…

From Help Us Now: We were meant for these times…We were born to be here…The world is changing and fighting for her life…Today I said a prayer…That Love and Light is there…Shining brightly like the midday sun…

All lyrics and music written by Kathy Marshall. CD available to purchase or download via her website and CD Baby where you may also listen to individual songs.

For my review on Kathy Marshall’s second CD, Standing on Sacred Ground, go here.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Healing, Honoring the Earth, Music Review, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Churning, the Empowerment

Sometime in the fall an idea began to form that I would participate in the retreat taking place at Garchen Buddhist Institute over the turning of the new year. It was called their Winter Event—with Garchen Rinpoche and Lamas—for the Long Life Ceremony, Mahakala Empowerment and Bodhisattva Practices. I was actually surprised when the thought arose. I hadn’t been drawn before and knew absolutely nothing of Tibetan Buddhism. But somehow it seemed clear to me I was supposed to be there, so signed on for three days of the seven.

As the raven flies, Garchen Institute is about ten minutes away from my home. But because of the dirt roads between my place and theirs, it takes me about four times that to get there. As my first attendance day approached, I decided I’d better do a dry run to see if I could find it. I’d been out there about seventeen years ago, a few years after it was established, curious to see what was there. It’s fortunate I went with a friend then who had a vague idea where it was because it felt like we were lost for sure. But finally, all those years ago, there was a tiny sign indicating where to turn.

This time, on my dry run, I was alone and took my GPS which turned out to be no help, trying to take me down a cow path and then in the opposite direction, which I knew wasn’t right. It occurred to me that such places need to be hidden in a certain sense. When I did find my way, prayer flags were flying and it was clearly marked. But no signage along the way.

Garchen 2

I arrived that first day knowing nothing, which for me has usually worked out best. Little to entangle my mind, and the staff was kind in advising me of basic protocol—no shoes in the temple—and showed me to my place on the floor for the next few days.  I also did not know…

His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche is one of the foremost Buddhist masters and accomplished Tibetan Lamas alive in this world today.” Instead, I began to know so by his overwhelmingly compassionate presence when he first entered the room, something maintained throughout my experience there.

I had a rough time the first day. For years I’ve been able to sit cross-legged, straight-backed without support for hours without discomfort. One time in the middle of another retreat a long time ago, it just suddenly happened, like I was planted, and had continued ever since until this time. Every muscle in my body ached, and my right leg was restless. My mind wandered from the Lama’s teachings, and I kept fidgeting. I wasn’t able to follow what was presented. Frankly, I couldn’t wait for the day to be over.  But overnight something happened. I can only believe I’d been experiencing unconscious resistance in the face of something profound. In order to shift, there’s always conflict between what was and what is coming into being.

Over the next two days, the gentle smiling presence of Garchen Rinpoche, the chants and ceremony took me, culminating with the Mahakala Empowerment. Again, I had no idea what was coming. For me, the teachings were complex. Better to overwhelm my mind with. One of the nuns passed out a card to everyone with an image of a very scary looking deity. It was from the two-armed Mahakala, through Garchen Rinpoche, we were to receive blessings and the empowerment. I only understood this Mahakala to be one of the protector bodhisattvas.

People began to get up from their places and line up. They all had white silk scarves draped over their outstretched arms, seeming to appear out of nowhere. I touched the woman in front of me and told her I was unsure what to do as I didn’t have the length of silk. She smiled widely at me and said, “Yes, you do! I’ll pass mine on to you.” People were so kind. Then suddenly I was standing in front of Garchen Rinpoche. He took my face in his hands and touched my bowed head. One of the Lamas threw the silk scarf around my neck. I felt something. I was passed from one Lama to the next accepting sacraments from them in the form of a seed to swallow, dribbles of juice and a packet of seeds to keep. Somehow, I made it back to my place, closed my eyes, engulfed in energy. A few times I opened my eyes slightly to gaze at the Mahakala image on the card and close them again, as we’d been told to do. Then something completely unexpected happened…and I sat with it for days before I even attempted to express it to a couple of trusted friends. I’ve found that sharing such things, once I’m able to articulate them somewhat, helps to ground them.

Garchen 1

The retreat went on for a few days but it was the last for me. I emerged from that sacred space to hear that Trump ordered the murder of Iranian General Suleimani, that we were on the precipice of war. And it broke me apart. My great sadness and horror that yet another thoughtless act could be perpetuated by this president. The contrast was just too great.

Today I listened to Justine Toms of New Dimensions Radio interview mythologist-storyteller Michael Meade discussing Recreating the World. It was timely and reminded me of what I already know. Meade says we’re in a place the Irish call the Betwixt and Between. I call that place the Edge of Limitation. The end has already happened. We’re in the middle of it. He calls this state the Great Churning, when things come up from the bottom, those things we’ve sensed all along but now clearly laid out in front of us. We’re faced with the cynicism of politics where so many of our elected officials don’t stand for the wellbeing of Mother Earth and all beings. But acting for the 1% and their own self-interest, bought by large conglomerates and the extremely wealthy with an agenda. We’ve lost our Innocence. We experience loss and tragedy.

At the same time, Innovation is also revealed in a multitude of ways, speaking to the possibility of unity, the potential of coming together. We must enter the Imaginal Realm, identified so by Henry Corbin, where we must dive deeply and attune to our true inner nature. Now is a phase heading toward Initiation, unveiling all that’s light and dark.

In the last minutes before I arose from the cushion where I sat eyes closed in meditation— removed from the world in the temple at Garchen—I had a vision. One so real and powerful that…even now as I write this…I feel chills.  There was a great pile of rubble and earth. It began to shake, to come apart. A terrible, strange being climbed out of the gaping hole…and came to stand squarely…in front of me. It was the two-armed Mahakala, protector, remover of suffering for sentient beings. He then vanished and, in his place, was a control panel of the kind in the cockpit of an airplane.

Mahakala

Initially, I was overwhelmed by this vision and remained that way for some days. Now I know it was a clear message and the empowerment…and not only for me.

Now is the time for all of us to make the choice…to journey on…to be leaders in this transition.

I’m reminded of walking the Camino Francés. By the eighth day of my pilgrimage, I was in a great deal of pain, my right foot having sustained a mystery injury. I shuffled along slowly, pulling myself by my walking stick. I was alone. I was in the middle of nowhere…somewhere in northern Spain…

The trail was pretty much empty. I just toddled on. Another older gentleman, this one French, checked on me in passing, “Ca va?” In the middle of nowhere there’s nothing to do but go on. He must have taken a break somewhere because later he whispered as he passed again, “Courage!”

—Excerpt from The Essential Way

 

 

Categories: Compassionate Action, Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

I pulled the book out of the library stacks drawn by its unusual title, and then the cover with the tiny red shoes. What could Balzac have to do with a little Chinese seamstress? I vaguely remember hearing about the Cultural Revolution during the days of Mao Zedong* but I was quite young then. Too young to have much interest or understanding of what was happening on the other side of the planet to many children the same age I was. This novel educated me.

In 1968 Mao closed all the schools – elementary, high schools and universities – dictating that “young intellectuals” be sent to the countryside to be “re-educated by the poor peasants” presumably to create a great leveling. Books were banned and burned. Anything having a whiff of Western to it, or anyone, was denounced. Academics, writers, artists, any professionals were punished and sent off to labor camps to be “re-educated.” Multitudes did not physically survive and many considered themselves a lost generation.

balzac andThis is a coming of age story in a special setting under difficult circumstances. It’s about what happens when norms are stripped away. When suddenly families are forcibly separated… elements of society previously valued devalued…control wrought by fear…what arises as a result…and the ways in which humans hang onto a piece of themselves and seek to thrive.

The book opens with the unnamed narrator and his best friend Luo having already made the torturous two-day climb on a rugged path up a mountain known as the Phoenix of the Sky to its summit where they were assigned to the headman’s keeping in the poorest village of all. Their lodging was on stilts, a pig sty directly underneath, with little to no protection from the elements. The narrator’s parents were doctors. Luo’s father was a dentist who wasn’t wise enough to keep the fact to himself that he’d fitted Mao with new teeth. The boys were hardly intellectuals, having only finished middle school. Daily the boys were forced to carry buckets of liquid feces on their backs, sloshing as they climbed up the mountain to the fields where it would be used as fertilizer. By the end they’d be soaked with the contents only to begin again. Later they had to work underground for two months in mines that were little used.

In the back-breaking monotony of their days they retained some spirit – subterfuge to trick the headman, have some fun, fall in love, and maintain a semblance of control over their lives where they had little. When the boys arrived in the village, they’d brought two forbidden items. The narrator brought a violin in its case. Luo brought a wind-up alarm clock that contained a rooster pecking the clock’s floor as the minutes ticked away.

Of course, the violin and case were immediately detected and passed around to all those assembled. It was shaken, pounded, its strings nearly broken. The headman declared it a bourgeois toy and started to burn it when Luo stated, with an air of authority, that it was a musical instrument. And his friend the narrator was a fine musician. The narrator, nearly choking, started to play Mozart and Luo said the title of the piece was Mozart Is Thinking of Chairman Mao. Smiles all around.

The headman was fascinated by the alarm clock, never having seen one…especially with a rooster pecking out the time, to the point he’d carry it around and look at it constantly. The boys were able to retain it. One morning when they couldn’t face those buckets that early, Luo turned back the clock by an hour and went back to sleep. The headman was none the wiser. When they wanted to have an early day, they’d turn it forward. Finally, they had no idea what time it was. The headman went by the clock.

But what is the connection between Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress? The boys discovered some forbidden Western classics, translated into Chinese, by Balzac, Dumas and others, hidden in a locked suitcase belonging to another “intellectual” boy undergoing re-education in another village. This, about the same time they met the old tailor in a far village whose granddaughter was beautiful beyond perfection. She was illiterate – as were all the villagers – but hungry for the education books can bring.

There are many levels to this thin novel. It educated me in an area where I knew nothing. The author-filmmaker Dai Sijie also made it into a movie. You can see it in its entirety with English subtitles on You Tube. I suggest reading the book first and then watch the film. The book contains a lot that I would have missed if I’d only seen the film. The cinematography is stunning, and the film contains an epilogue not in the book, closing an open loop. One poignant that brought back my own memories, making me feel nostalgic.

This story takes on another significance considering it’s autobiographic. Dai Sijie was re-educated himself between 1971-1974. The book was his first and became an immediate bestseller and prizewinner in France at its release. Rights were later sold in nineteen countries.

********

*Commonly referred to as Mao Tse-tung, he is also known as Mao Zedong and referred to that way in this book.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Film Review | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Nurturing Core Silence

My invitation to meditation came nearly forty years ago. As many such things that arrive, it was of necessity, and I was unconscious of it in the moment. Thankfully, that time I paid attention to the part of me that knew—but back then would usually ignore…until I didn’t. A strong message: I must come down out of my head in order to live. You can read this as a metaphor, which is valid. But it was also a physical reality. I had driven myself into the ground until my body rebelled with a clear communication. It took that. I wasn’t listening. It stopped me short and laid me flat. It was serious. A hard learning curve.

It was in the recovery process the pull to meditation became pronounced. Now I would say I was just following the energy. Even that phrase is a poor descriptor. For some things, there are just no words. I had no real framework at the time. Even though “meditation” had become a buzzword…if there were classes where I was living at the time, they were underground, and I wasn’t part of the network.

I turned to research. How I came to these classics—Human Energy Systems by Jack Schwarz and Joy’s Way by Brugh Joy—is lost to time. Although my well-worn copies have remained on my bookshelf as a testament. Their content was a fit for me. I was able to come to my own method using breath and energy. Experiential. Of the body and beyond the body. I didn’t know what I was doing, frankly.

I began a practice that has stayed with me to this day: I got up at least an hour earlier than I did previously so as not to be rushed. (This is the point, isn’t it?) I sat. The mental chatter was an aggressive distractor. Finally, after quite a while, I started getting the hang of it. Then something totally unexpected started occurring.

Pain, pressure and weird sensations that—with my eyes closed—felt like my body was strangely contorting. It was only in opening my eyes, that I would discover I was still sitting upright, never having moved. Much later I would understand I was experiencing blocked energy. I learned through contrast as I began to kinesthetically experience flow in, through and around my body, stronger and stronger over decades. It’s been my saving grace. It’s affected how I live. I don’t know where I’d be without it…this gift from beyond my self.

Silence

It used to frustrate me there’s no Mysticism for Dummies book. No explicit instructions. How could there be? Any true book on mysticism, usually the most obscure, only allude to the elements of the path, always veiled, sometimes through metaphor. There are no words. It’s also a protection from ourselves. The mind loves to get wrapped around the right way to do things, losing out in the process.

What I’ve found most useful is not to read much in this realm. So much better for me to immerse myself and be present. Becoming aware through experience. When later if I stumble across something that documents the elements I’ve come to know experientially, it serves to validate something whose territory is already familiar.

silence bookOn that note, several months ago I stumbled upon Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness by Robert Sardello. There are examples of spiritual literature over the centuries, wisdom writings of great mystics, identifying the heart as the seat of spiritual perception. His writing goes steps beyond in leading the reader to the Presence that resides in the seat of spiritual perception…the wisdom source. This is not something abstract. It’s grounded in full vibration and kinesthetically recognizable. He also offers practices to recognize and develop this spiritual muscle. I’m going to stop here as this is your own area to explore if you like.

Over twenty years ago, I first came upon the word kenosis, coming from Greek, meaning to empty. I identified with it as the path I’ve chosen. The act of kenosis is more though than releasing, letting go. That’s part of the process. But ultimately, it’s about creating the inner spaciousness that invites something else. I resonate with what Robert Sardello gives name to—The Silence and that it comes as grace.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Energy Healing, Meditation, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Beyond the Edge of Limitation

We’re up against that marker in time—the new year—when so many of us create a space to consider personal evolution, maybe revolution, the threshold and what we intend beyond.

Previously, I’ve offered the practice of choosing a word to frame your new year, one to deepen your spiritual path, a quality to grow into… But there are points of contemplation to inform any movement or choice of word: readiness and the edge of limitation. These two areas are a perennial source of inquiry for those who want to transcend the status quo.

Note that any change involves a natural conflict, a necessary tension, between what was and what will be. So, part of readiness is identifying your personal edge of limitation because that’s the point at which you risk pulling back and becoming stalled—often totally unconscious until you begin to dip into that territory.

I’ve written about these two areas in a variety of ways before. Here are introductions to use as prompts if you wish.

Lake Najá Photo

The Crossing. Photo: Carla Woody

On readiness:

The point of readiness is exactly that.  It’s a pinpoint in time, a moment of decision when we are poised at the threshold contemplating intent’s power to move us to a farther path from where we’ve been…

…Some people dance back and forth or even all around it. Others try to ignore it. But it’s hard not to notice a strong wind at your back urging you to go somewhere, to fly over the landscape.

Still others go willingly, pausing for a moment and then stepping deftly through the doorway…

…The question here is to consider: How do we know when it’s time to go? To jump? To move through? To evolve?

Read original post.

Resistance

The Resistance. Photo: Carla Woody

On the edge of limitation:

For years I led a meditation group…One time during the open frame a longtime participant asked a question.

What is the edge of limitation?

…It was a question that—over time—framed a journey of my own, an odyssey into self-inquiry and the nature of a spiritual journey. I went on to write an entire chapter on this question in [my book] Standing Stark and, in the process, generated other queries to further define the question. Some of them are below.

Where is the meeting point between complacency and possibility?

Where is the meeting point between pain and healing?

Where is the meeting point between control and surrender?

New considerations will open to places that are unfamiliar. I use a variety of metaphors to describe that state. Perhaps it’s a dark forest where the path isn’t visible. Maybe it’s a membrane you bump up against; to break through the sheathing involves an identity level shift: how you are in the world. Or it’s a threshold, the precipice where a decision is made to retreat or move forward. So, the edge of limitation is the pinpoint in thought, time and space before Separation from the old self of status quo…

Read original post.

Adding in several more directly from Standing Stark:

Where is the meeting point between denial and recognition?

Where is the meeting point between control and surrender?

Where is the meeting point between loneliness and solitude?

Where is the meeting point between withholding and intimacy?

Where is the meeting point between aversion and acceptance?

Where is the meeting point between fear and distinction?

…The outcome of this scrutiny will be the finely honed attunement of the tensions we hold. Perhaps we will allow the overlay to occur that will dissolve any separation. The edges will cease to exist. The energy of the threshold will carry itself. We will know That which lies beyond the doorway to be ours.

Invitation

The Invitation. Photo: Carla Woody.

I wish you warm holidays and a meaningful transition to the new year.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Healing, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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