Gratitude, #2

Can you feel it?

Gratitude

for how each drop of pain

like black fire

sinks into the heart

and explodes

into a zillion shining shards

so that all of you –

neck, shoulders, lungs, bowels –

is swallowed by agony

so that the mind can begin

its long wondrous swim

through brilliant realms

dive into the earth

where stars are born

and gods find their peace.

If the only god is

the broken open heart

how can you not feel grateful

that the world is such a very

cruel place?

 

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In the Arms of the Dragon

When one does a lot of NOSC work, Holotropic and other, it is imperative (we say) that the Traveler make time and space to go through an “integration” process – that is, be able to spend the time it takes to allow the new material, new lessons, new information gained to become a part of one’s life. This needs reflection time more than anything else, preferably without distractions such as jobs and family. Perhaps the Traveler could draw, sing, paint, walk, swim, meditate, pray – any activity that will allow what is latent to arise, what is undigested to be properly diffused into cells and tissue, what is not yet aligned to take its place in the whole. This is the prescription after every session – what we say, what we remind people to prepare for, what we insist is right practice.

In the 20 years during which I have been wandering this path, it has been both curse and blessing that my life is such that I have had almost no time to simply sit through a long integration process. Work and family have been all-consuming. The time away from both has been spent in NOSC session and taking more time is pretty impossible. I push back at those who would argue that this is all a matter of choice by agreeing that it is a choice but only in so far as I choose work and relationship over my own process because there are others involved – others who are at least somewhat dependent on my attention. This is samsara – and to be fully human, one needs to, I think, accept samsara fully even if one is fortunate enough to transcend it often. The barbed wire tangles of a human’s existence among other humans is highly irritating and it is tempting to “transcend,” to “detach,” to escape – but I choose not to. For one thing, I am not one who wants to keep coming back to this human existence – I’m pretty done with it despite the good food, sex, and forest hikes that make life bearable. So I’m in a bit of a hurry to learn all I can about barbed wire so I can get it over with and move on to something else.

My transformative integration process happens on the fly. Sometimes, literally – on long flights when I have the time to listen to music, read, stare out the window at vast stretches of land and water passing beneath. There’s something about the height that invites perspective, something about the rising that allows letting go, and of course the forced idleness is perfect. Long solo car drives help. Waking up an hour early in the morning to read or read the tarot or sing or stare into space or cry helps. 10-minute meditations, 2-minute check-ins, taking a long breath in the bathroom, getting into bed early enough to shut out the world before opening to the dream. The heart opens, the mind suddenly expands, the body lets go. Sometimes an image shows up just long enough to make sense of everything. Often a poem. But it’s all very fast and in between other, more practical, activities. I don’t recommend this to anyone, I still preach the long, purposeful integration, but I have not had it and have managed to get by without.

So I have come to see that the huge barbed wire tangle is really a living dragon – scales, teeth, tail, hot breath, and all. While she tosses me about, there is also her warm flesh to lie against, her eyes to look into, her scales to explore carefully. The stresses of not being able to pay my mortgage are her nails clawing my back, arguments with co-workers her hand dragging on my hair. I bite her back when she chews on me by bringing disappointment after disappointment. All those high expectations dashed under her swaying, thrashing tail. Bruised and scratched up, it’s good when I can get a minute out of her lusty, scaly arms, a minute to breathe clean air after the hot breath of depression and despair, the drooling snot of black fear that intoxicates mind and body.

But each scratch opens me up, each hot breath is a wake-up call, each tail-swipe against my head a naming of my own impermanence. Accepting this relationship with her is the only way to live – saying yes to every bruise, then realizing that all this battering is her way of dancing with me, and I just haven’t yet learned the steps as she does them. I remember the first time I danced with someone’s arms around me – the only way to not step on toes and not bump knees was to get so close that we moved as one. This is the dance of the dragon samsara and getting as close as possible is more than survival, it’s the way into the dance. Listening with every pore to her and to myself prevents much pain, and I come to realize, finally, that dancing and snuggling with bad breath, sharp claws, and chomping teeth – inhaling parent brutality, neglectful lovers, abortions and drug abuse – is Love. I awake in her arms to the understanding that the dragon loves me, that I am ultimately safe with her. That Life loves me and, in fact, in Julian of Norwich’s words, all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

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Sat, Chit, (not yet) Ananda

When I think of myself as divine, star dust, created out of the same substances as the planets, I am filled with fear. Not uplifted as I am supposed to feel when I am told that I am all these things. When I am in the presence of the Great Mother, I am intensely agitated. Her eyes frighten me and I hide.

It’s almost as if I am happier being a clod of earth, although how can I say that anymore, when I know that the clod of earth is the Great Mother and that it is made up of the very same substances that make up the stars? I prefer to be just human, walking the earth in a purely material way – it seems safer. The rules are clear. If I make money, I will be safe. If I can eat, drink, live under a roof, have clothes on my body, I am safe. Expanding my consciousness beyond that is terrifying.

Because then there is no end, no limit, and hence no safety at all. Because then, there are no rules that I can recognize or know. All is possible and I, being everything, being god herself, being not part of the universe but the universe itself, then I am nothing that I recognize or know. If I don’t recognize or know myself I am not – because this mental recognition is all I know. All I can grasp. Letting go into not knowing, not grasping, is terrifying beyond anything.

So I shut myself away from her touch, her voice, her glance. I close myself into my shaking frame. And pull down the shutters, lock the doors. But she finds me anyway. Sometimes pounding on the door, sometimes even cracking it a bit. Sometimes waiting patiently for me to show up. Sometimes, in a stern voice, “Sharanya!” and I shake.

I wish I could be like other people who feel only joy when they hear her voice. I wish the call to freedom didn’t scare me so much. I wish my heart would be calm and I could be bold enough to take my rightful place. I wish I could accept the reasonable, everyday glory of being a divine being. But I prefer to be a creepy crawly, as if expansion of that sort would crack my ribs and turn my bones to dust. As if muscle fiber and connective tissue would rip and tear until nothing was left of me  anymore. And the pieces would scatter to the winds. And I would be nothing.

So it’s a trajectory to fear. Give way a little to freedom, to empowerment, to love, to divine companionship, and the end of that road is annihilation. Better to huddle under the blankets. Better to dull the senses. Better to keep life small, manageable, safe.

The thing is, though, that creepy crawlies are the mother – not even disguised in any way. There’s nowhere to go, nothing I can be that will save me from this state of divinity. This is the truth. This consciousness. I just can’t seem to feel the bliss.

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Sensus Corporis

During the long introductory lecture before a Holotropic Breathwork session, the subject of the body comes up a lot: somatic realms, trauma in the body, energies manifested in the body, body work during the session, etc. Once, many years ago, a man at one of my workshops asked the following: in all Hindu scriptures, the body is considered unimportant. For true transcendence, we must transcend the body entirely, they say. So why, in work that purports to be so spiritual, do we spend so much energy, time, effort on the physical body?

The question pushed my buttons on many levels. And, since, in a workshop setting, the only person I can work on is myself, I had to breathe into the pushed buttons and find an answer – which came quite quickly and seemed to satisfy most of the group – although I don’t think the person who asked the question bought it. I said, simply, that the primary teaching of this modality is to work with what is and, since we have bodies, we work with our bodies.

This question brought up a whole bunch of discomfort for me. Rage, shame, and wanting to jump out of my skin. All in a second. First, because the questioner was an older Indian man. As he spoke, I remember my mind jumping off to the small room in my family’s house where the Hindu idols resided. I remember being afraid to go in there. I remember being told not to go in there when I had my period. And that thought brings up all the ways in which my body – female and hence impure – was kept out of all spiritual practice. The men do the puja. The women stand by. IF they are not menstruating. All difficult, interesting, thought-provoking spiritual matters are left to the men. Kundalini practice is too powerful for women. Real shlokas are learned and spoken by men. We yell so much about the Catholic Church – has anyone ever seen a female priest in a Hindu temple? For some priests, the touch of a woman’s skin could send them off to take another shower. Because god will not listen to the prayers of an impure priest.

I was a Bharatanatyam dancer for most of my life. Gorgeous practice, it was banned in India for many years and, even in my time, women who practiced the form after a certain age could find it difficult to have an arranged marriage. In the “old” days, Bharatanatyam was the dance of the temple prostitutes. Translators of the stories of gods and goddesses, the women were kept as chattel. And, because we danced in front of so many men, we were “used” – a term carrying too many connotations to go into – but you read it or hear it and you know what it means. Defiled by eyes and lustful minds – somebody else’s – and now only trash. I don’t know if “prostitute” in this case meant actual sex acts or if it was a way of calling them “vestal virgins” of some sort. It doesn’t matter. The men, in discarding the humanity of these women, were discarding their own humanity as well. Because, clean or impure, our bodies are all the same. Also, if a prostitute is unclean, then so is the person who is with her.

To be human is to have a body. Probably there is nothing else that differentiates us from other beings. So we must include our bodies in human spirituality. “Transcending” bodies is pretending that we are not human. That simply can’t work, for anything not authentic is not true and the untrue cannot be spiritual. The history of humankind is a story of bodies as much as a story of ideas, feelings, movements.

True awakening cannot be separate from bodily awakening. But what a mess that is! Bodily awakening means coming into our feeling of pain: all kinds. Of craving. And the cells of the body lead directly to our emotional centers, so bodily awakening will be a coming into our emotional pain as well. Most of all, awakening into the body means awakening to our mortality – and perhaps this is why we would all prefer the spiritual bypass of finding god or oneness, transcending the immediate – because it’s so frightening to wake up to the knowledge of our imminent and certain death.

I try not to be sure of anything. And as I do more and more inner work, I am taught that I know nothing. And yet a paradox, for this I do know. At least for now. We cannot experience ourselves as spiritual without including our physical selves and everything that comes with that.

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The Midnight Hour

It has been a tumultuous time these last few weeks with Hillary emails flooding my mailbox and me wavering, wavering – shall I send (more) money? Why am I not doing it? (Other than the fact that I’m sort of broke all the time.) Finally, it’s time to shit or get off the pot, as they say. Tomorrow is Tuesday.

So, never mind for whom I cast my vote – that is and will remain utterly my own business. But all this – this sturm und drang on my fb page when I said I’m wavering – this waking up in the middle of the night arguing with myself, this nightmarish dread of a Trump presidency – this is clarifying some stuff for me, and it is time for clarification.

At the heart of this matter is the principle of Democracy. When we say “of the people…”, the people is not a collective – it’s each person. One at a time. Not the “will of the people” or the “voice of the people” – but of each person. Each person matters. Each voice matters. Each mind making meaning for itself. There is no whole without every single part. This is why Democracy is the most spiritual form of government we can create. It is in alignment with the larger Truth – that each atom in the universe is important – integral – to the whole.

So…each person, each elephant, each tree, each spider, each endangered frog, each and every inch of the coral reef, each drop of water. Each baby dying in the Sudan, each mother crying in Syria, each young man who cannot make a living in Mumbai or Nigeria or Kansas. Each child going to school hungry, each little girl raped, each sister watching her brother die in the street, each boy strapped to a bomb vest, each man living out his life behind bars.

Nothing is anything without each and every thing.

I have just finished watching the Amazon.com series Goliath with Billy Bob Thornton playing the “David” in the equation. And yes – I loved the feel-good ending of David taking down Goliath – an ugly, half-burned grotesqueness who represents the monster of a corporation that plays with human life and the planet willy-nilly. The entertainment industry makes hundreds of these shows –which make us all feel good as we cheer the pixelated David on and put away our own slingshots. Our stones are left on the ground, our slingshots fall into disrepair as we fill our time singing Kumbaya, or jumping up and down in frustration, or praying for deliverance, or curling up in a ball in our beds. (I do all of these things myself, one and a time and sometimes all together.) All the while, Goliath steps all over us, gobbling up the planet, sucking every resource dry, poisoning our food, water, air and soil.

We have come to a point when reasonable discourse has vanished off the face of the planet. We have one shot at this thing – every season – and it is this vote that we cast. We still have – unbelievable as it is – this right, this chance to take a stand, to make a point. One stone to pick up to place in the slingshot.

As I see it, there are two major contributors to our global crisis right now. Over population and corporate greed. We cry about racism, hate, gun control, immigration issues, climate change. Follow each of these carefully and there is one evil standing at the gate. Unfathomable greed. We can read the newspapers (online) and make speeches about racism, sexism, alcoholism, whatever. The truth is that if you put a lot of animals in a very small cage and take away resources and agency, they will turn on each other and kill. We are pressured beyond our endurance by interests that do not care about us and the result is a sort of dark fear that turns to hate and rage. It’s true that each of us has to transform this fear and rage and hate inside ourselves. It’s also true that we need to finally acknowledge the pressures and get out from under. While humans all share a tendency to be greedy, I have to say that we did not all create this cage, these pressures. It is neither true not fair not clear nor honest to say that humans need to transform themselves before they can change the world. The child that cries herself to sleep in hunger or pain does not share an ounce of responsibility for this horrendous state of affairs. No more than does the endangered toad or the polluted water.

Which brings me to what is happening right now in North Dakota. #noDAPL has become the single most important issue this world faces. I don’t care where you live, in what corner of the world you manage to get internet access and read about this thing happening on some cold mountain in North America. This is about you and me – every one of us. Stopping the destruction of the planet, standing up for the disenfranchised peoples of the world, uniting to stop Goliath from bleeding us dry – this is our work right now. I am not near that mountain and I cannot drop everything and go there. I can’t even buy stuff to send it to those brave but cold warriors waiting for winter. I have no legal expertise to free the journalists who are being jailed, and I don’t write for a newspaper.

But I know how important this is. I know that my breath, my flesh, my children’s breath and flesh, and their children’s children’s breath and flesh depends on the outcome of this battle. I know that all the animals on earth (and those who didn’t make it) are waiting to see what will happen. I know that the trees and the rivers in Australia and India and Russia and Africa and in Saudi Arabia are waiting. Will we come together and make a huge showing with our slingshots of words, songs, dances, dreams and prayers? Will we trust ourselves and show our brother and sister species that we can, in fact, live in alignment with the Great Truth that still lives in each and every one of us?

 

 

 

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Breakable

A few nights ago, I had a dream in which a man I work with threw a ball to me as I walked towards him. I watched the ball come towards me and did nothing, so it fell on the ground and rolled away. As I watched it arc towards me, I thought, Why are you throwing a ball at me? It made no sense. He did it again, bouncing the ball once in front of me. This time I put out a half-hearted pair of hands which did not catch the ball. Again, he rolled the ball to me and again I missed it. Such freedom, I felt, to not catch a ball that is thrown to (at?) me. The next day while napping, I had another dream in which I picked up a box and it slid through my hands onto the floor. No grip. We used to call this butterfingers – I call it freedom.

We are such a hand-driven species and so proud of it. We pull, push, squeeze, hold, grasp, feel, twist, ask, make, break, catch, stir, emphasize, empathize, all with our hands. Lately, I have been very aware of what my hands are doing – when I listen, for instance – or when I am doing “nothing.” Can they be quiet?

As a child grows, one of the developmental markers we notice is hand-eye coordination. We are even more an eye-driven species: relying completely on our eyes to feed us information that we turn into fact and “knowledge.” The eye sees only color and line, so our understanding is wholly informed by color and line.  We run our eyes over surfaces, gleaning facts we then categorize in various ways. I have lately been very aware of what happens when I close my eyes and use other faculties to “know” the world around me.

When we meditate, we are instructed to bring our attention back to the breath. When the mind wanders, chatters, imagines, we drop that and come back to the breath, returning to a different way of being with ourselves. I am interested these days in dropping the eye and the hand and waiting to see what the heart is up to in the moment. What happens when I allow my heart to be the sensory organ? To use verbs such as see, hear, touch doesn’t work, but we don’t have verbs for what the heart does.  Mostly, it opens.

When the heart opens, there’s a certain amount of pain that goes with the opening. Every time. Even in joy, happiness, ecstasy, bliss. Connecting through our skin-encapsulated egos is a painful endeavor. Each time, it’s a process of cracking open. With practice (over a long period of time for many of us), the big pain subsides a bit and we become a little more used to the cracking and splitting. We might even be able to stay open for longer periods of time. But the heart, still a muscle as we imagine it from our anatomy texts, must expand and contract – like everything in the universe. As the breath expands and contracts the body; as the sun, the solar system, space, the universe, the multiverse expands and contracts; as each cell, each ventricle and auricle, each pathway of blood or xylem and phloem, each star, each wave rises and falls, so also the heart must open and close – each closing brings regret, each opening a little pain.

We call feeling with the heart “love” and “compassion” – but even to have words for these is to categorize them as different from “normal” or “usual” ways of being. I think there might be people – maybe not many – who actually live in that heart space and it’s what they know and do and are. For someone like me, getting there takes work. A whole bunch of unlearning, a whole lot of conscious cracking open, and more risk-taking than I imagined. Maybe I will arrive in my next lifetime already knowing this space well; but in this life it has been almost too hard.

So I give deep gratitude to all that has brought me to the point where I can consider exchanging eye and hand for heart. It will not be of much help on any playground and possibly many objects will smash on the floor – but I am hoping for a different sort of ground under my being, and each time something slips through my fingers and smashes to smithereens, I will try to remember that the heart must break – over and over and over – and I will be grateful for the reminder.

 

 

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Considering Lilies

 

Many years ago, I told someone that I hate money – I hate talking about it, thinking about it, worrying about it. She said, “That’s a second chakra problem.” So, knowing how many other second chakra issues I have had to work with, I set out to work with this one. Money is energy. Our relationship with the world. An externalization of an internal relationship. I began to notice ebb and flow and all my reactions to both. I learned how to become a part of the flow and not a holding or empty point.

I was “lucky” that at this time several other second chakra issues began to clear up as well. Physical and psychic – if there’s a distinction to be made. Like each birth matrix in the Holotropic model, each chakra is a doorway into a vast universe and healing this universe in myself has been such interesting work. Hard work, too – but it’s so much fun as all the layers unfold and I can see, clean, clear, admire, and grow into each layer.

Now, I am coming up against the money-energy-second-chakra-learn-to-trust-the-ebb-and-flow moment again. Perhaps the big one. So far, I have been able to grit my teeth, clench my fist and keep moving through. A little openness has gone a long way so that energy has been more available, and I have been able to weather the empty times knowing that the flow will come around again. But now, I want to change how I make a living, and I am so afraid, because it means that I will have to change my relationship with everything.

Twice a month, I get a paycheck. This comes with health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance. I can afford to get my teeth cleaned, cavities filled, new contact lenses, and an ECG when I suddenly think I need it. Blood work, colonoscopy, hormone level testing, pap smears. All worth every minute I spend on my commute, every workplace tension, every overtime hour at work. Forget the stuff I can buy with my paycheck – a car, a house, food, college tuition – these are not necessities compared to health care. Remember the movie Elysium? Will I live on the grubby, grabby earth or on that beautiful turning resort-like planet of those who can pay for good health?

The second chakra rests in the web of life. We are connected through it, with it, in it. It is Life as we carry it in us. As I wrote the previous paragraph, I could feel some despair settling in the gut – this country has a second chakra problem. We do not take care of each other. We do not honor the web of life. We cannot rest in the interconnectedness of all consciousness. We have built a society in which only the third chakra – the seat of the ego – is honored. Such imbalance will destroy us. Is destroying us. The healthcare problem is symptom and proof. Our inability to find a good solution that will keep human beings healthy and in the flow of life is indicative of deep second-chakra dysfunction.

A chakra is unhealthy or dysfunctional when it is not open. Like points on a meridian, it remains healthy as long as it is open. If something causes a blockage, or an emptiness, then the health of the organism is impaired. Flow implies constant movement. The second something grabs on, flow is interrupted.

According to Biblical lore, the lilies in the field neither toil nor spin because a Gardener fertilizes, waters, and prunes. If we were supposed to be taken care of by some Gardener in the sky, we should all be like lilies: vegetables. But we are not. We have in us and in this world all the resources we need to take care of every human on the planet and the planet itself, and we have the intellectual capacity to do this. Only, we refuse to do it. If one percent keeps most of the resources, then there can be no flow – only emptiness and starvation on the one hand and glut on the other. Neither is healthy, not that I expect anyone to believe that.

In fact, now that I think about it, Matthew 6:28 – the passage about the lilies – is a bunch of baloney. It gives one the impression that the lilies do nothing but stand around while the Gardener in the sky takes care of them. In fact, they are busy giving and taking nutrients in the soil, exchanging with the bees, inhaling carbon dioxide, exhaling oxygen, creating nitrogen when they decompose. We are the lilies and we are the gardeners and it’s the constant movement of resources and nutrients that manages to keep us all alive. Interdependent instead of dependent.

This is not an Occupy rant. Because while we point a finger at this or that one percent, our third chakras grow and swell, absorbing important energy from all other chakras. Instead, one person at a time, healing, opening, allowing the flow, not grabbing – that seems to be the way. Each point of connection on the web settling into give and take. That might work. Becoming a gardener, each blade of grass a beauty to be tended. And trust? Trust the gardener in each of us, trust the soil, trust the exchange, trust the connection, trust the trust.

Coming back to my fear of changing how I make a living, I’ll first need to reject or rewrite the story of the lilies in the field. I can inhale and exhale. I can exchange nutrients and resources. I can barter with the bees and reflect dew off my petals. And fear – that will be the poison that I will mix into the soil. Sometimes, a little poison becomes really great fertilizer.

 

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