August 6, 2017 § 4 Comments
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.
Several years ago, I attended an art opening. During the event, I noticed a woman in the crowd start to move in a way that caused her to stand out. Dressed in flowy black clothing, she slowly, with great poise, began to extend her arms, moving her fingers as though sculpting the air. Eyes slightly downcast, unfocused and internal.
People stopped looking at the art and began looking at the woman. What was happening? Was she drunk? Having a slow-motion meltdown? The air in the room became tense and thick.
Like underwater kelp, she allowed her body to gently sway back and forth, stepping forward to move ever-so-slowly across the room, all the while tenderly crafting the space around her with fluid fingertips. Her pace and reverence were reminiscent of Tai Chi, but more evocative. Each movement was graceful, flowing into the next.
And then . . . we understood.
She was a dancer, and part of her performance was to take us by surprise. One moment she was one of us, standing around, looking at the paintings on the walls—conforming to the confines of accepted physicality (sitting, standing, walking). The next, she was breaking the movement taboo. Neither sitting, standing, nor walking, but expressing, emoting through her body.
The movements themselves were simple enough, but they were affecting. They came from a deep, committed place within the dancer.
I was struck, not only by the performance itself, but also by that string of moments when people were taken aback by the simple act of a woman moving authentically. You could see in their faces that until they could categorize what was happening, they mistrusted it. Until she was officially “a dancer” in their minds, she was potentially a loose cannon for daring to step outside the confines of acceptable movement.
As we watched her perform, I noticed how sharply her physical fluidity and emotiveness contrasted our own uniform rigidity. It was then that I realized there exists an invisible tyranny over movement. An unspoken, shame-based restriction so pervasive, we don’t often think to question or challenge it.
Dance has been an important part of human ritual, healing and celebration since before the birth of the earliest civilizations. Archeologists have discovered paintings in Indian and Egyptian tombs depicting dancing figures from as far back as 3300 B.C.
While in tribal scenarios we once danced together—and still do in some parts of the world and small pockets of society—as culture has evolved, a distinct division has occurred between professional dancers, who are in effect “socially sanctioned” to move expressively, and regular folk who make jokes about having “two left feet.”
Break dancing is one notable exception, in that self-taught dancers are celebrated. But even in this scenario, it’s the most exceptional, skilled and practiced performers that are given audience. There are still parameters. Technique is required. One couldn’t simply improvise and make up for a lack of skill with feeling.
Beyond perhaps shaking their hips at a dim, crowded club here and there, most people without a background in dance feel intimidated by the idea of engaging their body in expressive movement.
Most of us who are not professional dancers have at one time been shamed—or watched others be shamed—by peers when we step outside the box of acceptable movement. The shadow of social stigmatization looms large. We fear being a joke, Elaine, in the TV series Seinfeld, who famously loved to dance but moved with embarrassing seizure-like jerks, thumbs and knees akimbo, all the while thinking she was the life of the party.
This unspoken shame and fear surrounding expressive movement prevents most people from ever experiencing the immense therapeutic benefits of dance.
Swedish researchers have shown dance to improve mood and increase mental health. It builds cardiovascular, bone and muscle strength. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing can decrease the onset of dementia, boosting immunity, memory and cognition. A Standford Study has found that movement to music creates new neural pathways by integrating several brain functions at once: kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional.
The depth of skill required to perform any kind of classical or structured dance is undeniably impressive. But many people don’t realize there exists a genre of dance which specifically celebrates the authentic movement that springs from the untrained body.
Postmodern dance emerged in the late ’60s as a reaction against the compositional constraints of modern dance. In the same way, modern dance itself once rebelled against the rigid formalism of classical ballet. The Judson Dance Theater, a collection of Greenwich Village artists, dancers and composers, rejected formalism in favor of fostering the purity of ordinary movement.
They saw beauty and value in the freshness of instinctive human self-expression, often using untrained dancers in their performances. Postmodern dance is typified by natural movement—versus learned form.
Around the turn of the last century, people like Isadora Duncan had developed a style they called “free dance”—a rejection of classical formality, which paved the way for a deepened expression of natural movement. Drawing on inspiration from classical Greek arts, folk dances, nature and natural forms, Duncan “followed [her] fantasy and improvised, teaching any pretty thing that came into [her] head.” (Barefoot Dancer: The Story of Isadora Duncan.)
Several years after my experience at the art opening, I found myself stretching on a studio floor with a dancer-friend of mine. A modern dance teacher, she had been kind enough to give me a crash course in movement. As we warmed our bodies up and felt into the space around us, she told me all about postmodern dance and the virtues of authentic movement. Hearing from a trained, professional performer that my natural, untrained physical impulses had value was nothing short of mind blowing to me.
As she stretched her hamstrings, my friend explained that, just like any art, the main purpose of contemporary dance was to develop one’s “authentic voice.” As a writer, I recognized this phrase and understood it. Authentic voice highlights the value of personality and uniqueness in making effective art. It denotes the pleasure provided by idiosyncrasy, honesty and sincerity.
To cultivate authentic voice takes experimentation, risk and practice—it’s a meditation on the power of vulnerability. Applying this idea to dance was a game-changer for me. Ultimately, developing one’s true voice in dance is not about technique, it’s about having the confidence to go deep, and to be vulnerable, allowing authenticity to shine through.
[Photo by Javier Vallhonrat]
I started in my living room. I began to play with what my body wanted to do. My dancer-friend had mentioned Bartenieff Fundamentals, a method she had studied which begins with a focus on breath, and evolves into one of the body’s extremities taking the lead in expressing itself.
It could start with a hand, a shoulder, a toe, the spine…I learned that if I waited and listened, with music playing, some part of my body always volunteered for the job. And after that, another part inevitably followed.
The goal, my friend said, was simply to become comfortable with my own patterns of authentic movement. And then to eventually build and expand upon those patterns. Modern dance pioneer Martha Graham’s concept of Contraction & Release (a contracting movement with each in-breath, an expansive one with each outbreath) was also a helpful touchstone to begin.
In flamenco, there is a word called, duende, the spirit of the dance. Flamenco dancers wait to start moving until they feel the duende move them. They will wait, poised while the music plays, for as long as it takes.
My first time experiencing being moved by the duende of dance was life-changing. I felt a natural rhythm take hold of me, propelling me. I wasn’t thinking at all, which felt delicious. As a writer who spends most of my creative time in my head, it felt amazing to move my focus to the body, to learn this new visceral language and communicate beyond words. My body rejoiced in its newfound freedom, and it had a lot to say. Stored emotions surfaced, flowing through me, released. It felt good to move expressively. In fact, it felt essential. I wondered how I had ever lived without it.
I started my dance practice while snowed in during the month of January, while fighting an immense depression. Without exaggeration, dance lifted me out of an epic funk and into a new exciting space of possibility. I had broken through the movement taboo and it was deeply liberating. I dare anyone to throw themselves into dancing to the full length of a song they enjoy and not feel a marked sense of uplift by the end. It’s an endorphin rush, athleticism meets creative catharsis.
Dance is a vital resource of physical health and emotional wellbeing. You don’t need to take a class to do it. Dance is for everyone. With the exception of the completely paralyzed, someone in a wheelchair can move their upper body expressively to music—there are whole dance companies created by the differently abled.
Deep, expressive movement works as emotional therapy, a physical boost and a cardiovascular workout that you won’t even know you’re doing—until the song ends and you feel how fast your heart is pounding in your chest. Even a slow song, if you work on consistent pacing and fluidity, is a major core workout.
This is an invitation to shed the shame, break the taboo, and reclaim your body’s natural joy in movement. All it takes is 5 minutes, some space, some music, and your willingness to open up to what your body wants to say.
*For some inspiration, follow my journey as an untrained dancer exploring free/postmodern dance & movement on Instagram, @taiwoodville. Special thanks to Alissa Hattman for her notes on this piece, and for Michele Ainza (my dancer-friend) for freely sharing her wisdom, knowledge and inspiration.
March 10, 2017 § 3 Comments
“Magic is the technology/psychology of immanence, of understanding that everything is connected.”
~ Starhawk, “Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex & Politics.”
Before advertising stole our souls and scientific materialism denied its existence, dogmatic religious institutions held our souls hostage. The result has been a continually morphing and adapting form of systematic soul erasure in the Western world.
Author & activist Starhawk calls this “removing content.” She notes that it allows for power relationships in which human beings are exploited, and for a worldview that results in the exploitation of nature, because the inherent value of being has been denied.
“I call this consciousness estrangement,” Starhawk details, “because its essence is that we do not see ourselves as part of the world. We are strangers to nature, to other human beings, to parts of ourselves. We see the world as made up of separate isolated nonliving parts that have no inherent value. Among things inherently separate and lifeless, the only power relationship possible is manipulation and domination.
“As we become separate, and are manipulated as objects, we lose our own sense of self worth, our belief in our own content, and acquiesce in our own exploitation.”(“Dreaming the Dark.”)
In this worldview emptied of spirit, a tree becomes merely timber to be measured in feet, given value only by its profitability; not its being, its beauty, or its part in the larger ecosystem.
Considering that Western society sees virtually nothing as sacred, it’s easy to see why we are poised on the brink of collective self-destruction.
And so an effectively soulless society is created, inhabited by shells who struggle to see their own value beyond doing & having. A sense of nonreality permeates our lives. As my dear poetry mentor, Barry Spacks, once phrased it: “Waiting to arrive, we’ve been here all along.”
“We live our lives feeling powerless & inauthentic—feeling that the real people are somewhere else, that the characters on the daytime soap operas or the conversations on late-night talk shows are more real than the people and conversations in our lives; believing that the movie stars, the celebrities, the rock stars, the People Magazine-people live out the real truth and drama of our times, while we exist as shadows, and our unique lives, our losses, our passions, which cannot be counted out or measured, which were not approved, or graded, or sold to us at a discount, are not the true value of this world.”
Starhawk notes that estrangement permeates our society so strongly that to us it seems to be consciousness itself. Even the language for other possibilities has disappeared or been deliberately twisted.
“Yet another form of consciousness is possible. Indeed, it has existed from earliest times, underlies other cultures, and has survived even in the West in hidden streams,” Starhawk notes.
“This is the consciousness I call immanence—the awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, interacting and infused with moving energies: a living being, a weaving dance.”
“Magic is a word that makes people uncomfortable,” notes Starhawk, “so I use it deliberately, because the words we are comfortable with, the words that sound acceptable, rational, scientific, and intellectually sound, are comfortable precisely because they are the language of estrangement.”
She details that magic can be very prosaic—a leaflet, a lawsuit. Anything that changes consciousness at will. It can also be esoteric—inner work, interacting with the cosmos at large. At its heart, magic is moving energies.
“Ironically, as estranged science and technology advance, they have begun to bring us back to a consciousness of immanence. Modern physics no longer speaks of separate, discrete atoms of dead matter, but of waves of energy, probabilities, patterns that change as they are observed; it recognizes what shamans & witches have always known: that matter & energy are not separate forces, but different forms of the same thing.”
Starhawk defines: “To say something is sacred is to say that we respect, cherish and value it for its own being.”
In a world stripped of sacredness, it is a revolutionary act to see the innate beauty and value in being—one’s own and others’—to cherish & respect, to view life with reverence. When we remove the veil of Western materialism, the world comes alive again; and anything is possible.
This paradigm shift—from viewing reality as composed of separate, isolated, nonliving parts; from seeking power-over-–must be replaced by a worldview that acknowledges the living ecosystem of our dynamic inter-connectivity, to seeking power from within.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the survival of our species depends on it. And change starts within. Like seeds, we dream in the dark earth, but inside us we hold a blueprint for blooming.
So let us feel into our own aliveness today, let us expand our attention to include our own being; let’s look for it in others, in animals and plants. The world is shot through with immanence… for those who care to see.
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September 3, 2016 § 6 Comments
“Every man is a divinity in disguise, a god playing the fool.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The Higher Self is whispering to you softly in the silence between your thoughts.” ~ Deepak Chopra
“Through meditation, the Higher Self is seen.” ~ Bhagavad Gita
In a time when depression & anxiety have become an international epidemic, we can no longer afford to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater—when we dismiss the idea that humanity has divine connections simply because religious dogma has made a mess of the sacred, we do just this.
We can observe that wherever great power exists, corruption will feed.
In this way we can deduce that the seed in the heart of all religious movements—the basic idea of a presence within us that transcends flesh & connects us with a vaster power—may be just such a smeared truth. I invite you to consider, as a thought experiment, that this is the case.
In rejecting the idea that we are more than we appear, we cut our power off at the roots before even exploring its possibility. It should be considered logically suspicious that what has potential to be our greatest power has been routinely corrupted from the beginning of time.
Modern thinking embraces logic as a hallmark of reason, it is therefore only reasonable to consider all possibilities when considering something as elusive, mysterious and important as our place within the universe.
While the the idea of a higher self has been revived in New Age literature, it is an ancient concept, dating back to the oldest sacred texts of India, The Vedas, a body of insights written by various sages after long periods of meditation between 1700-1100 BC.
The Vedas describe The Atman as the inner self or the soul, which is the true self or essence of an individual, beyond identification with form. In order to attain liberation, a human being must acquire self-knowledge (atma jnana), which is to realize that one’s true self (Ātman) is identical with the transcendent self Brahman.
As pioneering thinker Terence McKenna said, “You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility, because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you is your own understanding.”
But you don’t have to meditate for hundreds of hours to touch this transcendent aspect of self, just block off five-to-ten minutes a day, preferably before you start your day, and go inward. As a thought experiment, open your mind to the grand untapped majesty that might await you, and investigate!
What comes up when you focus your attention on connecting with the higher self? I’m not talking about the doubts and fears—push those aside, it’s only a thought experiment. I’m talking about: what colors? What images or words? What feelings?
Here’s an exercise. Think of a time when you felt most yourself, most alive and vibrant. Hone in on that feeling and stoke it like a fire with your attention. Then, see what comes up. The imagination is the language of the subconscious, which is the gateway to the higher self. Play, explore.
It is my experience that the better our relationship with our true selves is, the better we feel and the more we excel at what we do. So it is worth asking what your true self wants. And listening. It has rich gifts to share.
For me, discovering and forging a relationship with my higher self involved many years of trial and error, as well as an intensive year in shamanic psychotherapy, where I worked with a trained guide to re-integrate my fragmented self.
(*To work with this model yourself, check out my post: “Soul Retrieval. “ If you have trouble connecting to your higher aspect, try doing this exercise a few times to clear the psychic debris.)
When I am aligned with the aspect of myself that I would call my true self or higher self, I make self-caring choices. There is a tenderness, a sweetness, a reverence at the heart of everything I do. I am kinder to others, I receive insights and visions and creative ideas…the world opens up.
My day is vastly improved if I give myself just a few minutes in the morning to tune in with my higher aspect and seek its guidance. To start the day out in this manner is a practice of many I have known and respected, and I highly recommend it. People have busy lives—do it in the bathroom if you have to. But connect, feel into this possibility, receive its impressions. There is a wealth of inspiration and insight waiting.
The conditioned mind, the mind society has groomed, has been trained into docile disconnection. The systems of control don’t want you to be empowered. But there are answers and insights waiting beyond the conditioned mind. The higher self holds the key.
August 5, 2016 § 8 Comments
“Plato said God geometrizes continually.” ~ Plutarch
Sacred geometry patterns have been associated with mystical schools of thought for time immemorial, from the medicine wheels of North American tribal cultures to the sand mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism. But why?
At the forefront of this question is the idea that, because we see mathematical formulas & recurring geometric patterns in nature, math must be the highest form of expression—as mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss said, echoing Plutarch & Plato before him: “God arithmetizes.”
But many of today’s meditation practitioners & psychonauts are discovering a far more intimate connection to these patterns: through developing third eye perception, or spiritual/energetic sight, we are, many of us, beginning to visually perceive these sacred geometry patterns emerging from reality itself. (See the comments section of Parallax’s “The Art of Seeing: Third Eye Perception & The Mystical Gaze,” for a plethora of reported anecdotal experiences.)
Psychedelics, such as ayahuasca, magic mushrooms & LSD, are also popular portals into viewing these sacred designs—though they are only brief glimpses into states which meditation can achieve in a more sustainable manner.
The implications of so many people perceiving these patterns—not just reading about them, but experiencing them directly—are profound. In a recent visionary journey with a friend we both came to the conclusion that existence is a constantly recycling infinity, much like the shape known as a torus.
This insight was accompanied by a tremendous sense of safety and security, because there was no falling through the cracks in this model of reality: everything remained part of the moving whole, and energy was never destroyed—the endless cycle spoken about in ancient texts, particularly of Eastern origin.
Viewed from above, a torus becomes a mandala, which is particularly interesting when we contemplate how long mandalas have been around, and how the modeling of the three dimensional torus is a relatively new construct.
To those of us seeing through the spiritual eye, it appears not only that we each have a personal vortex of this nature within our own skulls—the third eye—but also that the greater fabric of reality is composed of these patterns. The more we cultivate our third eye perception, the more we will see these patterns emerging. Staring at the sky on a clear night or during a day with no clouds can be a great place to begin seeing these patterns emerge.
Our culture doesn’t encourage skywatching, because it has forgotten the importance of cultivating Being—conspiracy theorists might say this is no coincidence. But that is where we seekers must pave our own paths and rekindle the ancient truth that stillness & contemplation are essential for understanding, and hence progress.
Meditation, of course, is a major gateway into starting to perceive this phenomena—particularly third eye based meditations. (Although not specifically third eye based, Headspace offers a fantastic free guided meditation app that will get you comfortable with the basics.)
So how does it all come together? What does it mean? For one, it means we are living in an energetic matrix, that we ourselves are composed of these fine patterns, which suggests a larger coherence & beauty underpinning existence than might meet the physical eye.
It would appear that the sacred mandalas repeated throughout history are intended as portals to initiate awakening to this awareness.
As the veil begins to lift, we see that we are more beautiful than we had imagined, that life is more full of the potential for joy than we may have conceived. And that this beauty and joy is already ours in its potential. It is not something that we can buy. It is something that we are. All that we need to do is access this untapped state within.
As we become more aligned with these patterns of existence, we begin to receive more personal revelations and connect more dots—find more pieces to the puzzle. Our instinct becomes sharper…and our anxiety begins to recede. Because the more we understand about the nature of existence, the more we see that, from an ontological standpoint, there is nothing to fear.
We see that, while there are many atrocities perpetuated by man, the universe itself is always waiting, within stillness, to lead us home back to ourselves, to a place of peace and eternal unfolding.
When I experienced this state of satori recently on my vision quest, I was particularly aware of one thread running throughout all of my visions: a sense of deep sacredness & reverence for life, which permeated all of existence. A feeling of sublime love was central to the feeling, and I understood why so many great spiritual thinkers return to the idea that Love is at the center of everything.
The more aware we become of our own being, the more tenderness & compassion we develop towards ourselves. The more tenderness & compassion we develop for ourselves, the more kindness we are able cultivate towards others—the more rippling outward effects we create, which is ultimately the road to world peace.
At the conclusion of our vision quest, my friend voiced that she would never feel purposeless again, because she had tasted this state of intoxicating unity & bliss within her own Being. “It’s simple,” she said. “The purpose is to attain this frequency as much as possible, and to cultivate it wherever & however possible.”
This was music to my ears, because I have come to exactly the same conclusion, and it has served me well.
This is the higher consciousness we have been striving to bring forth.
“There is nothing to seek and find, for there is nothing lost. Relax and watch the ‘I am’. Reality is just behind it. Keep quiet, keep silent; it will emerge, or, rather, it will take you in.”
April 12, 2016 § 11 Comments
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”
I have noticed the same thing about the highs and lows of my emotional life: my unhappy states all seem to have a wide array of causes, while my happy, high, in-the-flow states all seem to sing the same tune, as it were. The same insights flash back at me like familiar road signs. An invisible river of energy seems to flow through me, carrying treasures on its back in the form of ideas, inspirations and connections.
Apparently I’m not alone. Author, speaker, researcher & founder of the “new existentialism” movement, Colin Wilson shares related thoughts in a fascinating recorded talk at San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore:
“I began by writing this book, The Outsider, which came out in 1956. My basic interest then was the problem of certain romantics of the 19th century who had experienced tremendous feelings of ecstasy & insight, and then wondered the next morning if the whole thing had been a total illusion, so that we got this tremendously high suicide rate among the romantics.”
“I became preoccupied with this because I had had the same kind of feelings ever since I was a small boy. It wasn’t until I read Wordsworth—who talks about this time in childhood when everything seems wonderful and then how, as you get older, the shades of the prison house begin to close—that I began to see this is a problem that all human beings experience.
“What I wanted to know was: is there some fundamental gap between these moods of ecstasy and the ordinary reality of the physical world in which we live? Is it totally impossible to reconcile the two of them? In a sense, you see, I couldn’t really believe that it was so. Because whenever I experienced moods of intensity or of total relaxation I always had the same insight, as if I had gone to a kind of hilltop and seen precisely the same vision, exactly the same landscape below, which made me feel that it was, in a sense, objective. It must be solid or else it would be different every time.”
“On the other hand, in what you might call ‘the worm’s eye view’ moods, things are bad in a different way every time. And you suddenly feel that it’s only the bird’s eye views that are true. It’s the big that’s true, not the small. Close-up-ness deprives us of meaning. I’ve always felt this is the basic truth of life. Somehow you’ve got to get that trick of pulling back & seeing things through a kind of wide angle lens. As soon as you do this, you go into this state of intense optimism.”
In Zen Buddhism, the high feeling-state of satori, which literally means “to understand,” is the goal of meditation practice. A brief but clear glimpse into the awakened state of satori is known as kenshō, which translates as “seeing into one’s true nature or essence.”
This is always how it feels to me when I am in the flow & feeling good: things feel like they are back on track, as they should be, aligned, harmonious. Like Wilson, I have often wondered which state is the more accurate reflection of the nature of things; both seem to negate the validity of the other.
And I’ve come to the same conclusion as Wilson, that the low mood generally lies while the high mood informs. Although a low mood tries to paint our previous high states of awareness as the purely illusory fantasies of a fool—while portraying its own staunch negativism as the only reasonable, realistic assessment—there is another clear giveaway that hints at which of these two opposing states is more to be trusted:
a low mood feels very uncomfortable, while a high mood feels very right. In fact, it is characterized by a feeling of rightness. When we tell a lie, we feel our body contract. A sense of wrongness permeates our being to various degrees. When we say something that is keenly true, we feel that too. It’s a feeling of empowerment, harmoniousness, rightness.
In my study of this phenomenon, I have concluded that while the low mood may have something to tell me about myself or my life—revealing an uncomfortable truth that I must face in order to become who I truly want to be, (see“Navigating The Dark Night Of The Soul,”)-–there is no benefit to remaining in this place, because it becomes an energy-sapping, self-feeding loop of defeatist thinking.
Unfortunately, once we are out of step with the sensation of rightness, that high state can feel a world away. It’s helpful to remember that it is, actually, only a few flow-inducing thoughts away.
Personally, I think these two states are better described as “connected” vs. “disconnected.” Connected to what? To yourself. But how can I be disconnected from something I am? The answer can be summed up in a verse from the East Indian sacred texts, the Upanishads:
“There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree, and the other looks on in silence.”
The bird who eats the fruit represents our worldly nature, our everyday “smaller” self. And the witnessing bird is our larger aspect (called the Atman in Vedanta, meaning soul self) which remains connected to Brahman (ultimate reality), even when the small self has lost sight of the bigger picture.
According to the Vedanta (the East Indian philosophy based on the Upanishad writings), Atman is the true self, beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. In order to attain liberation, a human being must acquire self-knowledge, which is to realize that one’s true self (Atman) is identical with the transcendent self (Brahman). (Traditionally achieved through meditation, wherein the distinction between these two selves becomes increasingly evident.)
I’m not one to care about religious dogma or what some ancient text says—unless it puts a language to experiences I have had myself already, for which we have poor working vocabulary in English language & culture.
I do think the Vedanta framework establishes a helpful concept of what is going on when we feel low, which, by my way of thinking, is essentially a state of disconnection, when we are overly identified with the “small self.”
When we are connected to our essence or greater self (which is connected to the broader sweep of larger reality), it seems we receive intuition freely, we are in sync with the rhythm of life and other people. We receive inspiration more easily, which in turn lights us up and “turns us on,” fueling our sense of optimism, curiosity & movement.
Our world seems to expand. We notice subtle “shimmers”—little beautiful moments that add to the textured richness of being alive. When we are open to these nuances, we become more easily inspired and interested. Which creates a sense of possibility & engagement.
When we are disconnected, our world seems to shrink. It is like we have run out of gas. We feel sluggish and everything takes a lot of effort to do. This induces a feeling of depression and futility, which feeds upon itself until we can feel quite locked away from that “Atman” self.
In this emotional state we seem to forget all of the insights which once gave us a sense of hope and possibility. We are entirely identified with the “bird who eats the fruits” of the world, and completely dissociated from the “sweet friend” who looks on, waiting patiently to be remembered & reclaimed.
Colin Wilson dubbed this “small self” aspect of human personality “the robot.” He elaborates in the following interview:
“We have inside us what I call The Robot, a sort of mechanical valet or servant who does things for you. So, you learn something like talking French, or driving a car, or skiing—painfully & consciously, step by step. Then the Robot takes over and does it far more efficiently than you could do it consciously.
“The Robot does all these valuable things—like talking French & so on for us. The trouble is, he also does the things we do not want him to do. We listen to a piece of music, it moves us deeply the first time. We read a poem, we go for a country walk, and it moves us. But the second or third time you do it, the Robot is listening to the piece of music, or going for the country walk for you. I’ve even caught him making love to my wife! This is a real problem, that the Robot keeps taking us over and doing the things that we would rather do.”
“The secret is to keep your energy so high that [you avoid being taken over by] the robot, who’s a bit like the thermostat on the wall, which turns on quite automatically when your energies drop below a certain point, and then suddenly without even noticing it, you’re living mechanically, robotically, instead of as the real you. And the interesting thing is that it’s only a matter of one degree. Therefore if it’s just one degree to turn onto the Robot, it’s only one degree of effort to turn the Robot off.”
I have found that simply being aware of this dynamic initiates a ripple effect of more expansive feelings. Think of it as a thought experiment. I’m not advocating the removal of cynicism or discernment, only for the suspension of its mechanisms for long enough to collect the necessary data to really decide what’s what. If we decide something sounds too good to be true before launching a thorough investigation, we aren’t really giving ourselves all of the information necessary to make an assessment.
Just imagine, what if it were true that our sense of an isolated small self is not the whole picture, and, when we feel into a larger, more expansive & connected being-hood we are actually more fully embodying who we are? What if that self did have wisdom beyond our acquired knowledge & access to universal perception?
And what if there was a force of energetic support available to us, waiting for us to tune into a more expanded sense of self? What if the darkness & pain of the world is simply the result of a widespread belief in the smaller, isolated self—a collective disconnection from the expanded essence?
The only way to know for sure…is to explore it.
Unless we investigate the possibilities within ourselves & our relationship to reality with an open mind, we may never experience ourselves as we might become.
April 27, 2014 § 5 Comments
“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home. ” ~ Aboriginal Proverb
“‘The Dreaming’ or ‘the Dreamtime’ indicates a psychic state in which or during which contact is made with the ancestral spirits, or the Law, or that special period of the beginning.” ~ Mudrooroo
“Those who lose Dreaming are lost.” ~ Aboriginal Proverb
Dreamtime, or “The Dreaming,” is a spiritual concept of the Australian Aboriginal tribal peoples. To define Dreamtime is a bit tricky, as there are several ways in which the word is used. Meanings vary from tribe to tribe, but the basic concepts appear consistent.
The Dreamtime refers to a source dimension beyond time & space, which exists alongside the linear world of humans, where the ancestors & creator spirits dwell. The Aborigines call it the “all-at-once” time—referring to the mundane world as the “one-thing-after-another” time. People emerge from the Dreaming into physical reality when they are born, visit in dreams & visionary states, & return after physical death. An essential part of each person exists eternally in Dreamtime. Aboriginal cosmology includes transmigration of the soul, otherwise known as reincarnation. A human might return again into the family of man, or as an animal. “The Eora/Dharawal Aborigines believed in transmigration…For example during the 1830s Quaker James Backhouse toured the Illawarra district and recorded that some Aboriginal men were mortified when some Europeans shot and killed some dolphins. The Aborigines of the area believed that after death, their warriors became dolphins. This belief was bolstered by the habit of dolphins to herd fish and to protect people from shark attacks.” (Australian Aboriginals.)
According to Aboriginal mythology, our world (physical life on earth) was “dreamed” by the ancestor spirits who dwell in Dreamtime. The Dreaming or Dreamtime also refers to a sacred era of creation. “Ancestor beings rose and roamed the initially barren land, fought and loved, and created the land’s features as we see them today. After creating the ‘sacred world’ the spiritual beings turned into rocks or trees or a part of the landscape. These became sacred places, to be seen only by initiated men.” (Aboriginal Art.) “The landscape is almost an externalisation of the individual’s inner world. Each tribe had a traditional area of the land which was theirs alone,” notes dream scholar Tony Crisp in his article “Australian Aboriginal Dream Beliefs.” Additionally, an individual’s Dreaming can refer to their cultural identity & spiritual allegiance. “Each Aboriginal person identifies with a specific Dreaming,” relates Aboriginal artist Paddy Japaljarri Stewart. “It gives them identity, dictates how they express their spirituality and tells them which other Aboriginal people are related to them in a close family, because those share the same Dreaming. One person can have multiple Dreamings.” (What Is the Dreamtime?) For example, an Aboriginal person might identify as having “Wallaby Dreaming.” As I understand it, this concept is similar to the Native American relationship to spirit animals or totemic allies in that it may have been received in a vision, although it also may have been inherited as a family totem. One having Wallaby Dreaming will draw upon the Wallaby’s spirit for guidance.
“Studies have shown that ancient people experienced what is called an undifferentiated state of mind,” relates Tony Crisp. “Their sense of being a separate and independent person was much less than is commonly experienced in modern life. They did not separate their religious life, their social life, their economic life, their artistic life and their sexual life from each other.”
This oneness-oriented or pantheistic worldview is held by most ancient peoples—it is only the Western world & modern man who has increasingly cut himself off from his surroundings, other creatures & his fellow man, feeling so separate as to breed an epidemic of disconnection. Yet, we strain against this isolation, reaching for what we sense we once knew in what psychonaut-writer Terence McKenna has called “The Archaic Revival“….Modern man’s resurrected interest in the wisdom of ancient cultures.
As highly respected Dhungutti Elder Rueben Kelly states, “Centuries ago you white people chose the path of science and technology. That path will destroy the planet. Our role is to protect the planet. We are hoping you will discover that before it’s too late.” “The experience of Dreamtime, whether through ritual or from dreams, flowed through [into life] in practical ways,” adds Tony Crisp. “The individual who enters the Dreamtime feels no separation between themselves and their ancestors. The strengths and resources of the timeless enter into what is needed in the life of the present. The future is less uncertain because the individual feels their life as a continuum linking past and future in unbroken connection. “Through Dreamtime the limitations of time and space are overcome. It is a much observed feature of aboriginal life that knowledge of distant relatives and their condition is frequently displayed. Therefore if a relative is ill, a distant family member knows this and hurries to them. Often the intuitive knowledge of herbal medicine is gained also.” “For the aborigine tribes,” notes Crisp, “there is no ending of life at ‘death’. Dead relatives are very much a part of continuing life. It is believed that in dreams dead relatives communicate their presence. At times they may bring healing if the dreamer is in pain. Death is seen as part of a cycle of life in which one emerges from Dreamtime through birth, and eventually returns to the timeless, only to emerge again. It is also a common belief that a person leaves their body during sleep, and temporarily enters the Dreamtime. (Australian Aboriginal Dream Beliefs.) A person is also thought to enter the Dreamtime during ceremonies & while listening to or playing ancestral music. “The melodies, tunes, harmonies and rhythms of Aboriginal music included traditional ceremonial songs that were handed down from generation to generation,” notes researcher & author Ellie Crystal. “It was very important in Aboriginal thinking, to replicate the songs that had been first played and sung by the ancestors in the Dreamtime. When the traditional music and songs were used, living men considered themselves to be in the Dreamtime. Particularly during initiation ceremonies.” The idea of this world as a dream is an ancient & fascinating concept, echoed by the Hindu idea of Maya, or “world as illusion,” and the Buddhist concept of Samsara. But unlike these Eastern perspectives, for the Aborigines, there appears no negative connotation to this world being a dream. It is no delusion to be escaped, but rather a sacred experience to be honored & celebrated. It’s simply not the ultimate reality…and everything is connected & related beyond visible boundaries & lines, being all within the same dream.
I’ve had experiences during sacred vision questing where the serendipity & related connectivity of people, animals & events struck me as mind-bendingly improbable when set against the yardstick of our rational materialist worldview; beyond coincidence. If this world is dreamed into existence by timeless primal beings, as the Aborigines—most ancient of peoples—believe, then all our laws of science can still co-exist alongside a larger mystical fluidity. Within the dream, there are laws. Gravity, for instance. Cause & effect. Yet if all exists within the same dream, reality is like a tapestry; there may be an image here of a horse, there of a man, beside him a tree—but their threads interconnect. They are all part of the same living tapestry.
This is scientifically more accurate than our concept of rigid separation & division, as the molecules composing my hand touching a tree are no different than the molecules that make up its rough bark. Though they appear vastly so to the perceiving eye. And the brain categorizes them as worlds apart: tree, man.
But if we are all Dream Beings interacting in the same evolving dream, all players portraying separate roles that yet exist in the same interwoven living tapestry, with common threads, it stands to reason that things are not so fixed as they may feel. While the laws of science remain within the dream, there is no reason why a greater coherence can not express itself at the same time, manifesting as serendipity, connectivity; mystery.
The Dream That Must By Interpreted
This place is a dream.
Only a sleeper considers it real.
Then death comes like dawn,
and you wake up laughing
at what you thought was your grief.
But there’s a difference with this dream.
Everything cruel & unconscious
done in the illusion of the present world,
all that does not fade away at the death-waking.
and it must be interpreted.
All the mean laughing,
all the quick, sexual wanting,
those torn coats of Joseph,
they change into powerful wolves
that you must face…
And this groggy time we live,
this is what it’s like:
A man goes to sleep in the town
where he has always lived, and he dreams he’s living
in another town.
In the dream, he doesn’t remember
the town he’s sleeping in his bed in. He believes
the reality of the dream town.
The world is that kind of sleep.
The dust of many crumbled cities
settles over us like a forgetful doze,
but we are older than those cities.
as a mineral. We emerged into plant life
and into the animal state, and then into being human,
and always we have forgotten our former states,
except in early spring when we slightly recall
being green again.
That’s how a young person turns
toward a teacher. That’s how a baby leans
toward the breast, without knowing the secret
of its desire, yet turning instinctively.
Humankind is being led along an evolving course,
through this migration of intelligences,
and though we seem to be sleeping,
there is an inner wakefulness
that directs the dream,
and will eventually startle us back
to the truth of who we are.
“Traveler, there are no paths. Paths are made by walking.”
*It would be irresponsible to offer these beautiful cultural gems without acknowledging that, despite this rich & sacred heritage, the conditions of modern urban Aborigines are despairingly dystopian—their stigmatization & mistreatment, at the hands of first the British invaders & then the Australian government, echoe the tragic dynamic so often seen when the new world meets the old. Visit Survival International to see how you can help.
September 26, 2013 § 21 Comments
“Why do we describe a distraught person as being ‘beside himself’? Because the ancients believed that soul and body could part, and that under great emotional stress the soul would actually leave the body. When this happened a person was ‘beside himself.'” ~ Dictionary of Word Origins
Our language is rife with references to what has traditionally been described by shamanic cultures as ‘soul loss’ — “Nobody’s home,” we might say of an empty-eyed co-worker. Or, in a funk ourselves: “I feel like a part of me is missing.” Popular songs site it casually — I don’t know where my soul is / I don’t know where my home is (Nelly Furtado, “I’m Like A Bird”).
Yet, these expressions are so common, we often use them as descriptors without fully investigating their implication.
“Few of us live as fully as we could. When we become aware of this, we want to recover the intensity of life, and the intimacy, that we once enjoyed…We want to come home more fully to ourselves and to the people we love.”
Many turn to the shamanic arts for language and methodology which address our collective angst with a soulfulness lacking in modern lexicon.
“The re-emergence in the late twentieth century of shamanism — with its lively and concrete notion of soul — seems to be a response to a very depressing cultural reality,” notes Jungian analyst John Ryan Haule. “In the past six or seven hundred years we have undergone a consciousness-shift of 180 degrees. Formerly soul was our primary reality. Now we have only a body and a rational ego.
“The material conditions of our lives have improved immeasurably, but we’ve lost the imaginal and transcendent scope that belongs to the reality of soul. In a situation like this, it is often the depressives among us who are the most realistic regarding the impoverishment of our human existence.” (“Depression & Soul-Loss.”)
According to modern writers on the ancient subject, soul loss accounts for depression, anxiety, a sense of alienation, incompleteness and disconnection, a feeling of being “spaced out,” or “sleepwalking” through life. Extreme cases include coma, psychosis, fugue states and dissociative identity disorders.
Interestingly, the concept that a vital aspect of the self flees or retreats during experiences of extreme pain or disturbance is an idea shared by shamanism and psychotherapy alike. Psychotherapy calls it “disassociation,” shamanism calls it “soul loss.” The purpose in both cases is self-protection.
Modern shamanic healers explain that we all lose bits and pieces of our soul, or vital essence, as we go through life.
The cause doesn’t have to be something as monumental as an accident or as extreme as abuse. It can be as simple as a small child’s sensitivity to their parents’ psychic tension or continued arguing. Little by little, parts of ourselves withdraw and become seemingly lost to us.
Rejected elements of the personality are banished from conscious awareness — Jung’s concept of the psyche’s “Shadow” aspect. This is done unconsciously, to ease the cognitive dissonance of harboring seemingly conflicting or ambiguous feelings; what modern psychology calls “compartmentalization” and repression.
Denied aspects — such as repressed sadness, anger, inner child or libidinous impulses — are effectively exiled. But they do not disappear. They continue to exist “underground,” as it were, in the subterranean caves of the psyche, causing emotional alienation, discomfort and disconnection from self.
The good news is that excavation of these buried aspects — and a renewal of their accompanying vital forces — is always possible, and the focus of psychotherapy and shamanic healing alike.
“An aspect of the infinite soul fleeing under duress is a state everyone has at some point experienced, regardless of terminology or ideology applied,” comments Kelley Harrell in her Huffington Post article, “The New Treatise on Soul Retrieval.”
The most common approach of neo-shamans is to echo the ancient model of shaman-as-guide in the netherworlds of psyche/non-ordinary reality. As pioneering anthropologist Mircea Eliade wrote in his now classic text “Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy”:
“Only the shaman can undertake a cure of this kind. For only he ‘sees’ the spirits and knows how to exorcise them; only he recognizes that the soul has fled, and is able to overtake it, in ecstasy, and return it to its body….Everything that concerns the soul and its adventure, here on earth and in the beyond, is the exclusive province of the shaman.”
However! A fascinating synthesis between psychotherapy and shamanic soul retrieval has been in the works over the past several decades. A growing number of healers are shifting the agency from themselves to their patients.
Practicing psychotherapist & shamanic healer Selena Whittle attributes the modernized soul retrieval method to her mentor Ross Bishop. Upon his return from studying with teachers in India, Australia, and South America, Bishop transformed the Soul Retrieval process into a method that could be embraced by the Western mind and heart by making a simple shift in the roles of Shaman and the healing recipient.
“In this contemporary method of Soul Retrieval,” relates Whittle, “the essential elements of the process are the same. There is a shamanic journey into the inner world where the wounded part of the self is identified, healed and brought back; however, the client does the work and is guided by the Shaman. The client takes the shamanic journey. The client identifies the part of the self that is wounded. The client builds a relationship with that part of the self, heals it, then brings it back for integration.
“The Shaman guides the client every step of the way, helping the client navigate the internal world of the psyche, guiding the client in the potent words or actions that are needed to build the relationship with the fragmented aspect of the self, to heal it and to bring it back. The shamanic journey becomes a shared experience, the Soul Retrieval a shared healing intervention.”
But let me initiate you right here and now into a simple yet profound method, which you can practice in the comfort of your home.
1. Create your inner sanctum.
Visualize anything from an ornate temple to a simple spot by a running brook. The important part is that the setting has identifiable features, which can be recreated, and that the space makes you feel empowered, centered, safe and calm. Mentally construct as many details — sights, sounds and smells — as possible. Lie back, get comfortable and spend some time really making your inner sanctuary come to life behind closed eyes. (*The bath, with some low light, candles, calming scents and salts, is an excellent place to do soul work.)
2. Call in the missing soul part.
Decide which aspect you are going to reach out to before settling in by first looking at the problem areas in your life. For example, if you are having issues with anxiety, call in “the one who feels anxious.” If you are dealing with addiction, call in “the one who is addicted.”
If you are a visual person, the rejected aspect will likely take form in your mind’s eye. If you are not, you may simply get a feeling or “thought package” of insight — though visualization is encouraged with this particular method.
3. Reach out, reassure, & connect.
Remember, these inner aspects are in hiding because they have been wounded, ridiculed, banished, frightened. They are like scared children — who have not developed beyond the age at which they fled — and must be reached out to accordingly. So it’s important to access & project a sense of deep compassion towards them if you’re to inspire their trust.
Tell them you wish to discuss their unmet needs.
These rejected aspects, which you may have deemed bad, difficult, or unacceptable, actually have legitimate needs, which — as they are not being met by you, their guardian — are being substituted with unhealthy behavior. The coping mechanism employed by the exiled aspect, however far from your ideal, is truly its best effort with the tools at hand.
Explain mentally to your exiled aspect that you are here to increase communication between their awareness and your conscious personality. Remind them you both have the same goal of wellbeing and wholeness, because ultimately, you are one being. Any sense of isolation and disconnection has been a fear-driven illusion based on pain and misunderstanding. Now you are calling home your missing parts. If they have felt unloved, give them the love they crave. You have all the power. Use it.
These injured aspects have a long history of feeling unsafe in the presence of the too often accusatory and judgmental conscious mind. As a result, they will often cloak themselves in guarded energy, which can have a menacing impression. This is not the true aspect, but a self-protective mask.
Like any vulnerable creature attempting to seem stronger than it feels, this protective presentation may take the form of something frightening. Practitioners refer to this as “entity” presence, which denotes fear-based energy that isn’t yours but is being used by the wounded inner aspect like armor.
This same goal can be achieved by the inner aspect through opposite means, by presenting an overly “goody-two-shoes” image (“See? I’m perfectly fine. Not hurt at all.”)
So it is necessary to gently test and question the initial appearance of the invited aspect by asking if it is an entity. In your sacred space the aspect can not lie. Even if it says “No” with its mouth, it’s shape may shift or the eyes may flicker, telling a different story and betraying its true nature.
It should be noted that simply because an image is disturbing does not automatically make it false “entity” energy. It can just as easily be the symbolic representation of the feeling-state of the soul part—it may feel, and thus present as, bruised, starved, beaten-up or neglected.
Keep probing its authenticity gently until you feel it has lain down its defenses and actually offered its true, vulnerable self at which point reach out and initiate a compassionate dialogue. A good place to start is by asking how you can help.
If the answer is simple and true, you know it’s the soul part speaking. If the reply is too convoluted or complex, it’s an entity-energy defense, or your cerebral analysis kicking in; start over and await the answer without assumption, projecting compassion.
5. Identify Source of Disconnection, Correct Misunderstanding
Once assured of the fragmented aspect’s authenticity, ask it to show you at what age it became separated. It may show you a particular scene or instance. Ask how this situation made the soul part feel. What was the message it received? Usually, something in the “Not good enough” category will surface. As with small children who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce or general unhappiness, the impression of unworthiness will invariably be based on a misinterpretation of events. With compassion, correct this misunderstanding. The fragmented aspect needs to hear it is worthy of love. Bring it home by embracing this exiled aspect of yourself; give it the love and acceptance it has been hereto denied.
6. Stay connected afterwards.
The goal is to continue the newly forged relationship beyond your inner journey into your everyday life, eventually forming a full integration between the formerly exiled piece and your conscious awareness. Check in with the newly rediscovered aspect throughout the days following your journey. How does he or she feel? Are you meeting the needs discussed with more awareness?
What makes this method different from, and often more effective than, regular “talk therapy” is the willingness to surrender conscious mind constructs to the wild and telling symbolism of the subconscious. In this way cerebral analysis is transcended and the beating heart of true experience touched.
What may read as hokey can be extremely powerful in a real-time, step by step process. After all, these are the parts of self from which we are always running, from whose pain we so often seek distraction. Giving them back their voice, and gracing their needs with our attention, can be a life-changing integration.
Ultimately, whether you regard this excercise as symbolic or literal doesn’t matter. As French poet Baudelaire said, this world is a “forest of symbols.”
The inner fragmentation experienced by so many in this modern time mirrors the compartmentalization tendencies of society itself.
“The natural environment is treated as if it consisted of separate parts to be exploited by different interest groups. The fragmented view is further extended to society which is split into different nations, races, religious and political groups. The belief that all these fragments — in ourselves, in our environment and in our society — are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological and cultural crisis.” ~ Fritjof Capra, (The Tao of Physics)
In a so-called civilized world, which so often dismisses the idea of soul and then complains of feeling empty, soul retrieval — reclaiming personal wholeness — is a heroic act.