Increasingly, I wish to just share what comes through me sometimes in my journal-writing, even though it feels vulnerable to bare my soul like this. I guess this kind of uncensored, ‘stream of consciousness’ journal-writing carries within it the purest gems of truth, as well as a lot of surface prattle padding! But, by drawing out the gems, where another, wiser aspect of myself suddenly surges through, often flipping to the second- or even third-person voice, there feels a deeper authenticity to my writing. At these times, I know it’s coming from the mysteries of my heart and soul direct to the page, not for an audience, just to express the truth that lies deep within me. So, here’s a gem from the other day… 🙂
“Today I wish to celebrate myself, for refusing to close my heart down, no matter how many times it gets bruised or wounded. Many old relationships are re-entering my life right now, where there has been wounding from both sides, and all I feel pouring out of me is love, and a sincere desire to bathe each of those relationships in the love that I feel. Love breeds love, to infinity.
Warrior of love, your heart is open to all, your vulnerability is your sword. You will be swiped down from time to time, but always you arise and bless the sword that wounded you with your limitless ability to forgive and love. Beneath it all, love is the only truth, and you know this; this is the wisdom that you carry through your days. Every time you don’t feel love you simply pause and observe what is energetically happening here, what shadow within you is being revealed by this precious sword-wielding angel in disguise? And then back into the fray of love you go, heart wide open, shining like the sun, dazzling your would-be opponents, bathing the battlefield in rainbow jewels of hope.“
Yesterday was the full moon, and felt very powerful indeed to me. I am increasingly in synch with the lunar cycle and have started offerings women’s gatherings with each new and full moon, along with a gorgeously wise soul-sister. It feels like very important, meaningful work at this time to hold space to bring the sisterhood together, as women are being called to step up, become visible in the world, find their voices and own their power.
Anyhow, it was a timely day of lunar empowerment for me, as earlier that day I had become aware of myself slipping back into old, unhelpful energy patterns, where I let my power drain away. During my retreat in Scotland I had really stepped into my power. It mostly feels like a soft, gentle power of the mother energy, which can hold and contain everything with love and acceptance. But its gentleness does not detract from its great strength and depth, and the Kali energy of action is always there in the wings to be called upon when it is wise to do so; this is the fierce energy that destroys what no longer serves and that stands for justice and truth. Then there’s the wild, sensuous goddess power, which I feel when I dance, sing and drum – at these times I am simply a conduit to let different energies flow through me, yet conversely it’s when I feel I creatively express myself most fully. And then there’s the innocent, child-like energy of the elemental nature spirit who feels the joyful freedom of skipping through the wet grass in bare feet, chatting to the insects and animals and smelling the flowers, hugging the trees. And of course the irreverent, earthy one who likes to eat pizza and cake, drink cider and wine and who finds farts amusing and loves to belly laugh with gusto. The empowered divine feminine is all of these things and much more, she is multi-faceted, rich and complex. And the power comes from allowing all of these different facets to express and flow through us with ease and grace, without censor or control.
So, having really felt in my power in Scotland, and having felt the magnetic attraction of this to others, which arises through no conscious intent, just as a natural by-product that comes from inner fullness, inner acceptance and self-love, it was painful to observe how I was giving it away again yesterday. I was moving back into the space of not feeling enough and trying to fill the void within me from things and people outside of me. It was a sense of pouring myself into moulds that I thought I should inhabit, in order to be approved of, accepted and loved. There’s such an anxiety to this energy, as my mind tries to work out who I ‘should’ be, what I should do. There’s a fear of ‘getting it wrong’, failure and rejection. It’s old, old stuff, which has followed me into all of my relationships and jobs and which I am done with now. I let a lot of this go in the pine trees of Scotland, when I did a powerful burial ceremony, burying a pine cone to represent this old version of myself I was leaving behind. And I know this ceremony worked, most of this energy now lies as compost in the Scottish Highlands, being transformed into fresh, positive life by the earth. But… it’s like we’ve emptied the bowl of stodge but we still need to take a spatula and scrape the edges clean. We commit to releasing an old pattern, and the universe perhaps just likes to give us a few tests of our commitment to this new way of being, as echoes and residues of the old energy arise. To me it feels like tying up loose ends and affirming a resounding ‘yes’ of commitment to the universe.
So, this all feels very much part of the work I did during my rite of passage solo fast, where I committed to maturation, to stepping into full womanhood/adulthood. In this new chapter there’s no room for these old energies, so they must go now, and I am so grateful I clocked the echoes of the old yesterday and was able to harness the power of the moon and the sisterhood to help me transmute them.
To finish, I will include an extract from my journal entry yesterday, which documents my process of moving from old to new energy and reclaiming my power. Towards the end of the entry, as often happens, a different energy moved through my pen, a higher version of myself, and provided the cosmic perspective. I hope you enjoy… 🙂
“Today I walked along the swift, swollen river, about to burst its banks, and was struck by how full it was. There was an alluring edginess to being so close to it – I wanted to draw near, to appreciate its magnificence, deep power and beauty. Yet I also knew that at any moment this river would spill its watery depths onto the land in an act of dramatic destruction, which would ultimately nourish and fertilise the earth with its fluvian deposits. I was attracted yet utterly respectful. And, still, the gentleness of water was there – swans slid gracefully by on its surface, unperturbed by the mighty power that surged beneath them.
This is the power of the divine feminine, which incorporates the ability to give and take life. It is why it is so attractive, magnetically so, yet also can be fearful and elicits due respect.
This evening, under a clear, full moon I felt a huge surge of powerful kundalini energy flow through my body and I felt like the river, utterly replete and full to the brim of my own authentic self. I howled, laughed, writhed my body in a strange, serpentine dance and chanted a mantra that came through me:
Flow like the snake, flow like the snake, flow like the snake up my spine. The roots go down and the branches go up, So flow like the snake up my spine.
This happened through me, because I was so full of myself, of my own power and self-belief in that moment, that I could become the circuit connector between heaven and earth. These aspects met in the fullness of me and found substance enough to meld and merge, express and create.
This is what the cosmos longs for, and this is what women are being called to embody now. To fill ourselves up with ourselves, for no audience, no reason, just because it’s who we are and it’s our God-given right to express this.
This is our power, our magnetic attraction, and all good things will be drawn to us from this place. I felt that so strongly tonight. The power is non-local, it ripples through the entire cosmos, as though we’re the spider at the centre of the infinite web of life, gently strumming the strings just through the simple vibration of our sublime, authentic essence.
This is how we’re going to change the world, sisters, simply through being our authentic, magnificent selves….“
To follow on from my last entry, which documents my recent experience of depression, I wanted to share my ongoing journey towards subsequent recovery. I must caveat this entry by saying I am no authority on how to recover from depression, I can only share my personal experience with heartfelt honesty. Every story is unique and is to be equally respected and honoured, and everyone must find their own path towards healing. I am certainly not here to pass judgement or offer advice on anyone else’s healing choices. My hope is merely that my story might inspire those who sense deep in their bones that there is another, time-honoured salve to their wounds, which is not much spoken about in the modern world. But still, we thirst for it.
You see, my box of antidepressants remains unopened in its pharmacy bag, and the appointment I had made with the NHS counselling service has been cancelled. I reached a cross-roads and I chose a different route from the prescribed norm. I am deeply grateful for the amazing health service we have in this country – the GP I saw was a beautiful, compassionate soul, and the services I have been provided with have been efficient and free. We are so blessed to have this. But, despite having taken antidepressants in the past, this time it just didn’t sit right with me.
I have been consciously evolving my soul for many years now, deliberately stalking and courting my fear-based beliefs and illusions, bringing them to the surface to be examined, challenged and eventually released. This process is often not very pretty at all, and there are certain crisis points of mega-unravelling as a particularly deep core belief is challenged. The resistance to letting it go can cause immense suffering, and I knew deep down that this was at the heart of my depression. Beneath the fractured mind, my soul was steady as a rock, whooping with joy that I was finally ready to face these deep pains I had been running from for so long. And so, in the end, I had to choose the soul route to healing rather than the purely physical route of tablets and mind reprogramming. I didn’t want to numb the pain I was feeling, I wanted to feel it all in its acute intensity whilst keeping my heart as wide open as possible throughout, as I knew I had to do this in order to no longer be held in its thrall at a sub-conscious level.
So, instead of the prescribed NHS resources I chose two other resources of healing support, which are sadly often overlooked in modern life, despite being innate human needs – without these dual bastions of support, to me it is no coincidence that mental health issues are so rife. I chose deep nature connection and the strength of a loving and supportive community. I found my way to these resources by choosing to participate in a rite of passage based ceremonial retreat entitled ‘Earth Initiation – a Wilderness Rite of Passage‘ up at the Anam Cara Retreat Centre in the Scottish Highlands. The retreat lasted nearly two weeks and I can honestly say that during that period I know I have healed myself from this current bout of depression. I feel myself again and I feel ready for my next chapter.
The retreat involved a lot of sitting in ceremonial circle and being given time to speak our truth, just as our ancestors would have done long ago, and just as indigenous communities who haven’t lost touch with the old ways still do today. Every person in that sharing circle counts just as much as the next one; everyone’s words and stories are there to be heard and honoured. The healing power of being held by a supportive community whilst you bare your soul and speak your truth cannot be underestimated. It is something most of us have lost within our lives, an alien concept, and we suffer for this. During our time together, each member of our group stripped away the masks and identities that we usually show to the world and instead we connected from our vulnerable human hearts, revealing our flaws, fears, hopes and fragility as well as our soul-gifts, unique creative expression and joyful quirkiness. Love flowed between us, barriers melted. We truly ‘saw’ each other. It was beautiful. It healed me.
Then, in the middle of the retreat we built up to spending four days fasting and solo camping out on the wild land. Previous to this, we each were given time in circle to set a strong intent for the fast, helped by our three amazing guides, who asked pertinent questions and gently nudged our scattered thoughts into the seam of bedrock truth lying behind them. Mine turned out to be beautifully simple and traditional as I wished to mark my passage into fully-fledged womanhood/adulthood – I realised my depression was largely sparked by my clinging to an old, younger identity that avoided responsibility and commitment, which no longer was truthful and did not serve me. It was time to honour my maturity and take responsibility to become visible in the world in my authentic power, to share my gifts with others.
During the fast we had ample time to contemplate our intent, whilst held by the infinite love and care of mother earth. Again, this was profoundly healing. I lay and walked on her bare earth every day, communing with her, singing to her, listening to her, loving her. And I felt her love me back. She gently reminded me that everything was OK, all parts of me were welcome, there wasn’t a single part of me that couldn’t be loved. And she brought me back to the healing peace of simply being present, accepting each moment with ease, even the challenging times. As I watched the ever-changing cloud-scape I knew everything was transient, everything could be borne, simply by patiently waiting it out. As I kindled a small fire on a half-moon night I saw in the flames our ability to transform and transmute anything, simply through our determination to do so. As I bathed in the little burn I felt myself washed clean, a blank canvass in each flowing moment. Dancing naked in thunder and lightning brought me back to the joy of spontaneity, and climbing the steep heather-clad hillside on a four-day empty belly to enter a pitch-black narrow passageway deep into the earth reminded me of my great fortitude and ability to overcome fears and hardship. Nature was our mirror; every experience and encounter with nature was a gentle lesson and, above all, the words I heard in my mind on a loop were ‘rest in the mother’s love’.
When we returned from our solo experience, our fast-bright eyes filled with ecstatic joy to be welcomed back into the little community we had become part of, we feasted together and again spent time in ceremonial circle. This time we were each given ample time to tell the story of our time on the land, what it had brought us, the lessons we had received, the things we had left behind and the resolves we had made. It felt an utter privilege to hear the moving intimacy of everyone’s stories and it was again very healing to tell my own story and have it reflected back to me with sensitivity and wisdom by our beautiful guides.
Behind everything, we are held, utterly held, by mother earth, all of the time – we forget that we can draw upon this resource of infinite strength and healing whenever we need – we are never alone. And we can be held in just the same way by community if we let ourselves – when we find courage to drop our stories and connect in circle once more, speaking and listening from the heart, we will find our healing salve. In the days leading up to the retreat, when my mind was in a dark place and my self-confidence was low, I doubted my ability to attend the retreat and asked a respected shaman friend for his guidance. ‘Do it,’ he told me… ‘you need strong medicine now, Becky, to move past this darkness.’ And that is exactly what it felt like – strong medicine from the kiss of the earth and the loving gaze of others as they listened to me speak.
I truly believe a rekindling of these two lost tenets of healing could save our stricken society – by remembering our profound, sacred connection to our mother earth, and by consolidating heart-felt connection with each other in community, we will be able to also re-connect to the truth of our souls, and find healing for any problems we might be facing. As I often say on this blog, the proof will forever be in the pudding and, for me, my pudding is well and truly baked right now and tasting delicious. I feel healed and I am grateful I chose the soul path, the natural path, the time-honoured traditional path. I am oh-so ready and excited to see what the next chapter holds for me, as I step back into the flow of the world as a fully fledged mature woman. Finally the future is bright again. Thank you mother, thank you guides, thank you circle sisters… 🙂
I’ve just taught another successful yoga class. Happy customers file out the door, thanking me as they go. I smile the loving, benevolent smile of a safe pair of hands, someone highly experienced in the field of personal well-being. Then my own hand reaches into my bag for my car keys. But instead it finds a small oblong box. A sting of shame courses through me and a tear pricks my eye. But still I smile.
The box is still in its paper pharmacy bag, unopened.
‘I don’t prescribe antidepressants for everyone, you know,’
the doctor had said last week. ‘But I think we’re at that stage where
you need help.’
I nodded and quietly said,
‘I respect your professional opinion.’
It was true, I did. The suicidal thoughts were with me every
day now, and I was starting to drive erratically, often through blurred eyes
from sobbing, a part of me hoping the car would spin off the road and that
would be that.
How had I missed this? I had been here before, in 2012; in a suicidal depression, having to stop work, move back in with my parents, take antidepressants, my life unravelling around me. And here I am again, only this time I am a yoga teacher, surely I should know better.
When I teach yoga it lifts me, and the depression feels far away. I remember the things I love about myself and I feel empowered and happy. I can very easily switch to ‘professional mode’, knowing that these good people didn’t come to spend time being dragged down by a depressed person – they came to be inspired and uplifted, and I don’t want to let them down. But then often on the way home the negative thought spirals begin again, and it’s too galling for me to accept, especially when I’ve just taught a workshop about managing the monkey mind. So this leads on to its own self-destructive thought loop, about how I’m a terrible person for being so duplicitous with my students.
Basically, I feel like a fraud.
I’ve always tried to lead by example in sharing my vulnerabilities. I passionately believe it’s one of the things that will save our society – when we start owning our flaws and shadows and sharing them with each other openly, rather than this competition mentality we’re in now, where emotions are often seen as weakness.
But… for some reason, I too have felt the taboo of depression, and I think mainly because I am a yoga teacher. What an irony. I don’t want to admit this about myself to people, in case they stop coming to my classes. What can a depressed person teach about yoga?
Well, one thing I do know about depression, which has been biting at my heels my whole adult life, taking me down on the odd occasion like now, is that it does teach you a lot. And I want to share what I’ve learnt. I want to get over the shame taboo of depression/mental health issues and open up about my experiences. Because I know I’m not alone, and the only thing that helps in that dark place, is feeling a hand extended into the void from someone who tells you they know that place, they’ve been there themselves, and they escaped in time, and so will you. Sharing is empowering; our vulnerabilities become our greatest strengths when we own them with an open heart and soul.
For me, these two suicidal depressive episodes have both come at a point in my life where major change is needed, and I have been resisting this inner knowing, ignoring my voice of intuition. I often feel ‘weak’ because of my depression, but a wiser me know it’s my immense strength, positivity and awareness, which of course has been cultivated by many years of dedicated yoga, that keeps me going through the days, even when it’s to my detriment. I refuse to give up and give in to it, until circumstances conspire to force me to give in. I know from experience that I can keep going for a long time, and most people won’t have a clue what spectacular unravelling is occurring within me. I hide it well, looking after my appearance, keeping up with deadlines, smiling in public. But… the signs are there, and they progressively leak out more and more, and I really should know them by now but they seem to creep up on me, like a stealthy stalker I hoped I had left behind.
Random crying in public, stopping socialising, ‘bleakness’, not being able to imagine the future, physical aches and pains, insomnia, anxiety, lack of appetite, obsessing over painful things in my life that can’t be changed, wishing they were different, struggling to meet work demands and having to let commitments go and let people down. And then the suicidal thoughts come. It starts with ‘what’s the point’, a feeling of meaningless to life. Then it moves to ‘I just want to end it’, then it turns to actually obsessively thinking about ending it, then onto contemplating the pros and cons of all the different ways of doing it, whilst feeling self-loathing at my lack of courage at actually doing it. And then, eventually, it starts to physically manifest – at first through the erratic driving. Luckily, I haven’t got beyond this point this time round, but last time it progressed to pressing razors to my wrists, willing myself to cut the skin. It’s terrifying really, when I write it all down. How did I kid myself I was managing?
It actually took a firm but gentle talking to from my GP sister, who kindly explained I was in a text-book depression, as I had been before. As soon as she said it I knew she was right. A part of me must have clocked what was going on, but the part in denial had been stronger.
All through this dark time, which began towards the end of my time in Mexico, early this year, where I spent the last two weeks crying and barely leaving my room, I have managed to keep up the smiley, happy, Yoga Teacher act. And it doesn’t even feel like an act, it feels real. It feels like a little reminder for me of what Becky May is like outside of depression, it’s like a ray of hope. But it’s a head-f**k too, to be sure.
But, what depression does is crystallise things for you – it forces you to stop, strip away everything extraneous, take stock of your life, and it literally becomes a matter of life and death for you to make positive changes. I remember this from last time. So strong was my urge to die, yet amidst that there came another voice within me, determined to learn from this experience and use it as a gift. As soon as that voice was heard, the healing and change started. I made huge changes – I travelled solo for the first time, something I had wanted to do for years. And when I returned I trained as a yoga teacher and massage therapist, again things that I had dreamt of for years and ignored up until then, which was the source of my suffering. Finally I followed the quiet voice of my soul, and it was the best thing I ever did, and it shifted my depression and led me onto a beautiful new chapter. Depression gave me courage to make big shifts, because I could no longer afford not to.
So how come I’m here again, you may well ask. The healing and positive changes can’t have been that significant if it’s back to square one. Well, no, that’s not quite right. This yoga journey is one of systematically shedding illusory layers, with more and more consciousness of the process as time goes by. Following my big yoga journey since the last depression, I have much heightened awareness of what is going on here. On one level, yes, this is a purely physical issue, due to a hormonal/chemical imbalance in my brain, which does run in my family so is possibly genetically inherited. But there’s another, equally valid and far more empowering way of looking at this.
Once again my soul is trying to get a message across. It’s a message I’ve been wilfully ignoring, clinging to my old ways of living, hoping these will suffice but knowing deep down they won’t. I know there need to be some big changes now. This is a real opportunity. Last time I listened and finally heard the voice that told me to become a yoga teacher. This time it doesn’t seem so concrete/tangible, but I know it’s about putting myself first/ truly honouring myself in a way I haven’t done before in my life. It’s about owning all that I am, the light and the dark, and not hiding any of it away. It’s about becoming more visible, owning my power, stepping out from the shadows into the light. It’s about sharing my wisdom more openly, and unveiling the parts of myself I have hidden from shame. It’s about creating a home, and it’s about writing. It’s probably about many more things too, which will become clear when I make the choice to step through the door that this darkness has been leading me to. From the darkness comes revelation and bright light pouring back into your world. Such is the way of things. In writing this article I have already made that choice. The next, bright new chapter awaits me.
The question of ‘where or what is home?’ seems to be a huge theme for me at the moment. In a way, it has been with me my whole life as I have frequently felt plagued by a strange homesickness even whilst sitting in my own home, felt as a visceral nausea in my body at times, and other times just as a nagging sense of not-belonging. It has perturbed and puzzled me, and has sent me on a real journey in pursuit of home.
I suppose, like most of us, home as I grew up was my family home, and I was indeed blessed to have a very stable and loving home indeed. But, since I fledged the nest, to become my own person, it has never felt quite so simple. I have changed home so many times – at one point I worked out I had moved on average every 6 months for the last 10 years – seriously!
When I look back at my adult journey, it seems like I have followed a trajectory of inhabiting less and less permanent and stable homes. I’ve been a tenant, a house-mate, a lodger, a house-sitter, a joint home-owner twice, a volunteer live-in home help. I’ve floated through innumerable hostels and airbnbs as a restless, curious traveller. I’ve lived in a touring caravan, a static caravan, a campervan, a windowless box-room, and I’ve had two stints moving back in with my parents as an adult, one of which is now in fact. And it’s not just habitations I have left behind, I’ve also moved on from the safe ‘homes’ of relationships and jobs, never staying around for too long, always moving on.
And yet… here I am back at the family home; back at the beginning as it were. Yet this time it’s different; I know it’s not my home, I am here as a guest. A much-loved one of course, but still, a guest passing through. A guest passing through… I wonder at this statement. Aren’t all of us this? Just guests in these precious bodies, passing through on this earth-walk?
And so I continue to wonder – where is home for me? As I grind to a halt in my parents’ guest-room, and finally stop running, I feel a sense of bone-heavy exhaustion, a sense of ‘enough already!’, defeat even. I feel I’m being given a precious opportunity, to take stock of my choices and my journey to date, which has brought me back to this place; a life review if you like.
The last time I was here I was moving through a severe depression, and this time round I’ve only just caught the same negative spiral in time. Why does history keep repeating itself? Why am I continually running? Why do I restlessly chase transience and impermanence? Am I just a massive commitment-phobe? Have I been running away from home all this time?
A simple answer is, ‘yes, I have’. Because I have come to understand that home is within, it really is where the heart is, where it beats right inside of us; home is who we are when we are complete, it is our life-force, our birth-right. We take home with us wherever we go, or rather we don’t take it with us, which has been the case for me my whole life, I can see that now. And this is the source of my home-sickness. I have never felt at home in myself.
Yet… things are never so clear-cut. I’ve come to realise that, for every truth and definite stance that you take, the opposite is also true in some way. And so, as well as running away from myself, I have also been running towards myself, albeit via a rather convoluted path. It is through my constant running that finally, through the universal law of cause and effect, I face the deep wounds I’ve been running from, as the outcome of my life decisions come to land on my lap and I face the grief of a broken-heart and the angst of an uncertain future, fittingly, in the first home I really remember. Perhaps this great reckoning and opportunity for true homecoming was what my soul intended all along. I certainly like to think so, it seems empowering, and reveals a method behind the apparent madness that my life might seem on paper. And, not just that, through my constant journeying, I have learnt so much about the world and about myself. I have grown a lot and learnt new skills, as each closure leads to a new opening. On one level I have resisted commitment, but on a deeper level, I remain ever-committed to my own soul growth, and to sharing the fruits of my journey with others, with more and more consciousness of this fact through each goodbye/hello threshold and the opportunities and lessons it provides.
In this contemplative space, I search my heart and find I have no real regrets. I know I’ve hurt myself and others through some of my choices, through my moving on. But I am human, and I can forgive myself; through my mistakes and failures, I have learnt so much, and I know those others have too. I truly hold to the following Epictetus quote:
“It is not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters.“
In other words, no experience is wasted, no matter how painful, as long as we learn the lesson we’re being presented with and move on in greater wisdom and self-knowledge. I’ve learnt about our human fallibility, our vulnerability, and how our pain and suffering unite and connect us as much as our love. I’ve learnt how we have to first and foremost be there for ourselves, to be our own safe place, to protect and nurture ourselves through all of life’s journey. I feel ready to think of home in a different way, by calling all of the missing parts of me home. I have rejected parts of myself, hidden them away, and running has been a defence mechanism, to stop me feeling the pain of these deepest of wounds. No more will I run from them – I am ready to feel it all, in fact I commit to this.
Yet… again, the yet… This, neither, is the whole truth. The truth always lies somewhere in the middle of the two opposites; a mysterious third way, where both polar truths come together to create something new. I know, for wholeness, we need to love and accept all of us, the good, the bad and the ugly – we have to welcome them all into our inner home. But we also need each other. Ironically, we cannot make this journey back to ourselves without the help, support and love of others. So, yes, home is within, but we have to let others into our home, and be willing to bring all parts of us into others’ homes too. Home is where our heart is, but it is also where our hearts connect.
I attended the summer conference of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) the other day, the topic of which was ‘Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace’. To be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to the topic when I booked on, my main motive being accruing some much-needed CPD hours, to continue my membership of the institute as a professional ecologist. But when I looked at the list of speakers I was blown away – a big theme was making workplaces more open and ‘human’, removing the stigma of mental health issues and raising the profile of holistic well-being as an essential part of a healthy workforce. They even had a Buddhist monk talking about bringing meditation and mindfulness to the workplace! I felt a heart-bursting surge of joy and hope – my two worlds of ecology and well-being/holistic health appeared to be converging in the most beautiful way.
The conference was incredible – the speakers spoke bravely about their own break-downs and break-throughs, and the listeners were touched and inspired. We remembered that we are all human, we are all at heart the same fragile, flawed yet beautiful souls, riding the peaks and valleys of life with as much grace as possible. And there was a strong message that we can be both professional and human. It felt like yet another sign that the world is shifting. We are remembering ourselves and each other and, although not such an issue for a gathering of ecologists, we are also remembering the sacred importance of our connection to nature.
Anyhow, at morning break, something happened to me that happens from time to time. It feels like someone or something else moves through me. I act spontaneously and with utter focus and calm, as though ‘little me’ has no say in the matter. I found myself going to the organisers and telling them that, not only was I an ecologist, but I was also a yoga teacher, and would they like me to run a taster ‘chair yoga’ session during the lunch-break for those interested in bringing simple well-being practices into their daily office lives? The organisers were delighted at my proposition, and so I found myself in a circle with around thirty ecology professionals at lunch (all women I couldn’t help but note), going through simple breathing techniques and stretches to calm the mind, nurture the body and come back to present-moment awareness. It was a beautiful moment for me, kind of out-of-body.
It feels like a positive sign that gradually I’m integrating all the different parts of me, coming more and more into alignment. I’ve always struggled to reconcile these different, seemingly at-odds parts- the professional ecologist, the yoga teacher, the writer and editor, the massage therapist, the energy healer, the depression-sufferer, the eternal optimist, the totally down-to-earth, vulnerable, flawed human and the floaty divine being of immense soul-strength who connects with cosmic truth. But, these are all aspects of me, and gradually I’m letting them all play together in the same room rather than keeping them apart. And I look forward to seeing what future creations emerge from this play-time… 🙂
Sometimes I connect with a higher part of myself and free write. Sometimes the results astound me. This was one of those times – the pen flew and joy and wonder bubbled up within me in an explosion of poetic prose; I was crying by the end of it. Despite it feeling quite vulnerable to do so, I thought I’d share it verbatim here, as mostly I don’t, and these precious reams just gather dust beneath my bed – I hope it sparks some joy and remembering into your day, as it did mine that day… 🙂
“Would you like to go beyond words, Becky?”
“I would love that. Please show me how.”
“Out of stillness comes vibratory awareness. Let the words flow effortlessly from this place. That’s how you go beyond words. The words remain. They must do to serve you in this realm of slower vibration. Yet from this deeper place of awareness they are no longer your master. The effort to find the words is much reduced. More heart-language, less mind. Indeed, this is the source of poetry. It is why poetry is most often used to express the deeper truths. Mind language alone is not equipped.
Yet, like in every aspect of existence, there is a sweet-spot of equilibrium. In this case, call it poetic prose; the harmonious blending of the masculine and feminine. Out of chaos comes structure and order, a linear trajectory that others can follow. For all its sublime beauty, poetry does not create maps. It creates an expression of the destination perhaps, and can inspire others to embark on a journey. But it does not show the way.
You have an opportunity, Becky. Indeed, words are your song. Find that sweet-spot, as you are doing now, to apply a rationale to the circling beauty of heart-language. From the circle is created the spiral of evolution, once the linear trajectory pierces its void. Magic of creation, both are needed. But, be sure, it begins with stillness; a quiet waiting, of being open to receive, of humbly surrendering, trusting in the benevolent force of love that ignites all creation. Trust in both the process and the impetus and this will lead you to your destiny.
A glittering destiny, Becky. It is written in the stars, you have waited eons for this. In partnership, yes. For what is true on one level is true on all levels. The melding of the masculine and feminine must happen within and without, and at all scales. Move towards beauty, harmony and love, always. But masculine must wait patiently for feminine to receive. At that moment fireworks erupt and both heaven and hell are let loose. Male and female come together in an explosion of creation, a riotous spectrum of colour, vivid life. Love in both action and inaction. Poetry in motion. Find freedom of expression. Bust through expectations. Write for God alone. Then, to make the maps, mind hones and tweaks in deep reverence and respect of the chaos of the process. Structure is gently applied. A way out of the sublime darkness is revealed.
Words are your destiny. You feel the truth of that flip inside your womb. Yes, it is the only way to truly represent Gaia. She doesn’t use words to communicate, she uses sensation and emotion. So your words must come as close to this as possible. How? By deep stillness, by deep listening, by deep communion, deep reverence and deep trust. Feel how freeing and liberating this is. You have longed for this. The ancient wisdom from the beginning of time spiralling up through your body, a cosmic orgasm bursting out of your pen. Yes, it is deeply emotional, Becky. It’s a long-awaited reunion – a remembering of your deepest essence. Oceans of memory are within you. Plumb the depths, bring it all to the surface. Now is the time, your voice counts. Write of the beauty that we walk upon and among. Words can bring us back to the vibratory space beyond words. All good stories begin and end with a conundrum. Leave them wanting more. The time has come to spool whale-song across the lands, to trigger salty knowing of our roots, of our ancestors. From watery depths we became solid. We trusted our feet, now we must trust our hearts again. We learnt to switch our atmosphere, our very life-force. We can do it again. The journey back from matter to liquid to air to vibration to void. Back to stillness, back to listening. And then another breath. And we begin again.”
Today is International Day for Biological Diversity. As such, today I choose to write my own ode to our beautiful planet and the gloriously diverse life that she sustains. Without her we wouldn’t be here. She is our mother-ship! She is the mother that loves us unconditionally and keeps on giving to us, no matter how disrespectfully we treat her. She understands that it is just our ignorance that causes us to behave in this way; we are her children and we will remember this and return to her eventually. Then, we will heal her of the wounds we have inflicted upon her sacred body, through a balm of love, sincere apology, unending gratitude and respect.
Everything we are comes from our Earth – when we die we decompose back into the soil from which we came. The soil nourishes plants, which nourish animals, including humans. The cycle completes. Life is endless cycles. This is the wisdom of mother earth. She is life itself.
Throughout my life I have revered nature. When I felt confused or misunderstood as a young child I would lie down in the long grass in our wild, unkempt garden and feel at one with the mini-beasts who crawled over me, the grass tickling my skin, the tree foliage patterning my eyelids and the birds singing. This was home. Here I was understood. Or I would sit by the river as the sun set and as fish jumped, feeling such wonder and magic in these moments.
When I went through a severe depression in 2012 I ‘escaped’ to the other side of the world, New Zealand and, in a strange mix of numbed out passivity and restlessness, I roamed that sacred land, finding myself drawn over and over again to peaceful places in nature, the ocean and wildlife hot-spots – anywhere that biodiversity abounded. It dawned on me eventually that I was seeking out these plants and creatures as my teachers. They were helping to lift me out of this dark place I had fallen into, and were breathing new life into me.
The tumbling liquid melodies of the tui and bell-bird reminded me of joy, the penguins’ comical waddle reminded me to laugh, the primeval ferns told me to keep unfurling towards the light, the glow-worms showed me that even the most humble creature is capable of sublime majesty. And, above all, the dolphins helped me to integrate these lessons I was learning, when I had the privilege of swimming with a large pod of wild dusky dolphins in the ocean just off the town of Kaikoura. During this experience the dolphins seemed to take me under their flipper with genuine interactive play. For the first time in a very long time indeed, pure unbridled joy bubbled up from somewhere deep within me and exploded out of me in spontaneous child-like laughter, all the more hilarious for being underwater. The feeling of wondrous joy lasted for a few hours after we left the dolphins.
And this trajectory of learning from nature has continued on my journey and only deepened in profundity. These days I know that all answers are found in nature – it is our beautiful mirror, reflecting back to us who we are and the nature of existence. A tree can be the mightiest cathedral, a flower a simple reminder of beauty, purity and joy. Birds inspire me to sing my soul-song for no audience, just because it’s who I am. The earth-worms remind me that nothing is wasted, everything is recycled and transmuted back into glorious life.
But, above all, nature and the immense biodiversity of which we are a part, reveal to us our interconnectivity. We cannot exist without each other – we are all part of this amazing earth ecosystem, no part more or less important than another.
On this day, honouring biodiversity, I hope we can remember this simple fact. We’re all in this together. When we harm another aspect of biodiversity, we harm our great mother and we harm ourselves. With our heightened consciousness compared to other species in this realm, our role in this intricate web is a significant one – we have a choice in how to behave, which most other species do not share. What will we do with this choice? In those moments of wonder and peace in nature, I feel hopeful and I touch the earth and feel our mother’s hope too – that we will remember… we will remember.
I have been watching the magnificent, gentle power of Greta Thunberg’s addresses to the EU recently, and feeling moved to tears at her bravery at speaking out. She is an inspiration to us all. One girl, owning her power, speaking out, from a pure place of deep care about our beautiful planet Earth. She is untainted by the cloudiness of politics. Truth, authenticity and integrity radiate from her in waves that everyone feels and responds to, on some level of their being – we thirst for this. She is speaking for mother Earth herself, and it is from this place of purity that she draws her power. Her messages and delivery unite us rather than separate us. That is the wisdom of mother Earth – inter-connectivity above and beyond separation.
I don’t really remember when shamanism began stealthily weaving its tendrils into my life. I guess, like many people, for a long time the word ‘shaman’ just conjured up the idea of a witch-doctor type character with wild eyes and dubious sanity credentials. Or it made me think of the 90s rave group and their love of Eeez! But, in around 2013, in fact very early on in my healing journey, I was working with an amazing psychotherapist, who was very influenced by Carl Jung, and it was actually him who first mentioned to me the term shamanism on the odd occasion, in the context of its benefits as a healing modality. Even back then my interest was inexplicably piqued, so much so that I ended up visiting a well-reputed woman shaman of the celtic tradition in Oxford to have a healing session with her. I loved the session – the woman sang beautifully over me and played various instruments including a huge drum and a rattle. It was super relaxing and I experienced all kinds of strange twitches and sensations in my body. At the end she gave me a long account of what she had experienced on her ‘journey’ for me – and much of it made a lot of sense and, even more strange, some bits I didn’t understand at the time have since come to pass. However, I still didn’t really understand what shamanism actually was, and that was that for a few years – the word faded into the recesses of my mind as I put my energy into building my yoga teaching career.
Then, after a few years of nomadic living, either in a campervan in various beautiful parts of the natural world, or in a caravan in a field whilst teaching in the UK, my lifestyle was increasingly becoming one of nature immersion. I have always felt a very deep connection to nature, further deepened through my work as an ecologist, but somehow this was taking it to another level, some might say spiritual, although that is a very loaded and not always very helpful term (something I would love to address, as I describe in this short video). Anyhow, I was living very simply and very close to nature indeed, and certain things just started happening to me, for which I had no contextual understanding at the time. I began collecting certain stones or feathers or driftwood that felt ‘special’. I began doing my own little rituals out in nature, often with a candle or fire. I was drawn to certain spots, feeling a positive energy there or feeling the land needed a boost of my energy, and I was increasingly drawn to visit ancient sites, such as stone circles. I began communicating with plants and trees and animals, as if I could hear their voices in my head – they became my teachers. I carefully watched nature’s events unfold around me – everything felt loaded with symbolism, each encounter a lesson, nothing a coincidence. I felt so connected to the elements, to every part of nature. I felt the sacredness of the land we walk upon, and the intricate inter-connectivity and perfection of it all. I shamelessly hugged trees in public, feeling them as old friends, grateful for their pure energy. Songs came to me, as if blown into my head from the elements themselves.
Then, one day, my friend Janey was in my car and she pointed at the collection of feathers and leaves on the dashboard.
“You’re such a shaman!”, she said. And there it was – that word again, after all these years! I thought about her comment a lot, but didn’t really pursue it further. Although that same friend and I soon afterwards began putting together yoga events to mark key dates on nature’s calendar, such as the solstices and equinoxes, involving activities that felt quite new offerings to me as a teacher, such as fire ceremonies and deep nature connection. At the same time, I began working a lot with an inspirational yoga teacher, David Sye, whose gloriously celebratory approach to yoga and life placed great value on ceremony, ritual and nature appreciation. I still didn’t really connect the dots and relate any of this to shamanism though!
Then, in the summer of 2017, a good friend of mine and I took a wonderful trip to Ireland to visit a recommended South African seer/psychic. She was absolutely incredible, I’ve never experienced anything like her before or since! Anyhow, I’ve never really been into past life stuff but one of the first things she told me was that I had a significant past life as a full-blown Toltec nagual shaman. I couldn’t believe it – that word again! She told me that my path in this life wasn’t necessarily to ‘be the shaman’ but that I needed to reconnect to these teachings to help me make sense of my own path. I learnt that Toltec shamanism is particular to a certain area of north-western Mexico, in the desert, and has a heavy emphasis on ‘the dream-time’ and lucid dreaming. Weirdly, for the last year or so I had been experiencing spontaneous lucid dreams and all kinds of other strange nocturnal shenanigans, for which I had no explanation. Even weirder, I had tried to book a ticket to Mexico just a few weeks earlier, but my card had been refused and I bottled out, choosing instead to go to India (I never went there in the end either, but that’s another story!). Anyhow, she said it was on my path to visit Mexico to reconnect to the teachings, but that in the meantime I should learn about the Toltec way at one of the few places that teaches this tradition in the UK – none other than the Anam Cara Retreat Centre near Inverness! So, that is how I found myself in Scotland in August 2017, on a course entitled ‘Plant Spirit Medicine’ with Twobirds, the resident shaman there. I know many people think shamanism is all about ingesting psychedelic plants, but the only thing we imbibed were copious amounts of tea all week! In fact, there are so many myths that need debunking, and I will do my best to do so as time goes on. Anyhow, it was a fantastic week of deep nature connection, friendship and healing – and the strangest thing was learning that all the things I had been intuitively doing already were in fact aspects of the shamanic tradition!
And, as many of you know, it turns out I ended up staying the whole year at Anam Cara. I studied more with Twobirds, going deeply into Toltec wisdom, which did feel eerily familiar. I kept thinking, ‘I know this stuff, I’ve done this before!’. Then, on my recent trip to Mexico, I fulfilled my dream (literally, I kept dreaming about it!) and spent three immersive weeks in the desert with a shaman who follows the Toltec tradition, learning more about its wonderful practices. But, when I say learning, it has never really felt like that with shamanism. It just feels like affirmation that I already have this knowledge within me – it is innate.
And, really, that is what I passionately believe and wish to share – the idea that shamanism is an umbrella term for innate earth-based wisdom that simply comes from our authentic way of being, in deep connection with ourselves and all aspects of interconnected life. It is true that all traditional cultures across the world share eerily similar shamanic traditions – in the UK, the witches of old were probably the shamans – herbalists and healers. (Interestingly the word ‘witch’ comes from the same etymological stem as ‘wise’.) A shaman is often described as a healer of the community who walks with a foot in both worlds – the seen, physical world and the unseen world of spirits, messages and energies. I now reaelise I’ve always lived my life this way, I just never understood it until recently.
‘But how does all this relate to yoga?‘ I hear you ask! Well, really, it’s in that key word ‘connection’. Yoga means ‘to yoke’ or ‘to bring together’ or ‘union’ and, to me, shamanic practices, or earth-based wisdom, as I prefer to call it, can be easily interwoven with yoga to contribute to this. It is really just another way of connecting deeply – with ourselves as spiritual beings having a very human experience indeed, with the world around us, the earth that supports us, the mysteries of the stars and planets above us. To me yoga and earth-based wisdom are two sides of the same coin – just a whole load of different tools by which we can explore what it is to be human, and open up to healing and growth, through deep connection, through remembering that all life is sacred, from the most mundane encounters to the most mysteriously magical experiences. To me, the combination of yoga and shamanism really does encapsulate the idea of ‘roots down, branches up’.
For too long ‘spirituality’ has been separated from our innate way of being, when in fact it’s such a normal part of life. I am lucky that I have worked in ecology for so many years – I would count some of my ecology colleagues as some of the most spiritual people I know – good, grounded, caring and kind people with great integrity and a deep reverence for nature and, from that, for all life. But they would probably never describe themselves as spiritual! You see, spirituality doesn’t need to be something esoteric and complicated, it’s just getting quiet, getting connected, and coming back to our true selves, understanding that we are all connected, and it’s a beautiful thing. One of my favourite quotes is from legendary yogi, BKS Iyengar, who pretty much nails it in my opinion:
“One’s spiritual realisation lies in none other than how one walks among and interacts with one’s fellow beings.'”
So, in practical terms, you probably won’t notice much difference in how I teach – I’ve been bringing nature connection into my teaching for many years already. But, I will probably just gently weave in some of the basic tools that traditional cultures across the world use to help them come to health and happiness. So, things like creating a sacred space with an altar (I already do this in my yoga!), cleansing the energies of the space we work in with incense/sage (again, already do this!), working with the four directions (linked to the four elements – already do that!), and introducing the shamanic journey technique (a self-guided visualisation much like yoga nidra!). I also intend to organise events around nature’s calendar where possible, to help us restore the deep connection to the land that has been lost in the busy modern world (again, I already did this a little bit!). So, in conclusion, not much will change except, I hope, a richer experience for you and a deeper connection to yourself and the world around you, which has always been my intention through teaching yoga anyway… Nuff said!
For those particularly interested in learning more about shamanic traditions, I would love to hear from you. If there’s sufficient interest, I may well branch out into separate offerings to teach some of its fundamentals in the future.