The meandering path of a reluctant shaman

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.

What is it all about?

The title of this post was a question I posed to myself today. I have recently returned to the midlands after a year in the Scottish Highlands followed by four months travelling around Mexico. I’m back, and I’m ready to delve back into teaching, sharing, serving my community. My aim is always to inspire and empower as best I can, by sharing my own journey with as much authenticity as I can muster. So, it’s important to me that my next chapter of teaching reflects my current truths. For the last few years a burning passion has been growing within me, which calls me to dedicate my energy to assisting humanity, our great mother Earth, the beautiful plants and animals that we share this magnificent planet with, and our star-family in the mysterious skies above, as we all together go through what feels to me like a major evolutionary shift. And this feels like quite a new chapter of teaching for me, a bit of a leap of faith, and I’m not entirely sure what it looks like yet. I guess I just need to start and trust that the path will unfold before me with ease, as long as I follow my truth.

So, today I’ve been brainstorming about what it is that burns within me that I need to give voice to and share. Hence my question, ‘What is it all about?’. In the end, as is often the case, I just started writing and my fingers flew, almost as if someone else was directing them (a wiser part of my mysterious self I like to think…). The following free-form paragraph is what emerged, and I guess it answers the question nicely, if not succintly… 😉

It’s about a planetary upliftment of consciousness. A move from the head into the heart (the longest journey). It’s about evolving through our emotions, through releasing illusions and allowing energy to flow through us as it’s meant to. It’s about remembering that we are mind, body and spirit. It’s about transmuting fears to love, about empowerment. It’s about bringing back the magic and mystery and deep meaning of life. Honouring our innate intuitive, ‘mystical’ abilities. Coming back to wholeness, acknowledging ourselves as spiritual beings temporarily housed in human bodies. Roots down, branches up. It’s about celebrating each other and our wonderful planet, great mother Earth. It’s about looking up to the stars and knowing that’s where we came from. It’s about bringing all of this together inside of our bodies, in recognition of the walking miracles and mysteries that we are. It’s about putting our hands on the earth, fingers in the soil, yet opening up to our stellar origins. It’s about remembering that everything is interconnected, we really are all one. It’s about connection not separation, (re-)union not division. It’s about liberation and expansion. It’s about love, laughter, joy, creativity, beauty, pleasure, sensuality, sexuality, awe, innocence, wonder and play. It’s about respecting truth, authenticity and integrity. It’s about celebrating diversity rather than denigrating others. It’s about balancing all the voices within us until we come back to the simple authenticity of our heart-voice in all areas of our life. It’s about expressing our uniqueness within the oneness, following our bliss and shining our magnificent light onto the planet. It’s about knowing that no one life is more or less important than another – each of us is irreplaceable, an essential thread in the tapestry of creation. It’s about knowing we are exactly where we need to be, yet never ceasing to polish the infinite facets of our being; accepting ourselves unconditionally in each moment yet striving to learn and grown from every experience that we have. It’s about healing our wounds, reaching a hand of love into the deepest nooks of our inner-world and into the hands of others. It’s about finding our tribe, our soul family who make our spirit soar, whilst knowing that all we ever need lies within us. It’s about recognising that everything is energy, everything is consciousness, everything is vibration, and we have the power to direct our lives and indeed do so in each moment, with each thought, word and deed. It’s about all of this, and more.

tapestry

 

Giving the heart space

I’m almost at the end of rather a hermit-like year, living and working at the wonderful Anam Cara retreat centre. It has felt like an incubation period, where I’ve been somehow laying down the ground-work for my next chapter, like a caterpillar turning to mush in its chrysalis. I still feel like I’ve been working hard, but the focus of my work has been inward rather than outward, and the fruits intangible and mysterious, and still to be fully tasted and appreciated.

Incidentally, the scientific term for the caterpillar goo in the chrysalis is ‘imaginal cells’, which feels perfect. In these times where we go inward, we know we’re ready to move beyond our caterpillar self but we don’t yet know what our future butterfly self will look like. So we use this transitional time in the darkness to dream and imagine. Then, when the time is right, our energy goes outwards rather than inwards once more, and the butterfly takes shape, in all of its technicolor glory!

So, my dreaming has led me to commit to following a mysterious but persistent calling within me to visit Mexico, which has been with me for a while now. It feels like an extension of the pilgrimage walk I did from the midlands to Cornwall via ancient sites a couple of years ago. As usual, my mind doesn’t really understand why I need to do this, but a deep heart-knowing within me whispers gently and endlessly that it’s my destiny; the next chapter on my path.

My main aim for the journey is to use it as an experiment to live from intuitive heart-space as much as possible rather than the mind. What this means in practical terms is that, as far as possible, I want to leave the journey open to opportunity and synchrony, allowing my intuition, gut instinct, heart and innate wisdom to show me the way. So, this means minimal advance planning, which I know will feel like a challenge to me at times, although is an approach I’ve definitely mellowed into over the years. Of course, I know there always needs to be a balance, so I have purchased the Lonely Planet and will continue to be a savvy traveller. But I certainly will avoid using it unless I really have to.

The reasons for this experiment are two-fold. Firstly, if I am on any kind of structured path, it is the path of stalking my inner world to root out fears and bring them into the clear light of day for scrutiny, at which point their power inevitably wanes and, with courage and persistence, they are revealed to be phantoms of the mind and can ultimately be released. Then, the energy that went into defending myself against this illusory fear becomes available for positive, love and peace-based ends instead – and this is an approach that is really working for me (the proof will forever be in the pudding!). This is the true alchemy of the heart; transmuting fear to love. So, giving up all semblance of what would be considered security on paper (home, job, relationship), taps into some deep bedrock fears regarding security and lack, and allows me to confront them head-on. The ability to finally let go of old fear-based belief patterns most often comes down to faith and trust in something bigger than us – the great mystery, creation, spirit, source, God – whatever you want to call it. And I really want to walk my walk now and take a leap into the abyss in full surrender, with total faith that a safety net will appear beneath me. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, but finally I feel ready.

Secondly, I passionately believe that our species is at a critical time in our evolutionary path. Our poor ailing mother Earth can’t sustain much more of our appalling treatment and disrespect of her. And the only way we’re going to get out of this is by elevating our consciousness, healing ourselves, remembering the inter-connectivity of everything and bringing ourselves back to balance. I feel a big part of this process has to be creating space in our lives and in our collective vision of the world for the more mysterious side of ourselves to rise again.

For the last few thousand years, female energy of intuition, mystery, being, nurturing and connection has been suppressed, disrespected, misunderstood and all-out denied, and within this energy lies our connection to spirit/the mystery/the indefinable something bigger than us. In the male-energy dominated world we live in, where technology, progress, hierarchy, competition, attainment, status and rational thought dominate, we have sadly lost touch with this other, just as important side of ourselves. And this is the case for all of us, not just women – we all carry both energies within us and neither is more important than the other. How can it be, when both are entirely interdependent? But we each need to take personal responsibility at this time for balancing the energies within us, which, for most of us, means giving space for an upsurge of the female energy and an exploration of our spiritual, more mysterious nature, of which we have been starved for far too long. Instead of connecting to spirit, we have been trying to find meaning for our existence in other places, for example by worshipping at the altar of our material possessions and the latest technology and automation.

So, in order to ‘be the change I wish to see’, I am creating space to really tune into and listen to the voice of my heart and soul, which is a much quieter voice than my mind’s voice. And heart-knowing, in its infinite mystery and beauty, blows mind’s attempts at knowing out of the water, every time. Really, when in balance, mind is simply there to translate the knowing of heart into concrete action and give it a direction to move into. Every visionary, every creative genius, all those who have shunted the human species along to another level of its evolutionary path, has been coming from the mystery of heart-space then using mind to translate this into a usable framework. We are never going to think our way to an elevated state of consciousness – our heart and soul form the gateway for evolutionary growth. The heart-knowing is ‘divine inspiration’, it’s becoming a channel for the great mystery to flow through you and manifest as original thought on the planet. It’s bigger than us. And we need it now, perhaps more than ever.

So, for these reasons, I am heading off into the unknown, heart-first and will ‘be’ my way around Mexico as much as possible, really tuning into each moment to discern the next step, and allowing mystery to shape my horizons. I will bring back tales from the road as I go… 🙂

PS If you are interested in this topic, I have started putting out short videos on youtube with my thoughts on various subjects I feel passionate about at this stage of humanity’s evolutionary cycle. It’s all very experimental, very much work in progress, and so far has been more of an arena for me to face more of my own fears (which include ‘putting my thoughts out there to be heard/judged/rejected’ and, ironically, ‘my own ego’!) than anything else at this stage, although my intention long-term is certainly to serve and help as best I can through sharing my own experiences. In the end I just decided to stop prevaricating for fear of failure (so many blimmin’ fears!), make a start and celebrate the perfection that lies in the imperfection of an enthusiastic beginner! So, if you feel drawn to watch, here is a link to my latest chat, which goes into this same topic of giving the heart space, in a bit more detail. And here is a link to another talk I did, with guidance on how to tell the difference between the knowing voice of your heart and soul versus your mind voice (sorry it’s a bit blurry – learning curve lol!).

heart-curl

Time with myself

Today I felt to write a post. What about? I’m not really sure, but I want to let the fingers fly and see what comes out of me.

Tomorrow I’m going to turn off my phone, shut down my computer and do a three-day complete technology detox. It was recommended to me by a mentor/teacher of mine and I felt this was the time. I had nothing on so why not? My ego could think of a million reasons not to do it, but I decided not to listen. So, instead I’m going to take long country walks, meditate, do some gentle yoga, cook some nourishing food and just sit in my own company, even when this is really uncomfortable, boring, painful, or whatever other resistance my ego decides to unleash onto me. No TV, no whatsapp, no google – nada…

At first I was excited and I really looked forward to the peace. But now it comes to the evening before, I’m feeling a lot of resistance and doubt. ‘Do I take myself/life too seriously?’, ‘Is it a bit extreme?’, ‘Am I cutting myself off from people when I should be connecting?’, ‘Am I missing the point or getting it wrong?’… Oh yes, my ego knows which of my most sensitive buttons to press.

But, I guess that’s why I’m doing it. For whatever reason, I am on an absolute mission, with laser-beam focus, to find a good, balanced relationship with my ego, and these three days will offer yet another opportunity to really sit down with my ego and come to know it more intimately. To get to know its twists and tricks, so that I no longer need to be held in its thrall. I absolutely honour my ego for being a vital part of my being in this three-dimensional realm, where we need to be separate beings with our own egoic identities to exist. I guess it always tries to protect me and only ever does what it thinks is best for me. But, the thing is, its perception of who I am is woefully inadequate. It believes I need to stay in this tiny little three-dimensional box that it’s prescribed for me – if I try and leave the box it will either scorn me for being so big-headed/presumptuous/arrogant, or it will remind me how weak and pathetic I am, so I should just stay where I am. Bless the ego – if it’s not bigging you up it’s putting you down!

So, to come into more of a balanced relationship, I need to demonstrate to the ego in no uncertain terms that I am far more than it thinks me to be. Every time it tries to tell me otherwise, I need to listen instead to the other voice within me – the quiet, calm voice at my still-point centre that knows I am vast, infinite, multi-dimensional, mysterious, endlessly creative, divine and capable of anything I turn my attention to. This voice has nothing at all to defend or prove, so it doesn’t shout or play dirty tricks. But it is ever present, and I’m learning more and more to hear its song within me, which rings with the purity of timeless truth. Its sweet, quiet melody is like the vast lake that my ego constantly gushes into and out of, without even realising it.

So, I will sit with myself in all of my flawed human-ness, and I will love it all. My intention for the three days is gratitude. Gratitude for this gift of life, for mother Earth and the endless wonders of nature, for father sky and the endless mysteries of the cosmos and for the entirety of all that I am, ego and all… 🙂

See you on the other side. xx

lake ripple

Saving myself to save the world

The following piece of writing flew out of me with a strange urgency one morning a few months ago, following an intense dream. Today my heart feels utterly wide open and I feel so very connected to every single being, so grateful for this human existence and have so much love in my heart that I don’t know what to do with it! And, for some reason, sharing this feels like a good channel for this love I’m feeling… 🙂 I hope it brings you some inspiration today.

Today I want to save the world,
To thwart the dark with my searing light,
To cast the evil ones off the planet,
To throw up my fist in victory.

Then I stop and remember.
Such thoughts are what brought us to this.
We cannot fight separation with separation.
In fact, we cannot fight at all.

So what can we do?

We can remember everyone’s searing light.
We can connect our hearts.
We can grow compassion for those who suffer, including ourselves.
We can accept and honour the dark as part of creation
But we can surge our own light to bring back balance.
We can move from head to heart, from thinking to feeling.
We can drop our arrogance of thinking we know anything.
Instead we can feel our way into the moment.
We can go inwards not outwards and break down our walls.
The love in our heart is our weapon,
The peace that we crave is our strategy.
We can remember that we are all precious children of our great mother
And she longs for us to return to her.
She needs us now, more than ever, and we need her too.
We can honour every being as an integral part of the whole,
None more or less important than another.
We can divert our attention from fear and separation to love and connection.
We can reclaim our power, our infinite power.
We can release our fears and turn them to love.
We can shed the illusions of shame and depravity.
We can bring sexuality back into the divine realms, its rightful place.
We can turn off our TVs and reclaim our choice.
We can honour our bodies as precious vehicles of our soul.
We can bring back the goddess energy.
We can take responsibility to balance our male and female energies
And to integrate our polarity of light and dark.
We can honour the divine masculine and divine feminine in ourselves and each other.
We can allow and explore our emotions.
We can set our beliefs aside and revel in the sweet relief of a child’s mind.
We can look each other in the eye and smile from our heart.
We can find the courage to speak our deepest truths – our joys, our pains.
We can invest time in knowing, healing and loving ourselves.

Today I want to save the world.
So I remind myself how much love I have,
For myself, my human brothers and sisters,
My great mother earth, my father sky
And my infinite cosmic family.
Today I remember that we are all one.
And, in so doing, I save myself.

we-are-one-butterfly

 

 

The seed awakens

As winter slowly turns to spring, I feel my energy begin to build again, after its long period of rest and introspection. I can feel the shift towards the new beginnings of spring, even through the snowy vistas – like the flowers and trees and animals, I know this icy blast from the east is but a blip; nothing can stop the return of the sun now! It’s a good feeling… 🙂

It still continues to be a strange, transitional time for me, and I’ve just been trying to go with the flow, trusting it’ll all make sense at some point – things always do when you look back, even if it’s many, many years later! It’s felt very much like a period of waiting, and I’ve trusted in this, taking my cue from nature, heartened by its peaceful, steady wintry quietness; nature has the wisdom to enjoy a well-earned rest before the next period of growth begins. We need these times of reflection, rest and peace. It is in the void and the darkness that we formulate new creations. And, although it may appear quiet above the ground, in the hard winter soil there’s a lot of ground-work being laid ready for spring!

So, as my own energy shifts mode along with the rest of nature, I can feel a faint sense of something more tangible on the horizon; a creative project, something to really put my energy into and create. I think the time is drawing nigh to finally make one of my long-held dreams come true – to put down some roots and create my own beautiful, peaceful home and yoga space, that I share willingly with others. A place where the land is lovingly stewarded for future generations, where all species, including our own of course, feel welcome and nurtured, where laughter and heartfelt connection abound, where all feel encouraged to share their gifts; a place to explore, learn from each other, heal and flourish.

Already, by putting these words out there, I feel the dream begin to gain form. I have written such visions and dreams in endless journal entries but, to my knowledge, have never before put it ‘out there’, to be witnessed/read by others. It’s a first baby-step towards making it real. And, the thing is, I totally know and trust it will happen, just when the timing is right. It’s a deep knowing within me. I don’t claim to know the details – and I’ve learnt this is OK.

So, I don’t yet know how or when or where it will happen. But I sense the seed, which was sown many moons ago, finally putting out willing shoots after its long dormancy whilst it nourished itself in the soil of creative potential. Now it’s finally ready to burst into the light of realised creativity – these things can’t be rushed! So, all I can say is watch this space, and I will do all I can to make it the most beautiful, warm, welcoming and healing space possible. I do hope you’ll join me there, when the seed finally blossoms into fullness… 🙂

new shoot

The illusory fear of failure

I was writing a list of my deepest fears today, and noticed that most of them are based on the underlying false belief that I’m not good enough; that I’m fundamentally flawed and I will fail. My fear is so often of failure, whether this be in terms of ‘failing to be a mum’, ‘failing to recognise and walk my dharma/fulfil my soul mission’, ‘failure to support myself’, ‘failure to form lasting love relationships’, ‘failure to recognise my own ego blindspots/negative traits’, ‘failure to fulfil my potential’…

I realised it is this bedrock false belief that causes me to agonise over decisions and choices all the time – I am so fearful of ‘getting it wrong’ and I don’t want to fail.

But after my list today, I carried on writing and received some great clarity on the sheer illusory nature of this fear of failure – it really helped me at the time, so I’ll share it below in case it helps someone else… 🙂

We cannot fail! It’s impossible – against what criteria are we judging ourselves? Any perceived criteria are self-created illusions/delusions – a meaningless mirage in the grand scheme of things. Any sense of end result is nonsensical in an infinite universe. We never arrive at our destination. We never suddenly become complete. Our life is an experiential journey, a dance of creation, a song that our soul sings. There’s no inherent meaning to it, beyond the meanings we choose to assign to it, but these too are self-created illusions/delusions. It’s all a big game, an infinite tapestry, the great dance of life. The best thing we can do is find as much heartfelt joy as possible along the way, feel grateful for every single experience and love and learn as much as we can. Connection is the key to happiness, contentment and joy.

So, whatever happens, whatever choices I make or decisions I take, I cannot fail. Being here is enough – it matters not what I do. Neither myself nor anyone else can judge me really – not in any true sense of the word. Therefore all my fears are unfounded. They are apparitions of illusion, created by my mind. My heart doesn’t know, understand or recognise these fears; it couldn’t give two hoots. Heart knows. If I follow my heart, this ride will be a sweet one.

All paths have a heart. We are the heart, we bring it with us wherever we go. We cannot escape the heart, we only need give it space to let it sing out its melody, loud and clear. The you can rest in the knowledge that you can never put a foot wrong. And, even when we squash heart and refuse to listen to its wisdom, or even forget that it exists within us, still we can’t put a foot wrong. It just means we’ll need to step out of the joyful, easy flow of connected life for a while into the icy coldness of perceived separation, whilst we learn a few important lessons and grow our experiential wisdom and empathy. Nothing we ever do is for nothing,  no experience is wasted. Each step is a triumph. Failure does not exist, except in the prison of our mind.

 

Celebrating not berating

I woke up the other day with the following phrase in my head:

“Whenever you want to negatively judge someone, celebrate them instead!”

It’s a deceptively simple phrase. But, the more I contemplated it, the more I felt the immense punch that it packed. Think about it – if everyone literally followed this simple guideline as a matter of course, what a different world we would live in!

We invest so much energy in negatively judging ourselves and others daily. For most of us, if you tune into your thoughts at any given moment then you’re more than likely to find some kind of negative judgement in the mix before too long.  How often do we judge ourselves and find ourselves lacking? And how often do we lash out at others in harsh judgements, to distract us from our own ill-feelings towards ourselves?

I know this all seems a bit negative but, that’s the point, most people’s inner worlds are pretty negative, once you become self-aware and brave enough to begin to delve beneath the debris of superficial positivity that we scatter around the surface of our mind (think facebook, TV, hobbies, alcohol etc). And, by god I know, it takes a long, long time to unpick these negative thought patterns we’ve fallen into, but it is possible to change them one by one – where there’s a will there’s a way. And, as we do, our life changes around us to reflect back our new, more positive world-view.

I really do think we’re at a time in our species’ evolution where we need to each take personal responsibility to do this now. And the simple statement above seems to me a helpful tool  – and, as I always say, ‘fake it ’til you make it!’ – even if you have to think the celebratory thought through gritted teeth (not that we think through our teeth but you know what I mean), then at least it gets us into the good practice of seeking out the good in ourselves and others on a moment-to-moment basis rather than automatically pin-pointing the perceived failures. It’s all about getting into new, more beneficial habits that serve us and the world around us in a positive growth-filled way. We’ve all got work to do!

Here’s one to get you going:

‘You are a radiant soul with beautiful eyes!’ (And I know this to be true even though I may never have met you… ;))

Love Revolution

As I write this in front of my woodburner, with snow filling the sky outside and lying many inches thick on the ground already, my thoughts briefly turn to sunny southern India, and how I could just as easily have been supping a post-yoga fresh coconut on the beach in my flip flops and sarong right now. Yet, I don’t feel any pang of regret, I actually feel a deep joy bubbling up and a gratitude that I am here in this moment, in the depths of a proper Scottish winter, with the deep magic of the solstice just around the corner.

Isn’t it funny how things often turn out very differently from how we had naively planned they would go? It’s been a strange old time for me of late, of feeling pushed and pulled around by the playful nature of the universal flow. A few months ago I had felt an inexplicable and non-negotiable impulse to sign up to an ‘astrology-dance’ retreat in India this November, and my mind/ego was incredibly confused by this impetuous decision! Then, once I arrived here at Anam Cara retreat centre as a volunteer, there was a very strange sense of coming home, and I instantly felt a peace descend and just knew I was in the right place. So much so that I ended up cancelling the astro-dance retreat so that I could stay longer here, with a surety in my heart that this was the right thing to do.

I remember thinking when I cancelled that I wished I could gift my place to a good friend of mine, who I knew would love to attend. Then, the next day, that very friend got in touch out of the blue to say she had been looking into dance retreats in India (where she was travelling at the time) and the only one that matched her dates was the very same astro-dance retreat, and she had contacted them to find out if there was space and heard there was one space left because they had just had a cancellation. I couldn’t believe the universe’s cheeky sense of humour and immediately replied to say that the cancellation was me!! So, it almost feels like I was playing my role beautifully by booking the place and ‘holding’ it for my friend until a time that she was ready to take it for herself – you can’t make this stuff up!

Anyway, who knows how the mysteries of the universe work, certainly not I. But I am increasingly thinking that the more we can laugh at the craziness of it all, the easier it flows. And the more we can let go of the reins and allow a higher intelligence than ours to flow through us, the more ‘sense’ there is to the ‘non-sense’!

There is no doubt that we are living in absolutely crazy times, with so many institutions and systems crumbling and imploding spectacularly and so much corruption finally arising to the surface to be seen in the clear light of day. It doesn’t take much scrutiny to feel a helpless sense of bewilderment at the madness of it all. How on earth did we get ourselves into this mess?! It feels as though we are globally beginning to wake up to quite how much we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes and quite how much modern life is not working out in the idyllic ways in which the marketeers would have us believe. And there is definitely a growing, uncomfortable realisation that we cannot continue to exist in this way for much longer, and simultaneously hope to survive as a species on our precious planet long-term. If we don’t get our act together soon, we could become like the dinosaurs, just another fascinating geological stratum of bones buried deep in the earth for future self-reflective species to examine, if the earth survives our madness, that is.

And yet… we can choose to react in fear and feel we are powerless to change anything. Or, we can issue an incredulous laugh at the crazy world we live in, and trust that this is all part of a much bigger plan, that there is a much greater intelligence behind the apparent nonsense, which is too vast for us to comprehend at our current evolutionary level of consciousness. A sign of this greater intelligence is perhaps the pockets of ‘light’ that are springing up across the planet as a direct counter to the increasingly obvious ‘darkness’ of corrupt and no longer viable old ways of existing. Examples of this are how yoga and other holistic healing modalities are becoming increasingly mainstream, how there is a growing trend amongst younger folk to look after their bodies and trade nights out at the pub for nights training at the gym, how vegetarianism and veganism are exploding in popularity and how most major superstores now have a hugely expanding ‘healthy alternatives’ section. I see so much positive change around me, despite the thousand and one problems we’re faced with as old systems cease to work for us, and I believe in the inherent goodness, creativity, resourcefulness and resilience of humanity to continue this positive trajectory, even in the face of such seemingly unfavourable odds.

To me it feels like we are living amidst the chaos that precedes the phoenix rising mightily from the ashes. Positive change does not occur as a result of complacency, it tends to arise when dissatisfaction of the status quo reaches a critical threshold that can no longer be ignored. It feels to me like we’re hitting that threshold round about now and, contrary to the surface view, this feels to me a fantastic and exciting time to be alive. Things will change for the better as a result of this maelstrom of madness we’re in, there’s no doubt about that in my mind. The pendulum will always swing, and the universe will always seek to move towards equilibrium.

One thing I feel very strongly is that the thing that’s going to get us out of this mess and onto the next phase of our evolution as a species is love. It’s certainly not fear, and it’s not anger either (although, once the wool is removed from our eyes, the inevitable anger that arises from clear vision of injustice can be harnessed to move towards positive change and love). We can point fingers and rant and rail about others’ poor behaviour until the cows come home but, ultimately, if we want to evolve towards a better way of living together, we have to move beyond such separatist judgements and reactive behaviour and instead begin to cultivate feelings of love and compassion towards all, knowing everyone is playing their role in this mysterious universal dance, even the ‘villains’ (for example it is ironically the increasingly desperate actions of the ‘villains’ that are waking us up and shunting us towards an evolutionary paradigm leap). And to do this, I believe it is vital that we focus our attentions on healing ourselves so that we can love ourselves as we are meant to do, thereby expanding our consciousness and re-empowering ourselves.

I believe unconditional love and connection is the natural state of the universe, which includes every one of us as integral parts of the universe. Yet we cannot experience unconditional love for ourselves when it co-exists with fear, and most of us live in fear most of the time, whether we are aware of this or not. Fear causes us to forget that we are all intimately connected and infinitely powerful, and instead feel separation and impotence. We may have flashes of feeling in love with everyone and everything in the universe, but rarely does it become a constant state, due to the rapid resurgence of fear as ‘reality’ sets in once more. But who is dictating our reality?

It’s time that we delved inside to examine these fears that run our lives, and shed them, one by one. It’s possible; it’s the journey I’ve been on for the last few years and, although I know there are still some deep fears in there to root out, it’s becoming easier and easier to let them go – it’s just a matter of where you place your attention. It’s the process of awakening, well-documented in all spiritual traditions, although often shrouded in esoteric and nigh impenetrable language, when in fact it’s simply a return to our natural state, which is pure love. And I really believe that the more people that take this decision to do the inner work and (re) awaken to the truth of who they are, the more a snowball effect will occur and it will become progressively easier to move through this process as we begin to collectively support each other in our endeavours. In fact it seems this snowball effect has started already, another symptom of the ‘light’ of truth fighting back.

So, I truly think that a really good thing that we can all do in this madness is to retreat inwards and learn to love ourselves unconditionally, and to move past the myriad negative judgements we hurl at our good selves each day, yet to simultaneously extend our support outwards to our friends, family and community, to encourage and help others do the same.

To me it is the inner revolution that is going to save us – it has to start with ourselves. Only when we love ourselves truly can we reflect this onto the outer world. We all have the power to change the world, in this I do believe – we change it with every thought we have, choice we make, word we speak. And moving towards self-love through inner work and holistic healing comes hand in hand with expansion of consciousness. This is what is next for humanity’s evolution, if we can get through this craziness. It is, as it always has been, in our hands. How can we not take individual and collective responsibility for arriving at the situation we find ourselves in? Taking responsibility is the first step towards re-empowerment. And the positive flip-side of this is that we get to choose how the future will look for us too.

I have such a great respect for our species – in the face of such trauma and nonsense, our resilience is formidable. We still get through each day as best we can: sharing smiles, connecting with and helping others when we can, laughing often, inventing and creating solutions, committing mind-blowing acts of compassion and self-sacrifice when it really counts. It seems that our inner spark is indomitable – we are a force of light to be reckoned with, and it’s time we remembered that.

So, to rein myself back into a ‘yoga’ context (which, as a reminder, means ‘union’ ;)), next time you take to your yoga mat or sit down to meditate or indeed do anything that is for the purpose of nurturing yourself, know that you are doing this for yourself, for your soul expansion, for your inner healing. Yet, in giving yourself precious time for self-nurturing, you are in fact also doing it for every other being in the universe too, and you are actively playing your role in saving the world from madness and creating a positive future of love, harmony and collaboration. The question to ask yourself with all choices you make is: ‘Is this making me kinder and more loving towards myself and therefore also to others?’ If the answer is yes then do it as much as you can! And if the answer is no then perhaps re-think – we always have a choice, and we always will.

And, finally, when in doubt, my advice is to laugh at the madness! Or have a cup of tea. For me, both actions seem to work wonders at dispelling fear, which inevitably moves you closer to the love that you truly are… 😉

love-tree-6

I don’t understand – but I trust

So, once again I am on the brink of leaving my ‘regular’ life behind to leap into the abyss and explore some more of what this crazy, beautiful planet has to offer. It has been such a journey getting to this point, and it still feels strange. I am a bundle of emotions – sadness and grief at what I’m leaving behind and might yet lose, yet wonder that this sadness is only there because of the deep love and gratitude that lies beneath it. And of course there is huge excitement, joyful curiosity and fear in the mix too – I often feel I’m in the middle of a furious maelstrom of emotions these days, yet there’s a deep strength underlying it all, and I seem able to stand firm and trusting at its still-point centre, even when my mind can’t possibly explain what’s going on!

Many people have asked me what I’m doing this year, and sometimes also asking, ‘why?’. It’s a natural question, and one I’ve struggled to answer. I’ve struggled in part because I am shy to bring my explorations out into the open. And I’ve also struggled because my mind can’t make sense of what I’m doing – it can’t rationalise it, put it into a tidy, neat box and justify it. So I’m often left without many words, just a sheepish look and a helpless shrug. But I know that I need to lose the sheepishness and instead own and honour what I’m doing without fear of judgement and without any feelings of embarrassment or shame. Why? Because I am following a deep, deep instinct. It is that crazy, inexplicable thing that we all have, if we can only quieten the mind long enough to listen: intuition. No, I can’t explain it in my head, but I feel it deeply in my heart and gut and it’s impossible to ignore. Sometimes we have to leap, even when we don’t know why. And in that leap of faith, that act of surrender and trust, invisible arms appear to support us and carry us to the other side, from where we will look back and see the method in the madness, the thread of truth through running through the mists of confusion.

So what am I doing with myself this winter? Well, firstly, I am revisiting a beautiful and magical retreat centre in Inverness (www.anamcara.org) where I attended a course recently, entitled ‘Plant Spirit Medicine’, which signalled my first ‘official’ foray into shamanic practices. I have been drawn to shamanism for many years, pretty much since I began my inner questing in earnest, and it has become increasingly obvious that, through my own inner journey, of which connection to nature is a massive part, I’ve adopted many of its practices intuitively and naturally, without ever having ‘learnt’ these, and I think this is its appeal. To me, shamanism is an umbrella term for intuitive, innate and timeless healing wisdom that comes from connecting deeply with the land and with yourself as an integral part of the land. It is no coincidence that every ancient culture across the globe has some kind of ‘shaman’ healer and/or knowledge-keeper as an important member of the community, and that the practices used by shamans across the world are eerily similar. And if these practices are both universal and, seemingly, timeless, then we would be foolish to write them off, especially when so many of our existing systems are so clearly failing us.

Shamanism is about bridging the gap between the seen and unseen realms, and honouring every living thing as equally sacred. This is a path I’ve been walking anyway, but now I’m ready to give it some kind of framework, and I have found the perfect teacher at Anam Cara, and the perfect place to immerse myself in the sacred celebration of the land. I will be volunteering at the centre for around six weeks, and hope to learn more about running retreats and managing a large piece of land, which follows permaculture principles, as well as exploring community living again, as these are all things that I am very interested in and that I think will become increasingly woven into the mainstream as humanity opens its eyes once again to the old ways, and rekindles a longing for deep connection to land that is crying out to be fed within us.

Then, after six weeks of retreat living in Scotland, I am off to India to, firstly, study astrology via the medium of dance (yes, really), and then immerse myself in yoga for a couple of months. Again, I’ve felt sheepish confessing this newfound love of astrology to people, but it’s a passion that has found me. It has grown within me stealthily until, like the shamanism, I feel it’s time to honour it by dedicating time, money and energy to learning more.  Just like the shamanism, it’s an ancient, timeless practice – the alignment of ancient sites with constellations is but one of many illustrations of how our ancestors valued astrology as a potent science. And, like shamanism, it has grown within me as a natural, intuitive extension of my persona rather than as a conscious intellectual exercise. I literally feel the effects of the planetary movements on my being, and my studies into it are more affirmative than illuminating, just like the shamanism, although of course I realise there is so much to learn – again, hence the need to delve into this world and provide a framework of sorts for the intuitive wisdom that is gradually being remembered within me. I feel these different worlds are all just facets of the same complex totality of existence, but we need some form within the freedom, and the mind likes to learn, even if the heart and spirit already know it all. Like all things in life, it’s all about the balance.

So why have I felt reluctant to share my new direction with people? Fear of negative judgement of course. Fear that my yoga students will drop away, thinking I’m becoming too weird and far-out hippy. Fear that friends will disown me for the same reason. Fear, fear, fear…

The thing is, this fear is abating fast. Of course, it’s still there. But I now understand that if I don’t honour and respect my decisions then how can I possibly expect others to do so? Furthermore, I now place personal authenticity above feeling the need to please others. Because I have finally realised that the only way I can ever please others is by being true to myself first. And I know that I have to teach my truth too, and that this is the greatest honour I can give my students. I’ve always struggled with the ‘teacher’ label anyway – I just want to share my passions with those keen to learn, that’s all. So I have to allow my teaching to grow as I do.

And, here’s the funny thing. It’s all yoga anyway! I have always struggled to fit myself into any kind of box – I resist labels when I can, and it’s been a long journey to accept that yoga is a big enough container for my personal growth. But yoga means union, which means bringing everything together, and in this I can believe. Yoga is taking us towards the experiential understanding that we are all one and the unconditional love that follows such a revelation, and in this I also believe.

And, as I learn more, I see how shamanism and yoga are but two sides of an infinitely multi-faceted coin, and I notice that references to astrology appear as aspects of the ‘siddhis’ (special powers that committed yogis will start to eventually experience) in Patanjali’s yoga sutras (III.26-III.28). I used to think the siddhis were all-out bonkers, but these days they just seem a very natural part of expansion of consciousness, which any kind of healing/inner work is contributing to – but the proof will always be in the pudding (hurrah for puddings); all the great truth teachings are merely affirmative of your own experiential findings – we have all the answers we need within us already. And all great ‘teachers’ will just remind us of this and help us to extract them. As one of my recent teachers/mentors said, ‘we are the Patanjalis of our time’. So I think my forays into shamanism and astrology are actually very much a positive sign that yoga is working for me. And, it’s all one anyway, so I don’t even know why I’m quibbling… 😉

So, this doesn’t mean my weekly yoga classes will now include astrological discussions or shamanic rituals, but it does mean I might occasionally weave these into my teachings, if it seems to fit, which it does surprisingly often. And it does mean that I continue to expand and grow my body of knowledge and experience in a way that feels intuitively right to me, and this is surely one of the best teachings I can give to others; to be true to yourself, to follow what makes your soul sing and your curiosity soar with joyful excitement. And, more than this, to follow that deep, deep knowing within you, even when it makes no sense at all.

emptiness