The media feeds us an ongoing narrative of the horrors of humanity: terrorism, political corruption, environmental devastation, mass shootings, to name but a few. Yet our lives are also touched by acts of philanthropy, creative expression and everyday goodness by the bright-souled, golden-hearted people in our midst. Between these polarities, we are left disoriented, torn between repulsion and reverence for these base aspects of our human nature.
Who are we as a species? Are we beauty or are we beast? Does fear or love drive us? What rules our world and our lives – an ethos of domination and destruction, or of nurturance and creation? And what do we make with our pain? Beauty and goodness, or more horror and pain?
I want to reach out and touch your heart. To feel your warm flesh and pulse under my palm. I want to tell you everything is going to be okay. That we can figure this out, we can find our way through the madness and destruction that dominate the headlines, and align ourselves with those that come into this world to spread goodness and beauty.
But I can’t. Because we live in a turning moment, a time of choice between all that we are and all that we can be.
Individually and collectively, we need to stop being afraid, stop judging and stop insulating ourselves from the raw truths of our joy and our pain. And hardest of all, we need to accept that the horrors the media feeds us and the beauty that touches our everyday lives are both expressions of our inner humanity.
In this acceptance, you can come to understand that you are not separate from the beastly and the beauty out there in the greater world. Your life story is woven from the best and worst of your personal history and makeup. And you, like every one of us, were born into and entrained within a collective ethos that produces terrorists, mass murders, poets and philanthropists.
What do you do with your personal pain? What do you do with your gifts and opportunities? Do you make more sorrow and pain for yourself and others? Or do you allow life to teach you, and help you blossom and grow into your true, big, shining self.
It all comes down to the imperative of choice making. In the face of the suffering and joy, and light and shadow of your life story, what do you choose?
Photo Credit: James Marcom on Unsplash
Our breath, though we ignore it most of the time, is something we are intimately familiar with. It is an innate, natural part of our human functioning that we could no more suppress than we could stop the rising and setting of the sun.
Every moment of our life is a gift from its life-giving powers. We come into a life on a breath, and leave it on a breath, and mark every moment in between by its rhythmic cycles.
Breath is the dance of our inner world with the outer world. In-breath: we enter deep inside ourselves. Out-breath: we share what is inside with the world. Return in-breath: we draw the world back into our body and let it feed and change us.
Most of us have lost the true capacity of our breath. We breathe in a shallow, truncated form, neither fully filling our bodies, nor fully emptying them. We ride the crest of our breath, rather than the deep and wide range of its powers and mysteries.
Yet what is lost can be regained. We can learn, through conscious awareness and specific techniques, to breath in the manner our bodies and beings where designed to function.
And when we do, our bodies are enriched and our conscious awareness expands, because breath is the bridge between the physical and the spiritual, where mysteries unseen are made manifest in our living forms.
Read the above once more, but now apply these same words to magic.
Breath is magic. And magic is breath.
Photo Credit: Miguel Salgado on Unsplash
Think of a black box, with clearly delineated dimensions and solid, impermeable sides — this is a potent metaphor for our tightly held conception of reality, constructed of our beliefs, values and understandings of the world around us. Consider the vast, expansive space outside the box — this is true reality, unconcerned with our puny human constructs and limited imagination. What we can perceive and experience is delineated and limited by our black-box reality.
The Path of She calls us to step outside of the world that we know and to embrace what else is true and possible. Integral to this pathwork is enlarging the dimensions of our black-box reality, which in turn broadens the scope of reality and experiences available to us.
This is easier said than done because we’ve spent our whole life immersed in the self-reinforcing foundations and building blocks of our black-box reality, forged from the mainstream culture, our family conditioning and our personal adaptations to the world around us. Yet sometimes it only takes one illuminating insight or experience to crack open our black box and let in the light of new possibilities.A Personal Story of Cracking My Black-Box Reality
Early on in my spiritual journey, I experienced what I call a keystone moment — an event with enough potency to crumble a foundational element of my black-box reality and replace it with something new and expansive.
At the time, I was part of a Buddhist meditation group that met every Monday evening. Although my MBA-addled mind desperately struggled with the strange, new notions of my teacher’s weekly Dharma talks, still I had begun to sink into my meditations and experience a modicum of inner peace and spaciousness.
This night, shortly after I’d settled into my sitting, my body started to twitch and change. I felt my face extend into a long muzzle, with a cold, wet nose. My eyes became sharp, wary, and bristly, rough fur emerged on my cheeks. Then I flung my head back and opened my mouth in a long, silent howl. I had morphed into a she-wolf, perched on a hard pillow, in the middle of a group of silent, slow-breathing humans. The experience was visceral, embodied and undeniably real.
Now, I will admit, I was scared witless; nothing in my black-box understandings of life could help me make sense of this. But another part of me reveled in this glorious window into the true nature of my expanded, mystery-filled humanity.
My black-box reality suddenly, irrevocably cracked wide open, exposing me to a vast, wild world of spiritual truth, possibilities and experiences. So began the next phase of my spiritual unfolding that continues to this day.An Exercise In Expanding Your Black-Box Reality
Though my personal story appears to be a spontaneous, dramatic instance of expanding my black-box reality, I’d primed myself for this experience through my commitment to self-awareness and truth in my meditation practice. This exercise is also one of seeking self-awareness and truth that can prime you to step outside of your black-box reality and let in the light of new possibilities.
Our shared culture is like a sleeping spell that disconnects us from our Deep Self that holds our true beauty, unique essence and authentic humanity. As children, we’re not asleep; we naturally, innocently express our true beauty and inclinations. And then slowly, relentlessly, the forces of culture — through our families, school, the media and countless other aspects of our shared outer reality — domesticate our free spirits and lull us to sleep by telling us, over and over, how we’re meant to believe, think and live our life. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have lost our roots in our Deep Self and are fast asleep within cultural-defined reality.
Yet our soul longs for an authentic life, where our outer existence is a natural expression of our Deep Self. Though our waking mind may be asleep to these things, our soul remembers who we are and the life we long for. It speaks to us through our most secret, cherished desires, the things that give us joy and satisfaction, and in a restless hunger for something missing from our life that we can sense but often not name.
From the midst of these opposing energies, wake-up calls emerge.
It can take on many forms: from something as dramatic as an accident or illness, to something more subtle, like a gnawing, brewing discontent that just won’t go away. Big or small, direct or subtle, drawn from the familiar or the wildly unexpected, wake-up calls are profound gifts that offer healing and transformative change.Recognizing Wake-Up Calls
The intention of this exercise is to heighten your awareness of the presence and impact of wake-up calls in your life transitions. With this awareness, you can become more attuned to the small and large ways your Deep Self and the powers of life work together to shake you awake and steer you in a more positive, soulful direction.
I know enlightenment as a verb is grammatically incorrect. Enlightenment is a noun that, in a spiritual context, indicates an egoless, awakened end state. It is an ideal attained by the very few, the masters, mystics and gurus in our midst. Therein lies its problem.
Enlightenment as a noun is beyond the reach of most of us who travel a sincere path of spiritual healing and evolution. If we think we have reached a state of enlightenment, the very act of naming and claiming it indicates the presence of ego, and ego is the antithesis of enlightenment. If we want to reach this state but can’t get there, we are probably short changing our spiritual accomplishments.
Either way enlightenment can inflate or deflate your spiritual process.
Though this may sound like blasphemy, I think enlightenment is a red herring that can distract us from the very important business of healing our own soul. Each of us comes into this life with soul work to do. For the vast majority, this work is to heal and to grow. For the very, very few, it is to achieve the rarified state of enlightenment. All of this spiritual work is essential to the greater healing of our humanity, and the only piece we can claim is our own.
Imagine your soul being buried under the accumulated debris of your old stories and habituations of beliefs, thoughts and life choices. What your soul fervently desires is a free-flowing alignment between your deep inner self and your outer life. But this is only possible if you lighten your soul’s load by cleaning out and healing the debris that weighs you down.An Exercise in Re-Visioning Your Spiritual Work
For this exercise, I invite you to re-vision your spiritual work as a process of becoming lighter/enlightened through little steps and small moments of cleaning out and healing those things that weigh you down, and allowing your soul to shine forth in your everyday life.
1. Start with a small event or exchange in the recent past where you were challenged or you experienced positive change.
Look for instances where you acted with courage or shifted something inside of you. It doesn’t have to be anything momentous or even visible from an outside perspective. Maybe it was allowing yourself to feel something you usually repress, or to speak your truth, or to seek out help, or to stop doing a negative behavior, or to say yes to something new, or no to something that doesn’t serve you.
Journal the details of what happened and how you dealt with it.