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.
2. Consider the roots of this small event or exchange.
What deeper issue or part of your personal story is present in this situation? How did your actions and choices shift this deeper issue or story piece? Did you unblock, heal or clean out anything that has gotten in the way of your personal pathwork or of living from your best, soul-based qualities?
How did you become lighter?
Even if you felt stuck or made choices that you are not happy with, leave your self-judgment behind and look for the positive. What did you learn from this situation? How did it wake you up to things that you would like to heal and change in yourself and your life? What did it teach you about the other person(s) or your external environment? How will these lessons and insights affect your future behavior?
How can you use this situation to unblock yourself, become lighter, rather than continuing to re-enforce your old stories, behaviors and choices?
3. Select a longer period of time or a bigger event or exchange from the recent past where you experienced a greater degree of challenge and change, positive or negative.
Go through the same process and questions as you did for the smaller event/exchange. Keep your attention at the micro-level of individual incidents and exchanges that are part of the bigger situation. And also look for the connection or domino effect between these individual incidents.
A Little Steps Journey of Becoming Lighter
The importance of this exercise is to realize that small events and little shifts matter, even when considering a longer period of time or a bigger, more complex situation. We don’t go from a wounded state to an evolved, healed state in one leap. We take little steps and make little changes. These shifts and changes can happen in a negative or positive situation, and when we handle things well or badly. As long as we are paying attention and looking for our healing and unblocking lessons, change will happen.
Perhaps in this soul work, you will have moments of crystal clear awareness, an enlightened glimpse into the most profound secrets of life and the Universe. Perhaps you will step beyond the bounds of ego and self into an awakened state that we have collectively named enlightenment. Perhaps this will be for a moment, or forever. But do not look for this, or cling to this notion. Whatever comes to you is your journey of soul, not to be compared with outside constructs or the soul work of others.
And perhaps a master, guru or mystic, an enlightened one in its traditional definition, will be a source of wondrous of information and insight along your way. But you can be equally inspired and guided by the everyday people in your life who face their hardships with humor, grace, love and presence, and who bravely choose to live bigger, more fulfilling lives — people who are becoming lighter and more soulful in the course of the ordinary events of life.
Instead of judging yourself when you make a mess of something or seem to be resisting rather than embracing change, take a deep breath and let yourself know this is a learning moment. Your awareness and willingness to shift your perspective make this an enlightening opportunity.
Step by step, issue by issue, you clean out the debris that weighs you down, and you naturally become more present, more powerful, more aware, more beautiful and more soulful. You become lighter, or enlightened, and in this new lightness of being, your soul shines through a little bit brighter and you bring new light into this world.
Honor and celebrate every bit of yourself you heal and reclaim on your journey of becoming lighter. Enlightenment is the journey itself.
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Artwork by: Tatiana Plakhova
I dream of being with a woman elder who teaches me about a clan of good men with special spiritual energy that have been with humanity throughout our history. Then the dream shifts. I’m waiting on a street corner on my island home for a man to pick me up and give me a ride. I intuitively know that he’s part of this clan: a good man, and a teacher and holder of this special energy. The car pulls up. He smiles and greets me. I get in the car and then the dream ends.
In my waking-world life, I know this man, and he is indeed of this special clan of good men whose presence and deeds can open hearts, heal souls and change our world. He’s a poet, teacher and Zen practitioner — a brilliant yet humble man, with gentle, penetrating eyes that seem to take in our world of beauty and sorrow with a deep love, wisdom and crinkle of humor.
Oddly, the good man isn’t our cultural ideal of the masculine. Instead this ideal venerates “real men” who emulate a rugged self-determinism founded on domination and personal gain. In the battle for supremacy in our shared social order, real men fight their way to the top of the pile, reaping the rewards of wealth, power and adulation, indifferent to the price others pay for their success. Our modern political, social and economic systems are founded on this masculine ideal of dominion, will to power, and unfettered self-interest and greed.
It can be hard to recognize the good men among us given the long shadow of our cultural, real-men ethos. Many of us have experienced harm at the hands of an abusive man, or because of the misogynist roots and toxic male and female stereotypes that permeate our social order. Others may have a strong political or intellectual viewpoint that understands the role that men and patriarchal institutions have played in the worst of our human history and current malaise.
Yet there are good men in our midst, with big hearts and spirits, gifting their best in service of others and our world. And these men, with their positive masculine traits, are desperately needed as partners, allies and role models in the mending and renewing of our human society.
When I shared my good-man dream with my poet neighbor who appeared as the good man in my dream, he replied, “Yes, there are such men without a doubt. I’m glad you know, Karen. That, in itself, is worth all the dreams.”
Here is a simple exercise for claiming this powerful, healing good-man medicine in your own life.
1. Start by turning your attention to the good men in the public sphere, living and historic.
Who are your heroes: men you admire for their good nature and good deeds? What gifts do they give to the world through their beliefs, writings, teachings and actions? What kind of positive change do they bring about? What impact do they have on the hearts and souls of others? How do they make the world a better place? Consider the common qualities that you admire in these men.
2. Carry these good men with you in your heart and thoughts for a day.
Imagine them as your companions as you go about your day-to-day life. Try to see the world through their goodness and best qualities. Notice these qualities in yourself and in others. Let your experiences widen your heart and change you.
3. Bring your awareness closer to home, to the good men in your family, community and workplace that more directly impact and influence your life.
With these more intimate connections, remember that no person can be all good, and that you may have a hard time seeing those near to you as fitting the good-man ideal because of some imperfection or inconsistency in their personality. Don’t look for perfection. Instead, consider the men in your life who have a good heart, give of themselves to others, and have a positive impact on the world around them.
4. Again, carry these good men with you in your heart and thoughts for a day.
See the world through their goodness and best qualities. Notice that the good-man ideal applies to everyday men in everyday circumstances, and that the men in your life have positive, life-affirming traits outside of our cultural, masculine stereotypes.
5. Choose a simple way to honor the good men in your personal life and the greater world.
You could tell one of these good men how much you appreciate them, share a positive article about men on social media, or better still, decide to change something about yourself in alignment with the good-man ideal, knowing that a positive masculinity is part of our human nature, available to all of us regardless of our biological gender or gender identity.
In doing these things, we can step outside of the culturally imposed masculine, and begin to dismantle and replace its restrictive, toxic parameters with the bigness of being, heart and soul that is the true, best essence of men and masculinity.
These things shake us awake from our disquieted acquiescence to the real-man cultural ideal. We widen our gaze to the good men and their positive masculinity. We remember: that our hands and our hearts are made for service to ourselves, each other and our Earth home; that good deeds, founded in love, compassion, justice and beauty, are the true markers of the best of our humanity; and that these life-affirming choices and actions are not just the responsibility of the good men of our world, but of each and every one of us.
Together we can claim the dream of the good man as our new cultural ideal of masculinity.
Photo Credit: Joshua Earle on Unsplash
Deep, transformative magic waits for us in our flesh and bones form. Our body is a treasury of primal wisdom and sensate knowledge that speaks to us through the language of movement and sensation. Wondrously, one of the best, most joyful ways to access this treasure trove is through inspired, ecstatic dance.
I am infinitely blessed to be part of Dance Temple where my dancing tribe gathers each week, under the guidance of brilliant priestess-facilitators, to dive deep and wild into our body’s transformative magic through free-form movement.
This same magic is as close as the privacy of your own living space, where you can dive deep and wild into the dance temple of your own sacred body. This pathwork exercise guides you in the delicious process of creating your own dance temple experience.
For this exercise, choose at least thirty minutes of music that speaks deeply to your body and soul. It can be slow, fast or a mix. Don’t include your preferred dance music or your favorite songs. You want to discover and inhabit your body in new ways, not slip into your existing patterns of movement.
The air is hot and moist, charged with the moving forms of fifty plus fully-embodied, dancing human-creatures. I remove my glasses; with my compromised vision, the outer world becomes a soft-edged, fluid sensuality woven of sound, scent, energy and the minutia of muscle, bone, breath and sweat.
This is Dance Temple, a place of free-form, authentic movement. Our brilliant, inspired priestess-facilitators lightly guide our process, setting our shared focus and helping us to inhabit this moment together. The rules are simple: move however you want, don’t talk on the dance floor, and respect yourself and each other.
What is deep, deep inside rises to the surface and speaks in the spiraling of my spine, the rotating of my shoulder blades, the gyrating of my hips, the reaching and extension of my limbs, and the fluttering of my fingers. I am liquid me, joyfully, ecstatically, powerfully present and free.
I cannot speak for the inner process of others, but what I witness around me are exquisitely beautiful people, of different ages, shapes, colors and gender options, totally giving themselves over to the music and the moment. This is diversity in motion — a kaleidoscope of swaying, bopping, twirling, grooving bodies, each with a dance as unique as their fingerprints.
I cannot tell you how or why, just that I feel an exquisite rightness inside of me and in our togetherness, a kind of collective homecoming within our moving, inspired flesh. Whatever emerges from this fusion is pure love, pure joy and pure magic, the very stuff that can heal our souls and transform our world.
We need more Dance Temple moments in our lives, where we stop talking, start grooving and let our body do its unique, delicious thing, speaking in its sensate language of movement and dance. Our bodies know what we need to heal, grow and flourish. Our bodies know how to be with other bodies in a place of self-expression and respect. Our bodies know how to cultivate joy, make love and weave beauty.
Maybe, just maybe, the thing that can change our world is as simple as embracing the dance temple which is our own sacred body, with its unique form of expressive movement and profound range of sensate knowing. Alone and with our dancing tribe, we can move and groove, waking and shaking things up, and finding our way home together.
Photo Credit: Christopher Campbell on Unsplash
I’ll be totally honest with you; I was a reluctant recruit to the notions that men too are wounded by our patriarchal world and the negation of the feminine aspects of our human nature, and that they need women’s empathy and support in their healing.
Then one day, my best female friend challenged me. I’d been sharing with her my exploration of the Goddess, the sacred feminine and magic, and my recent healing work with my mother and feminine nature. She stopped me midstream and asked, “What about men and their wounding, Karen? How are you going to help them heal?”
My response was something along the lines of, “Not my problem. Let them figure it out on their own.”
Not long afterwards, the Goddess came to me in a dream and gave me my marching orders, “I want my Beloved back.” And from there, many dreams and healing moments later, I realized that the tear in the outside culture between men and women was inside of me. And that I could only mend this tear, inner and outer, by extending the same loving concern and compassion for the wounding and pain of men as I did for myself and for my women kin.
Man or woman, gay, trans or straight, victim or privileged, we’re all born into a misogynist world that force feeds and constrains us within narrow, damaging male and female stereotypes and roles. For some the harm is direct and brutal, for others it’s more subtle and subtext, and none of us can escape the ever-present cultural negation of women’s ways, values and spirituality, and the mirror distortion and limitation of men and masculinity.Your Gendered Tear
In this exercise, I invite you to explore the gendered tear inside of you, but gently so.