Parts I, II, III (so far) all in one place …
2018 decided to show me who’s boss … first we had another ice storm, thankfully not as severe as the last one, the power only went out for a couple of hours and no more branches were lost from the Winter Tree, or trees in our neighbourhood. There has been unfortunately, a tremendous amount of branch trimming and tree lopping as people began to clean up the storm damage. And … I’m now recovering from five migraines in six days. Not just your planet-buster migraines, these were galaxy-busters. Thank you 2018!
On with the post I was going to write before the above mentioned galactic destruction was let loose inside my cranium.
Ever notice how things come in waves?…
… you find that pair of wrist braces in a backpack that hasn’t been used for years …
… that jar that fell behind the fridge (that you couldn’t be bothered to move the fridge out to get) suddenly appears on top of the dishwasher …
… and a sock finally reappears out of the washing machine of life, that’s been M.I.A. since midsummer …
… All within the space of 24 hours?
I call it Murphy’s Law of Attraction, (a variation of the original which says that anything that CAN happen WILL happen) which goes something like this: If one thing decides to screw with you then many things will decide to screw with you in order to keep it company and ruin your day/week/month/year …
… which is apropos of nothing to do with this post, apart from having been asked by a few people of late, both online and off, about that one little phrase in my ‘About Me’ page, that goes like this, ‘… I’m a shaman…’
It all began a few decades ago… in a Galaxy Far, Fa … erm … in a country on the other side of the Pacific Ocean
I was running late. (still do, and with monotonous regularity) I missed my bus connection and speed-walked for six blocks, thankfully most of them downhill, and found the room in the building where I needed to be. All the other women in the room were seated and, apart making quiet eye contact with whomsoever they knew, seemed to be firmly in this physical reality.
My embarrassment that I might be too late and interrupt all sorts of otherworldly goings-ons vanished. I sat down on the only empty chair left and prepared to embark upon the unknowable. I breathed a few deep breaths and closed my eyes. The lights dimmed and my first Journey began.
(I’m not going to go into the mechanics of shifting into a trance state. There are so many different styles and the experience is ultimately unique to each person.)
I was sitting inside my head, metaphorically twiddling my thumbs and wondering if anything out of the ordinary would happen at all, when betwixt one moment and the next, my sense of what was real expanded beyond any understanding I had a context for and catapulted me into somewhere else where anything, quite literally anything, could happen.
My body, from my neck to my thighs stretched and grew longer, like I was made of rubber. I could have reached up and touched the ceiling above me without any effort at all. I had never experienced a physical sensation like this ever before, but for some strange reason I wasn’t scared. Disconcerted? Certainly. Who wouldn’t be? But not scared. My fear had been suspended by something, someone perhaps, for unknown reasons, so, because I didn’t have any other experiences to judge it against, I simply accepted the phenomenon as something that was supposed to happen in a meditative state.
My awareness of the strange physical sensations in my body evaporated and I was … elsewhere.
If all the realms beyond this mortal physical one were like marbles in a bag, I had manifested somewhere in the spaces between the marbles. Out of the nothingness of this Gap Between the Worlds, roots swirled into being in front of me like gnarled fingers and flowed smoothly into the trunk of a tree. Magnificent branches spread out from the trunk into a massive umbrella of grey-green branches. It was a huge Moreton Bay fig tree.
I reached out and gently brushed my fingers along the bark. Its roughness caressed the edges of my fingertips. Awe took my breath away as realized I was in the presence of such a potent physical response in another realm of Awareness, while I was also sitting in an ordinary room with my eyes closed, and yet, this felt right, like I had been waiting all my life for it to happen.
A retrospective digression . . .
Small country towns and rural backwoods often produce offspring with itchy feet and restless minds. This Journey of mine started in a tin shack on the bank of a creek in the harsh untidy Australian bush.
All through my childhood and young adulthood life I lived through a variety of mundane and oh-so not-so mundane abuses. As I grew through the first decade of my life, and became aware of the wild bushland that was my backyard, I sensed a deep awareness of something that seemed to be sleeping, waiting for me to grow to adulthood when I would be able to understand it. In my childish innocence I simply felt ‘safe’ out there. There wasn’t much in my childhood world indoors that was safe, and I escaped outside to the bush as often as I could.
I never really liked school. I always wanted to know the layers of ‘why’, about everything, and to see beyond the horizon, and all that going to school did was to keep my nose firmly buried in books of rote material, and exams. So, I left school as soon as I was legally able to, (14) and got a job. Not a very fancy one mind you, but I earned enough to live, just. I lost that job and found another. I learned how to survive. I lied about my age and got a better job with better pay.
All the time, searching for that next horizon.
The townships around where I grew up were quite famous for their early colonial architecture, particularly the churches. In my teens I began investigating these monolithic sandstone manifestations of religion to see if they could answer my rebelliously agonizing questions of Life, Sexuality, the Universe, and Everything.
I found them all wanting. I never believed their story. For awhile though, in a sort of a spiritual desperation, seeing as it was the only form of spirituality around me at the time, I tried to believe their dogma, but I rebelled at the blatant separatism (among many, many ‘isms’), that each belief system or creed taught. (I had the ridiculous experience of one of these religions offering to ‘cure’ me because I was a lesbian)
I didn’t fit their model and they certainly didn’t fit me.
In spite of a childhood of adult imposed terrors, the agonies of adolescence where I knew I was different and fearing I was the only one in the whole wide world, and the longings of young adulthood, I knew beyond any doubt that there was something waiting for me out there. Something that was magical and wonderful, and once I found it I would never be the same, ever again. Until I found it, or it found me, I was content to just drift along the line of my life, trying all sorts of new experiences. Experimenting with love and lust, consciousness altering substances, political movements, and the philosophical paradoxes of the adult world.
All that changed the day I discovered a sport that set my heart on fire! I felt like I KNEW what I was waiting for at last. I mapped out my path with a dedication and self-discipline that brought a tear to the eye of the most cynical of my friends at the time. I planned to progress through the amateur rankings, then play professionally, and then become the best in the world. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was my destiny. I declared my every, well almost every, waking moment to that goal.
(The trophies from that era are long gone, but I still have the memories safely tucked away, to be taken out now and then and looked upon fondly)
I was in my early twenties and I rode a motorbike. It was cheap to run, because I couldn’t afford the luxury of a car when every cent I earned seemed to disappear into training for my dream. I felt such freedom, and strangely enough, a sense of safety when I was riding my bike. It seemed that none of the ghosts of my past could ever catch me.
Have you ever gone to a lookout at night that overlooks a city? All those beautiful fairy lights, innocent in the distance. In summer the air carried the scent of flowers and freshly mown grass, and in the winter, wood fires cast lazy tendrils of aromatic smoke through the chilly air.
I would ride out in the early hours of the morning when the country roads were empty of human life but so full of the energy of the night. I traveled along backroads and highways that flowed like rivers of pure moonlight. They wound across endless dark plains, up through mountain clefts, and over high peaks and mountain passes.
Early one night I was idling my way home through a rugged terrain of gorges and steep twisted roads when suddenly all I could see in front of me was the glare of headlights. I was smashed off my motorbike and my dream of athletic stardom ended in a trail of broken bits of plastic and machinery from my bike, and a butchered knee. It was 7.30pm on the 5th of April 1983. As it turned out, a time and date to remember. (but that’s another story for another time 🙂 )
I would never be physically able to ride a motorbike again. (without it being severely modified) My time as a ‘biker’ was done. I never regretted a single moment of my time riding one, and I know for certain that if I had been in a car the night of that accident I surely would have died. The bike allowed me time and the agility to maneuver enough to save my life.
As a treatment for relieving pain in broken bodies, morphine is magnificent. During the 5 weeks and 1 day I was in hospital, Sister Morphine and her less (relatively) intense siblings, numbed my emotional turmoil and physical pain to a level that allowed me time and space to reconcile myself to the undeniable fact that I would always, and only, have one-and-a-half knees.
I remember lying in that hospital bed with my leg swathed in bandages from my ankle to my thigh, knowing that I had come within millimeters of not being alive at all, knowing how bad the damage was, and wondering if I would have a leg to stand on at all. In one simple rush of thought, like the swelling of an unstoppable tide, I relinquished all my dreams, hopes and fantasies. I was back at the beginning of my searching again, almost.
Of course this epiphany happened only at an intellectual level. It took a little longer for this information to percolate through to my other levels of Awareness, and a lot longer for me to accept it. For many years, in my dreams I would always have two good knees. I would wake up and start to get out of bed like I used to, and either hurt myself terribly or catch myself just in the nick of time from falling flat on my face. Either way, getting out of bed was not my favorite activity of the day. To finally appear in my dreams with my damaged knee was, in a strange kind of a way, a relief.
Anyway, back to the hospital. With my emotional responses thus temporarily suspended, I was intellectually able to find some of my answers to the big WHY?
I would never be that world famous athlete, but I would be able to walk upright, eventually, with a limp, and the rest of my body functioned as it should.
I realized I had been given the gift of experiencing the passion of Knowing, of understanding at a very deep level in my Spirit, what being on a Life-path felt like. I just hadn’t picked the right one yet! That seemed simple enough. All I had to do was find out what my path truly was, (fully aware of the irony of the statement) but I KNEW that all I had to do was keep looking. And so I did.
I left the small town behind and moved to Sydney (Australia) and found out lots of things about how to survive in the Big Smoke.
Moving from the country to the city also kick-started my political education as a woman in a capitalist patriarchal society. I got scared, I got angry, I got radical, I got even. I got laid, I got into collectives and consensus, I got into women’s peace camps and anti-nuclear protest rallys. I got into performing, I even got to play guitar in Sydney Town Hall on International Women’s day! I read the worlds of Mary Daly, Kate Millett, Diane Stein, Starhawk, Monica Sjoo, Dale Spender, Vicki Noble, and many, many others. My head spun. I found in those books, and living that life, the answers to so many of my questions, but not all. I’d found my key to what I was supposed to be doing, but where, oh where, was the door?
I was deep in the painful end of a relationship. I had just begun to study at University. Architecture if you please! If there is a more secular bastion of intellectual patriarchal endeavor, I’ve yet to come across it, but for a high-school drop-out simply getting into University was a great achievement. In the midst of these not insignificant events, I heard about a meditation group that I thought might help me find at least some balance in my chaotic life that also might give me some clue as to what and where that door was.
Little did I know, that very first evening, when I found my door, it would swing wide open without hesitation and welcome me into its Mysteries. Although, with hindsight, it felt like it sucked me in, shredded me, and spat me back out, remade and ready to begin again.
… but what happened after the Moreton Bay fig tree, I hear you ask? … Well, that’s for the next chapter.
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… the story so far … Childhood of major suckitude … searching for spiritual meaning … my first encounter with meditation … end up in front of an ancient tree … and away we go …
I took a moment to assess my situation. The Morton Bay fig tree was real and I was really standing next to it.
A large almost weightless ebony ball appeared in my hands.
Surely not a crystal ball, some irreverent part of my mind commented, but as I looked vague shapes shimmered and flared inside it and I knew what they represented.
The remnants of my stress at running late looked like a mini lightning strike. An odd-looking jiggly thing off to one side was the tough week I’d had at work. Another shape was my University workload. Another one was my relationship, it wasn’t going well. My health, finances, all the aspects of my everyday life captured in miniature.
The tree was a kind of way-station on my Journey between the physical world and whatever lay ahead. I couldn’t take all my mental dross with me, so this was the perfect place to leave it, to be collected on my way back if I so chose. I gently lodged my ebony ball in a comfortable little nook between two branches, and feeling much lighter, took a deep breath.
My perception shifted and I looked down on a sea of long rolling sand dunes in shades of yellows and browns stretching out in all directions. No trees, grasses, or visible life anywhere. The air around me smelled crisp cold, with a dry bite, not at all what I expected. I glided on soft silent wings across the sky, flying from horizon to endless horizon.
My flight seemed to last forever but eventually the desert ended at the edge of an ocean and plunged abruptly into the green depths beyond the gentle tidal surge. The sea, too, extended in an hypnotic rolling swell as far as I could see.
I landed at the edge of the sand and faced the sea, folded my wings back from whence they came, and waited. Not much else I could do, really.
A wooden rowboat aged by wind and tide gently beached itself. I got in and off we went, across the sea to the opposite shore, which looked exactly the same as the one I’d just left. Sand dunes rising out of the water and then more sand dunes, beyond sand dunes, beyond sand dunes. I left the boat, unfurled my wings and soared onward to my final destination.
An oddly shaped building appeared at the edge of the horizon, becoming larger and larger as I drew close.
By now I was starting to feel, not exactly tired, but edgy, as though the part of me that firmly believed in three dimensions and all the familiarity and safety they entailed, was having a bit of a terse conversation with the part of me that accepted all I was experiencing here, as real too.
I drew closer to the building. Long sweeping planes and cunning tight corners flowed into curves rather than angles and took on a very specific shape. The seven storey high building was a statue of a very elegant looking Siamese cat with her front feet tucked together and her tail draped neatly over the tops of them.
Well, color me gobsmacked! My internal discussion shut down without a whimper.
“Of course it’s a giant Siamese cat,” I said. “What else would it be?” I really hoped I wouldn’t hear an answer because I was starting to feel a little punchy at this point.
As I softly landed in front of the building that towered above me like an overhanging cliff a doorway opened up in one of the giant toes. With a kind of fatalistic acceptance I stepped through. The opening wasn’t very wide, but the scale of the temple was so massive that just one toe left me with ample headroom.
The opening closed behind me without a sound, leaving me in utter darkness. Not just your ordinary darkness either, where you know the sun is out there on the other side of the planet, just out of sight for a while. This was a complete absence of even the concept of light.
My internal voices really had something to discuss now. Mostly about whether I should feel an ordinary garden-variety existential fear, or outright unadulterated imminent-annihilation terror.
I didn’t know which way was up, which way was down. I didn’t know where to go, or what to do next. I had willingly entered a place I had no frame of reference for, that was completely beyond the constraints of any time or measurements of distance that I knew of. Where magic was happening all around me, and dreams, possibly nightmares, came true.
I spent endless moments in that unutterable blackness before I realized I was still standing upright. Therefore, it followed that I had to be standing on something. My rational mind was so pleased to have some sort of reality to hang on to it relinquished its terrified death-grip on my throat and I could breathe again.
Breath meant movement and with movement came light. As I walked, a faint glow bright enough to see by emanated from the walls and faded back into blackness as I passed. The walls themselves were carved in long serrated grooves as though something with very big claws had scratched it out of the bedrock.
My eyes adjusted to the dimness so that when I reached the end of the tunnel, the circular room beyond seemed like it was bathed in brilliant white light. It was a perfect hemisphere nestled between the two front feet of the giant statue. I looked around but the only thing that I could make any sense of at all were a series of deep gashes carved into the walls in a herringbone pattern.
I reached out and touched them, they weren’t rock anymore, they were made out of clay, and I knew they represented a telling of my entire life. My past, present, and my unknown future. In some places the clay was still damp and in others it was so old and dry that I was afraid it would crumble if I even breathed on it. I understood the clay was made out of the blood of the earth, the first Mother of us all.
I knew if I could translate the pattern I would be able to see the course of my life from its beginning to its end, and beyond. The enormity of such knowledge set my hands shaking and I felt cold, ice cold.
A pair of french doors appeared right in the middle of the solid clay wall. They looked as though they’d always been there. Perhaps they had, and I could only see them when I needed to. They led out into a small courtyard, with beautiful green growing things and hidden somewhere just out of sight, the sound of water flowing, like a fountain.
Suddenly I was warm again. I walked through the lush tropical greenery with tears in my eyes.
This potency, this beauty of my ‘interior’ or ‘spirit’ world had always been here and I’d never been unable to access it until now. I laughed and cried. I felt sad for all that I’d missed, and elated for all I might find, all at the same time. I wanted to go further, beyond the garden, beyond the sand dunes, to explore just how far this wondrous paradise extended, to venture into who-knows-how-many other magnificent Realms. I wanted it all in one big hit. I wanted . . . I wanted . . .
A lifetime’s hunger condensed around me into this one impeccable moment. I hurried to the edge of the garden and bumped into something large and immovable. I looked up, and up, and up.
Her name, she said, was Bast. She cocked her head slightly to one side and glared fiercely down her whiskers at me. She held one gigantic, yet perfectly proportioned paw, just above my head, poised to stamp me out of existence.
“I want to fly,” I shouted at her with my arms outflung. “Give me back my wings.”
Bast laughed. Her belly shook with her mirth. “I will catch you and eat you. You will not survive.”
I glanced at a tiny butterfly innocently sipping nectar in the garden, and I thought I might be able to fly out as a very small and insignificant butterfly so no-one or no-thing would notice me, and I’d be OK.
“No,” Bast said. “I will squash you.” Her paw quivered just above my scalp. “You are not ready, and you will not survive.”
She seemed so very sure of herself and, seeing as how she was a whole lot bigger than me, I conceded her the point.
As I returned to the garden, and thence to my physical body, sitting in a chair in a small room in an old suburb of a ocean-side city, exhaustion swept over me like a tidal wave. Moving, standing up, breathing, took all of my energy.
Obviously, there were things I had to learn before I could go exploring any further, so I was content to wait, (at least until the following week) to understand how and what I would need to survive.
I was so excited though. Here was a place, a Realm, that could take me as far as I was wiling to go. I felt invincible.
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Since I posted the first ‘Prelude’ I’ve had a few comments both here and elsewhere about the nature of these meditations, which are quite a bit different from your average meditation, where we are able to calm all the noise in our minds so we can relax, and then, feeling refreshed, we go back to our lives.
This, isn’t that.
I stated previously why I didn’t go into any detail about how I entered into the trance state, but, in the interests of clarity, I’ll expanded a little on how I go about it.
First up, what I didn’t (and don’t) use: Consciousness altering substances … of which there are many, and many Traditions around the world do use them.
I discovered very early on in my adult life, long before I started this Spirit Path, that although ingesting consciousness altering substances, alcohol, marijuana, various opium derivatives, chemicals, and fungi, did indeed alter my perceptions, I never felt like I was ‘getting in touch with the real me’. Instead I felt like I was me-through-rose-colored-glasses.
I sit in a chair rather than laying down so I’m not tempted to fall asleep before the fun bits. Also, falling asleep during this work can be … troublesome. Other realms of existence open and the rabbit holes you can fall into are not for the faint-of-heart. In fact they’re downright dangerous.
I use visualization to relax my body, center my mind, do a bit of ‘housekeeping’ – sending healing energy to any bits of my body (usually my knees) that need it, give the old power centers (‘chakras’ in some Traditions) a bit of a vacuum and polish, and generally make sure what I leave behind, my physical body, is taken care of. (When I’m teaching, this visualization is spoken, or guided, by me, but it’s second nature now because I’ve been doing this for so long so I slip into it without a great deal of effort)
I usually set my destination (one or more of the Realms in that bag of marbles I talked about in Prelude I, of which there are as many as there are motes of star-dust in the universe) and the work I want to do ahead of time, then I head out.
Basically, beyond all the trappings, a Shaman’s work is to Journey into other Realms of Awareness and bring back that which is useful here in this one.
I had a week to think about my first adventure. I felt like I’d traveled through a movie. Who knew it could be this exciting? The sensual technicolor images, exploring unknown places, mythological images becoming manifest. As for Bast’s warning, it lost its impact with each day that passed. Nothing really horrible happened to me the last time. Not really. I was eager for a repeat experience. I wanted it all. To soak it up like a desiccated seed absorbing an ocean. I could hardly wait.
“I don’t know,” came a doubtful whisper.
“Oh, pish-posh,” I replied. “On with the show.”
The old tree flowed into existence in front of me, but my ebony ball was nowhere to be found. I visualized it as hard as I could, to no avail. For a moment I was too stunned to react, a frisson of panic rippled up from the pit of my stomach, but my journey continued to unfold around me, so off I went, ready or not.
I was flying through the star-lit sky at the speed of thought, heading towards the planet Neptune where I was supposed to experience unconditional love. On Neptune? And where I was to meet Venus, the Goddess that is, not the planet.
My throat constricted, and my eyes filed with tears of pain, of loss, of a grief too terrible to comprehend. I was going so fast that the starlight stretched until it looked like time-lapse video of car headlights at night.
Then the space around me began to harden until I couldn’t even move, even to breathe, bound in a coffin of rock, pushing at me, in me, a part of me, becoming me.
My chest caved in and my heart collapsed, crushed by the weight of that terrifying grief. In some strangely separate part of my mind I wondered if all the grief I had ever experienced in my life was somehow coming back to haunt me? Had all the ghosts I tried to outrun on my motorbike finally caught up with me?
Another thought swiftly replaced it. What if this grief isn’t actually mine? What if I had somehow unwittingly tapped into the rivers and oceans of grief that humans have been crying since we began inhabiting this planet? And I wondered, what would the weight of that do to me?
Another part of my brain screamed at me to open my eyes and everything would be normal. The crushing weight would disappear and the waves of grief would recede and return from whence they came, but I couldn’t open them, my physical body was too heavy.
I grew heavier and heavier, still unable to move, bearing it until I broke, until my bones and muscles and organs were crushed to pulp. Until the floor beneath me gave way under the strain. The floorboards splintered under the enormous weight and I fell straight through the floor beneath and down, down into the ground, where I knew, beyond a doubt, I would die.
Then, between one moment and another I was back in the room. It hadn’t collapsed, nor had I been crushed out of existence, but that grief, the unutterable weight of anguish, returned with me. I broke into great heart-wracking sobs, frightened to the depths of my being
Later that night I watched the news on television, as it relayed images of a great tragedy unfurling on the other side of the world, where people were already dying. My breath caught in my throat and I felt as though I were suffocating. I walked to a nearby park near where I lived and stood under the naked stars.
I whispered into the gaping wound inside me that wouldn’t close, “Why is this happening to me?
A voice that was neither inside my head nor somewhere out there beyond the furthest star, perhaps Bast, spoke to me. “So you will learn the First Lesson.” There was so much Power in that sentence I could almost hear the capital letters.
First Lesson. I pondered the words. First Lesson. What the hell did that mean? No-one answered. The words rattled around inside my head keeping me awake for hours.
Eventually, at some point during that sleepless night I figured a couple of things out. If, I chose to continue this work (and at this point it certainly wasn’t a given) I would be expanding my awareness of my surroundings and what constituted my reality, and I needed to be able to discern what was meant for me and what I was picking up from ‘out there’ that wasn’t meant for me. I was essentially bearing witness, nothing more.
Another even bigger ‘if’ was that if these Realms were as real as the physical one I’d inhabited for all my life, as real as the walls of my house, and the trees and asphalt pavement of my street, then perhaps I could’ve quite literally died under that crushing weight.
I’d been given a (relatively) painless glimpse into the true size and potential of the Path I’d innocently stepped upon.
It was a hard decision, but in the end I trusted what I’d learned from my motorbike accident, knowing that I must accept every challenge that came my way. Hard or easy, pleasurable or painful, to willingly go where the Journey took me. To trust that I would be cared for … until I’d learned what I needed to know in order to survive on my own.
I had no idea of what I was actually agreeing to.
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