A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


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What’s Death Got to Do with Love?

DSC00094What’s death got to do with love? Everything.

Before you accuse me of being morbid, stop and think about the symbolism here: we’ve just ended one year and jump-started a new one. This bardo between one year and another is the perfect time to contemplate which endings will spring forth with new life.

In contemplating my own year, with its various endings, I can’t help but think how they pale in comparison to those of my sister, who lost her only son last February. Despite her enormous grief, she says in one of her last Facebook posts of 2014:

“Goodbye 2014. It’s been the hardest year of my life but I’m still happy! I have so much to be thankful for this year and that’s what is most important! I have some amazing friends and family that I love with all my heart and can honestly say that without them I would have not survived! I’m learning new things and learning how to create a different way to live in a life that is different but great also! Happy new year to all and I love everyone that is part of my world!!!!”

Wise words from a woman who has learned firsthand that death is part of love.

Not every death is so literal. In Chapter Five of the classic volume about the deep feminine, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes:

“A part of every woman and every man resists knowing that in all love relationships Death must have her share. We pretend we can love without our illusions about love dying, pretend we can go on without our superficial expectations dying, pretend we can progress and that our favorite flushes and rushes will never die. But in love, psychically, everything becomes picked apart, everything. The ego does not want it to be so. Yet it is how it is meant to be, and the person of a deep and wildish nature is undeniably drawn to the task.”

The best film I’ve seen on this subject matter is Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” released in 1961.  My husband and I watched the film for the first time a few nights ago and Pinkola Estés might have been summarizing the plot in the paragraph above. I was stunned by the similarities in theme. Breathless is as fresh and alive as the day it was released. I prefer the French title, “A Bout de Souffle,” which literally means “the end of breath.” The black and white movie explores the themes of letting go of our illusions of love and romance and does it in alternating thrilling, poignant and funny moments.

It doesn’t take much deep thinking to see that our culture has an unnatural insistence on permanence. Whether we are fixated on maintaining unwrinkled faces and tight buns well beyond middle age or we have an unrealistic expectation that the Dow will rise indefinitely, these will never be the natural state of affairs.

In all things, even in love, impermanence rules. Knowing this is the key to being present, again and again, to our lives and to our relationships.

What are you willing to let die so that love may flourish?

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Forgiveness heals

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Carrie Ure

I got hit hard with the flu a few weeks ago. It came on suddenly after a series of intense emotional experiences which included landing a nine to five job after nearly a year of underemployment, making a deeper commitment with my lover, hosting my beloved spiritual teacher in my home, and embarking on a year-long Fate and Destiny project with my cherished Sacred Contracts Crew. Perhaps at some point the system must shut down to integrate so many monumental events.

During the past few weeks as these various events coincided, I have  attempted to read Caroline Myss’ new book Defy Gravity. I say “attempted to read” because I have literally been arrested at the beginning of the second chapter. Illustrating the power of this book and these ideas, I been unable to move beyond the first major truth. It’s about forgiveness.

Myss makes the point that all healing begins with letting go of the need to know why things happen as they do. And that is forgiveness in its essence. It’s common in the new age to throw the term forgiveness around quite a bit, yet the concept begs a deeper look. I believe Myss gets it and I have examples in my own life as evidence.

I remember the precise moment her teachings reached me. In my early 30’s I had been struggling with the “why me” syndrome. Here I was, talented, beautiful, healthy, educated, even lucky,  but I couldn’t seem to get my life together. Week after week I moaned and complained to my therapist about what an awful upbringing I’d had. Nobody loved me enough, nobody cared for me when I was a child, blah, blah, blah. I spent a fortune on one therapist, then another and finally a third, a Jungian dance therapist, very well known. Although she had come highly recommended, she refused to take me at first. Perhaps she’d been warned about my propensity to whine. I badgered her until she finally relented.

About nine months into our sessions I walked into her office, a curious, haunted, place. There on a shelf near the door was a huge book with the heavy title, “The Victim in Holocaust Germany.” I will never know whether she placed the book in my path or whether it was simply one of the major synchronicities of my life. Although I did not even open its cover, I may as well have been hit over the head with it. In that moment I saw perfectly clearly that my own attitudes of entitlement and victimhood were keeping me stuck. My pattern of blaming my alcoholic parents and chaotic upbringing for my problems kept me searching for the answers to my miserable existence.

My deeper path in my spiritual life began that day, a long quest to discover how I could forgive my family and myself and set us all free. I left therapy shortly thereafter and never returned.

They say that the teacher always arrives when the student is ready. I discovered Myss’ wonderful first book, “Why people don’t heal and how they can,” shortly after leaving therapy.  In the book she explains that it is impossible to heal while one identifies as ill. This basic premise has remained consistent in all of Myss’ writing and it comes to full fruition in her latest book.

To stop identifying myself as the victim of bad relationships and events has changed my life profoundly. And to stop identifying myself as angry and hurt has healed my relationships.

In 1997 in the midst of continuing spiritual work, I picked up “Anatomy of the Spirit.” Using the exercises in the book I began working on forgiving others, including members of my family. I had been carrying one particular regret, a relationship that ended 10 years before, in another part of the country. At that time, I had befriended two women, Evelyn and Jenny. The three of us spent lots of time together, and during the summer Evelyn and I both got married within a month of one another. Jenny attended both and played a crucial role in my wedding, signing the marriage contract as a witness. Shortly afterward during a reunion of the three of us in Evelyn’s newlywed apartment, there was a terrible misunderstanding that left me angry at Jenny. Evelyn and I both severed contact with her.

I later moved to a new city, started a new life and a family, all the while remaining friends with Evelyn. Yet I regretted that I had cut off our friend Jenny. With my new found awareness about victimhood I realized that I had hurt myself and her over a perceived offense and now I wanted to know in my heart that I could return to a place of purity and love. I didn’t even know how to do it, and I figured I would never see her again. I was looking for peace in my own heart, a return to the innocent state before the regretted incident. I began to see my anger and resentment as a choice, and I was ready to choose peace.

I decided to journal about it. It was a lovely fall day and we went downtown on a family outing. My husband dropped me off at a pub near the art museum and left me to my journaling while he took our toddler to the park to play for an hour. I poured my heart into the journal, forgiving myself for cutting Jenny out of my life 10 years before. I recognized the choices I had made, the resentments I had held and I let go of trying to understand the situation or justify my part in it. I wrote until I felt complete and, at last, peaceful about the situation. My husband and son soon returned and we crossed the park to the art museum.

We entered the featured exhibit in the hushed building. My toddler, unable to keep his voice quiet, cried out, disturbing a group of art patrons. Distracted by our noise, a woman in a group of three turned to look at us and my jaw dropped in amazement. It was Jenny, the very friend I had been writing about. She approached me in complete shock. We embraced and I learned that she had been living in my city for several years. We chatted for a few minutes and parted ways, but we ran into her and her friends again twice that very day. I guess Spirit knows my willful character and orchestrated a message I would never forget! Not only that, the following month Jenny showed up in the same yoga class that I attended and we remained there together for the next several years. Although we never picked up our close friendship, we healed enough to be together every week.

Forgiveness has been my constant companion since that time. It is the most powerful force I know. What I now understand is that I have only to sincerely intend it and the task is complete. Anyone and anything, no matter how small or how large, how trivial or important, can be forgiven. The smallest resentments, when forgiven can yield the most leverage.

As I lie on my sick bed, Facebook and my cats for company, I’m weak and tired but I have the luxury of time. Someone comments on my post, an ex-boyfriend I haven’t seen in a while and I feel familiar unresolved resentments welling up. I’m not even aware that I’ve been carrying them around, but I drift in and out of sleep, praying to be released from my negative thoughts about how we parted. My prayer is simply this: may I be willing to let go of any anger I bear toward Richard. May I choose to let go of anger.

Richard calls the next evening for the first time in many months. He hears I’ve been sick. We converse like old friends. I hear caring in his words, I express love in my voice. Would I like him to bring homemade soup, he asks? Thanks so much for the kind offer, I say, but I believe I’ve got all the remedies I need.


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Everybody is crazy

IMG_1356I have worked very hard to make a life for myself, to go after the experiences I want, to befriend the people with whom I enjoy spending time, to spend my income only on the things that I value. I don’t know whether I have been more conscious about my choices than most folks.

From the beginning, I set my sights on a lifestyle that happened to differ from my upbringing. I spent more time alone than with my siblings or the kids on the block. I loved school and  excelled in art class.  I went to college, unlike my siblings, and attended a big university, something never done in my entire extended family up to that time. I became a Buddhist. I was different. Or was I?

Part of my life-long makeover  has included estranging myself not only from the lifestyle in which I was raised, but also from my place of birth and the people closest to me. At first I easily justified my distance. I was off to see the world, to study abroad, to work in the big city. Now I see that my habit to move forward has helped me deny my past and escape the painful memories of my childhood.

Escaping has been easier since my parents died. My siblings and I, literally scattered across four different states, rarely speak. Unlike our upbringing, surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, our children do not know one another. My support system involves a community of wonderful like-minded individuals, people with whom I share values, people who love and respect one-another. Wonderful people who help me distract myself from the pain of missing my history and roots.

Everything changed on Saturday. While enjoying a quiet  evening with my son, I got a “next of kin” phone call from the other side of the continent. My youngest sibling, a brother, had been admitted to the hospital with a suspected brain aneurysm. As he struggled in terrible pain in a hospital bed, I retreated to ponder the meaning of it all. I went, where I have always gone when chaos hits, to the safe, quiet place in my mind. I realized that I had no idea what to do.

There was, in fact, nothing to do. It was midnight. I was alone.  The next of kin, still the little kid, retreated to her room to “figure life out.” Waiting to hear, unable to sleep, I got on the Internet to research my brother’s condition. That’s when grace arrived in the form of an email from a cousin, an innocent Facebook comment on a photo I had posted earlier in the day. I don’t know what made me do it, but I hit “chat” and told her of my brother’s plight.

I awoke the next morning to a downpour of love and support. Aunts and uncles called, no matter that nine years had passed since the last conversation. Cousins put out the word and organized an impromptu prayer circle. Two cousins on Facebook conspired to send out word to track down my sister with whom I had lost contact years before. I spent the day — between phone calls to Mass General to  monitor Don’s condition — receiving the unconditional love and support of both sides of my extended family.

By the time I went to bed I was wrecked.

It’s about time. I have begun to relish the breakdown more than the control. Two sides of the same coin, I see that whether life is neat, tidy and arranged or whether it resembles the tilted deck of the Titanic, we are all in the same boat. I don’t know why everybody is so crazy. I do know that since at least the time of the Buddha, and most likely further back than that, people have suffered. We all want happiness and we are all doing our best to attain it. There are many strategies, many methods of coping. I’m not ready to say that I have the answer. I do understand today, however, that choosing my path does not necessitate rejecting all others.

I’m in a new mood to accept myself as one more crazy member of a sane and very loving family, and one more happy member of the suffering human race.


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The artist and the lover in bed together

Brian Lockyear, "Yin & Yang," Woodblock, ed. 25, 10 x 10 inches

Brian Lockyear, "Yin & Yang," Woodblock, ed. 25, 10" x 10"

“If you cannot caress your canvas, or your sculpting medium, you cannot caress your lover’s body — and if you can caress your lover’s body, you are an artist.”

from “Entering the Heart of the Sun & Moon” by Ngakpa Chogyam and Khandro Dechen

I am captivated by the process of falling in love. Being spiritually oriented as well as intellectually inclined, I can’t help gazing in wonder at the gift of love’s arrival in my life. In the moments when I am not actually gazing into my lover’s eyes, not physically entangled in his embrace, I simply must see love through the kaleidoscope of the various spiritual disciplines I pursue. I feel compelled to read about love and to chronicle my personal experience of the depth and height of the universal.

My Buddhist leanings dance with the Sacred Contracts work I will once again study intensively next week in Chicago.

In the book excerpted above, Entering the Heart of the Sun & Moon, Ngakpa Chogyam and Khandro Dechen discuss a little-known Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice known as Khandro Pawo Nyi-da Melong Gyud or Vajra Romance. Spiritualizing relationship or relating spiritually involves two aspects. The first is to actively, consciously recognize the enlightened, complimentary qualities in one’s lover as a way of empowering those qualities in the self, for the betterment of all. Secondly, the romantic need to see, smell, touch, taste and hear one’s beloved, is opened wide to consciously include all of life, other people, our wider community, our experience of our own mind, our physical reality and everything. In Nyi-da Melong Gyud lovers challenge themselves to open to all of life and  to sustain the “falling in love” indefinitely through self-awareness and mirroring.

I have to admit that this practice perfectly illuminates my own sacred contract. With the Lover in the seventh house, I find that my passionate nature best expresses itself in interaction and relationship with others, but also in the spiritual pursuit of the inner or sacred marriage. My Mystic is devoted to a path of union with the Divine, in all forms. My Storyteller must talk about it even though my Coward fears such lofty pursuits!

Interestingly, I have fallen in love with an Artist. My beloved is currently following his heart. He recently left the safety and predictability of a long career in computer science to pursue his dream to become an architect and designer. His contract simply demanded creative freedom and self-expression. Fueled by a similar late-bloomer’s passion, we are meeting one another on familiar turf. Our union reminds me that the Lover and the Artist are quite happy in bed together, thank you!

It’s easy to see what the two have in common: a bridging of the spiritual and the material through passion, self-expression, appreciation, idealism, devotion and a desire to surrender to the chaos of creativity. In this light it would seem that the Artist and the Lover are one and the same. Instinctively we know that it is not so! (In my work as an archetypal consultant, I help my clients untangle such fine distinctions in order to uncover their own contracts for self-realization, self-guidance and growth.)

How then do the Artist and the Lover differ? I believe it is exactly in the dimensions of male and female described well in many Western as well as Eastern sources. The Artist defines his passionate relationship to the world  through creation (form) while the Lover passionately appreciates the creation (emptiness). Are they not the Yang and the Yin, the convex and the concave as Chogyam and Dechen express it?

And what of the romance that arises between them, the continual dance of emptiness and form? As a Lover I am experiencing the interplay as an illumination of my own inner Artist. In the process of being in love, I feel alive to express my joy, enthusiasm, and gratitude in the form of my medium, the written word. At another time in my life, an experience of love resulted in pregnancy and the birth of a tiny human being, the ultimate creation!

Likewise my beloved, the Artist, experiences the dance in his creative output, a masters thesis complete with renderings, models and prose. But through the lens of romance he also plays to his inner Lover. He connects with a newfound passion and appreciation for his work, a satisfaction present only when there is a beloved present to accept/receive his gift.

The Lover and the Artist thus reveal themselves as the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine of the creative archetypes. They dance as the Dakini and Daka, receptive and active romantic forces. In love as in art, it matters little which gender plays which role. The enterprise depends more on the dynamic foreplay of lover and beloved, the inspired ah ha with which the artist seizes his brush. Each sees the perfect enlightened complement in the mirror of other. Emptiness into form, form into emptiness. Both enter the spiritual dimension beyond time and space, beyond happiness and suffering, beyond gender, beyond self, the boundless creativity of the present moment.

May the Lover and the Artist enjoy a long and timeless love affair!

(thank you, sweetie, for the inspiration and the artwork!)


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Landing the Plane

img_38241When you’re an air type like me (Moon conjunct Mercury in Libra, 2 Clubs and King Clubs in Destiny Cards, 29/11 in numerology, etc.), inspiration comes out of the woodwork. The downside is a tendency to over-think everything. My spiritual work continues to be about balance; my lofty idealistic nature must bow to the humbler aspects of life such as eating three meals a day, putting a paycheck in the bank, remembering to hug those I love. Or as my favorite business coach was fond of saying, “Carrie, you’ve got to land the plane!”

Nowhere does this pas de deux express itself better than in the dance of love. Ah, love. Certainly I’m not the first air-head to fall in love. Search on the words “love poetry” to get scores of verses from every century in which humans have had the written word. And before that I’ll bet they were singing about it. So what does an air-type do when she has fallen head over heals and those heals desperately need to touch ground? (You know, so she can make breakfast, hug her kid before he goes to school and sit her butt at the desk!)

First, I have cats. My cats, especially my girl, Havana, keep me on task. They wake me at 6:30 for their breakfast. It doesn’t matter if I have spent the entire night writing love poetry or searching my beloved’s and my astrological charts for auspicious aspects to analyze. Breakfast must happen, otherwise Havana begins shredding the couch to bits. This knowledge tends to get me to bed by 10:30 p.m. Lovers need their beauty rest.

My kitties also help me to keep the house clean. Loki likes to “dip” his kibble in the water bowl. He drops one in, fishes it out, tosses it onto the floor and then eats it. Meals might entertain him, but Havana finds the whole thing disgusting. When the eating place gets too messy she stages loud hunger strikes. If that doesn’t work she goes to the couch or shreds loose papers lying around. She especially enjoys homework, un-cashed checks and receipts for merchandise that must be returned. I change the water and sweep up the kibble bits at least three times a day. This keeps the cats happy and the household in order and the focus prevents me from rocketing into the stratosphere thinking about my sweetheart.

My second strategy, parenting, grounds my ego, more than my body lately. I must say I do complete mundane household tasks such as grocery shopping, simple food preparation and laundry regularly when my teen son is home. Okay, well maybe I don’t do food preparation. But every day at 5:00 p.m. Asher asks, “Mom, where are we going for dinner tonight?” That at least gets me on my feet and into the car. I spend most of my parenting time driving him around while learning about major league baseball statistics and the rest of the time scrubbing out grass stains. I highly recommend the scrubbing.

My third grounding strategy is to engage you, dear reader.  Blogging does it for me. Blogging allows me to spin my ideas out into the world wide web. It doesn’t get any more ethereal than that. I can write to my heart’s content, try out new ideas, keep you all abreast of the connections that threaten to clog my brain. Blogging forces me to use my rational organ until it is thoroughly exhausted. Considering that I only publish about one out of every five posts that I compose, you can see just how over-active it is.

I have a whole filing cabinet full of other grounding ideas — there’s yoga and exercise, swimming, walking, playing frisbee with Asher. There are reflexology balls on the floor beneath my desk. I have a small patio container garden and a basket full of unfinished knitting projects (Yeah, right!). And dancing is an option that I have chosen in the past. For now, I think I’ll put all those things on the back burner and look forward to being with my sweetheart. To quote Leonard Cohen, “There ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure for love.”


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yellow slicker

since you arrived

i’m useless really for anything save

reading my favorite poets,

White, Stafford, and Millay

yellow slicker on wet streets

clouds etching their shadows on the pavement

the air cools the distance between us,

once warm as mingled breath

i sit to ponder the blue blues and green weather

the longing in, the letting out

like birdsong, plumage, flight itself,

how to fix this instant?

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Falling

New Love by Carrie Ure

New Love by Carrie Ure

For the first time in thirty years I am falling in love again. Not infatuation. Not desire. Not lust. This is not something I am talking myself into. Neither am I capable of talking myself out of it. I am falling.

I am falling in love and I notice that it is as excruciating as falling out of love. I hadn’t noticed the first time. I was eighteen years old and everything was new, my body and my mind, a new school with academic pressure and mysterious social rules. There were psychedelic drugs, exotic music and a tall boy with fathomless turquoise blue eyes and scruffy blond curls. He stuttered in my presence except when reading Shakespearean sonnets or classical literature aloud to me on sunny campus lawns. During that brief school year I learned everything about love and most especially how it shatters the heart. I had no idea about impermanence then.

This feels so familiar. I see the same old patterns, unearthed after 30 years. My need to yield, to surrender so completely that I have nothing substantive left of my life. When I met that blond haired boy, I dropped every habit that was good for me so that I could unite with something so glorious that it opened me to my core. When he told me at the end of the school year that he did not want to be my boyfriend in the fall, I really didn’t see it coming. I did not know about attachment, the root of suffering, until that moment.

I think now about the silly girl I was then, so innocent, so fresh. I knew nothing about the world or myself. I had no idea my heart could be devastated. Neither had I any idea of the resiliency of my heart. I did not know that everything in this life is impermanent. Everything.

I ask myself, how is it possible that despite many liaisons since my college freshman year, my heart has not remembered, until now, that terrible moment of being left at the end of the school year, broken beyond mending? Why am I dwelling on the most painful experience of my life as I enter a new phase, so full of happiness, promise and lighthearted joy? The difference in me is my thinking, my experience, the Buddhist practice of contemplation.  Like everyone, I have experienced loss. Unlike some, I have decided to study my habitual reaction to it.

We will all eventually face loss and death. Once awakened to the terrible specter of impermanence — death of a loved one, loss of relationship or material wealth, crushing blow to a cherished idea — we have two basic responses: aversion and acceptance. Even if it were possible to live the perfect life, have only loving relationships and material comfort, eventually we are going to die. Knowing this, we can carry on in our daily lives avoiding anything that might cause pain and loss.

Avoidance is easy. Our culture has built whole industries around preventing loss, including insurance policies, the Wonder Bra, plastic surgery, the Hair Club for Men, and a health care industry that prizes non-death over quality of life. Likewise we seem to be obsessed with avoiding pain, the companion of loss. No wonder we spend most of our days distracting ourselves with experiences and virtual experiences and popping pills for every symptom of physical or mental pain.

The alternative, acceptance, rarely comes up except on spiritual retreat, itself an escape! What about acceptance of everyday life on life’s terms with its bumps and bruises, with all the things I dislike intertwined in the things I want? I love my son and yet as a pre-teen he is such a boorish annoyance sometimes. I adore my cat, her sweet nature and the way she likes to sit on my lap and purr. And I get frustrated that I can’t get her off my lap to type this post. I want to find new love, to spend time in another’s arms and yet the demands of work and family beckon for many days at a time. These are all things I am learning to accept today. I have learned I can try to force a change in my child’s behavior, push the cat off my lap, demand a lover who can constantly reassure me, but my aversion to pain manipulates and kills the present moment, the only real place that love can bloom.

I’m glad that the pain of new love has reminded me of the suffering of the past. I’m grateful to be awake enough to feel the slow-motion entry of cupid’s arrow, the way it twists into my heart, reminding me to feel every moment the preciousness of what I have, the fact that love may come calling again, for however brief a stay. I realize that fear has kept me from this precipice for all these many years, fear of my own suffering. But I have tried avoidance and found loneliness. I have tried distraction and used up thirty good years too quickly. I have tried the medications of career and religion and relationship and the pain has shone through. Yes, I will move toward love, I will fall. Even knowing what I know, I accept love’s call.