A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


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If the Gown Fits, Wear it!

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 12.24.22 PMI’m re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves. It’s a classic tome about initiating and recovering one’s feminine power and intuition, and it’s richly woven with fairy tale and archetypes. At the same time, and not coincidentally, I’ve embarked on two processes that promise to illustrate Estés’ thesis right here in my own life.

Project Number One: De-cluttering Home and Office

“In Eastern European fairy tales, brooms are often made of sticks from trees and bushes and sometimes the roots of wiry plants. Vasalisa’s work is to sweep this object made of plant matter over the floors and the yard to keep the place clear of debris. A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered. She accomplishes such by keeping a clear head, keeping a clear place for her work, working at completing her ideas and projects.”

As I come inside for the winter, my body and mind crave the warmth and coziness of home. Every year at this time I naturally gravitate to projects that beautify, organize and simplify my home. For a second year in a row I have joined a Facebook group devoted to spending December and January clearing cluttering. Already I have painted my living room a yummy Mid Century Modern turquoise and I’ve picked out a scrumptious orange to splash on an entry wall. I’m finishing an aspiration set last year for a “paperless” office by going through old receipts, files and books and removing everything that I can do without. I’m clearing out computer files, downloading and disposing of CDs and beginning the enormous task of digitally archiving a lifetime of photos. It’s a lot to consider doing but I allow myself to go one step at a time. And the rewards are substantial. I can feel my creative power surging when I care for my home and office, both extensions of my own body and self.

Project Number Two: Accepting Mentoring

“I like very much this initiatory task which requires a woman to cleanse the personae, the clothing of authority of the great Yaga of the forest. By washing the Yaga’s clothes, the initiate herself will see how the seams of persona are sewn, what patterns the gowns take. Soon she herself will have some measure of these personae to place in her closet amidst others she has fashioned throughout her life.”

I have had many mentors in my life, some teachers or family members, others bosses. All have profoundly affected my capacity to step into greater and greater levels of awareness. Likewise, I  have mentored others, countless people throughout several careers. I’d like to think I made a difference with guidance, advice, permission, or just plain ol’ reassurance. So when I recently needed to cut back on volunteer obligations to focus on growing my business, I felt the need to ask for and accept what I give naturally. Instantly, a woman I very much look up to for her grace, wisdom and business smarts accepted me under her nurturing wing. For this recovering do-it-all-myselfer, it felt good to set the aspiration, to summon the courage to make the request, and to receive a heartfelt acceptance.

In our very first conversation I described to my mentor the age-old dilemma of knowing what to charge for the work I do. Without missing a beat she wrapped me in the most loving and empowering feminine metaphor, as cozy as my grandmother’s afghan. She said that determining the worth of my work is like designing and donning my very own custom-made gown. It is a personal process and I alone get to decide. Such wise words spoken in a way I could hear them! I was not surprised when just days later they were reinforced in my discovery of the Estés quote above.

Feminine inner work is rife with, well, feminine archetypes, images and metaphors. Here I’ve shared Estés’ womanly images of cleaning the home and wearing beautiful clothes. What images are haunting your dreams and musings, urging you to follow your intuitions and reclaim your power?

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Recovering after the Marathon

House

Storybook House

I’ve just finished the spiritual equivalent of a triathlon.

It’s funny. We tend to compartmentalize our lives, categorizing certain events as affairs of the heart, while labeling others merely material, divorcing the passion from the practical. But if we really look closely, it’s not that cut-and-dried.

Over the past several years, my new husband and I met, went our separate ways for a few years – both letting go of old careers and embracing new ones – reunited, married, blended families. Well, you get the picture. It has been a non-stop emotional equivalent of a funeral at the circus, the letting-go and the joy all jumbled together. Not once during all these many changes have I been able to stop and say, “Gee, this is a purely spiritual problem. I’ll just pray about it, the light will dawn, and I will be saved.” Or, “Wow, okay, if I just do this step and take that action, the practical result I want will fall into place.”

No, it’s been an athletic event in which we have had to exert a lot of muscle, display a little stamina, get up early in the morning and stay up late at night, say our prayers, do our rituals, watch our thinking and continually set the intention to stay in the race, especially when hitting the wall with discouragement or exhaustion.

I love following the antics of my Facebook friend Melissa, a single mother, business owner and kick-butt runner. I’m fascinated by her tales of ramping-up for each race, the pain of training in the cold and the wet, the camaraderie with her fellow runners, the celebration of victories and the humble acknowledgments of failure, the full-on commitment to her sport and the brave insistence on taking care of herself. Most recently she has helped me understand why today, this week, I am so tired.

Because I should be.

That triathlon I mentioned? We just sold my husband’s cherished dream house, a 108 year-old 4-story beauty that he has lovingly care-taken for over a decade. Long before I came on the scene, he entered this home full of bright dreams for his daughter’s and his own futures. Those dreams have materialized, even if not exactly in the way he envisioned  them on that lovely summer day when he fell in love with this home and saw a new life ahead. Now a new dream is emerging, a shared dream, with less stuff, more mobility and exciting far-away adventures. And the packing, dumpstering, sorting and winnowing is hard work of the spiritual and material kind.

So this week, I am following Melissa’s advice to slow down and recuperate after the race. My body and spirit are tired and the most honorable thing to do is to recover. So I sit. Drink green juice. Relax. Sleep-in. Ponder. Watch the relentless rain. Dream.

The next finish line is just around the bend.


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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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A call to prayer

Morning in Udaipur

Morning in Udaipur

Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you truly love. ~ Rumi

Today I awaken to the muezzin’s call shortly before sunrise. I can hear it quite clearly this crisp morning, thrilling time of day when the sun promises to rise above the trees, lifting one’s hopes after the long night. It’s late summer. The birds have gone for the season, leaving a profound stillness. The cat purrs quietly by my side, chirping as I shift to raise my ear off the pillow.

It starts naturally, one long lament. The clear rich warble bellows the call to prayer, amplified in the direction of the Almighty’s ear, Mecca. Oh how I get lost in the sound, mournful and full of such sweet longing, as if waiting many days for my Beloved to caress me with the softest croon. “Come. Pray,”  He calls to me, “Prayer is better than sleep!”

Yes, yes, I open my eyes to pink walls, gold rose-colored silk and the softest yellow cotton sheets. Rich burgundy patterns beckon from the floor as if to lure me from my bed toward the fragrant air outside. It’s a full minute before I realize where I am. It’s my own room, in a mundane suburb in the western United States, the rich silks and cottons dressing my bed, the ones I carried back from India; the bright wool carpet, a hand-me-down from a friend’s sojourn in Turkey; the heat-loving honeysuckle blooming where I planted it not long ago to attract the butterflies.

My heart stirs just the same.

I remember the first time I heard the Call, just a few years ago. I spent the night with a new lover in his flat overlooking the industrial end of the Willamette River. He carried me into his bed, the lights on the dry docks flickering on the water. We made sweet love for the first time and I felt emerald green inside, for no reason.

I heard it clearly when I awoke a few hours later, the long melodious wailing amid the ships’ whistles and heavy equipment moving on the railway tracks below us. The song beckoned me awake and I knew that I would follow someday.

Five years later I am in a foreign place that feels more like home than not. It’s my first trip to the East. I have taken a car ride from sprawling Mumbai, India through the quaint smaller city of Pune, with its universities and motor bikes, deep into rural Maharashtra. I arrive at my destination, a stucco and wood cottage outside the gates of the ancient holy caves at Ellora.

Exhausted, I fall onto the bed, travel and jet lag taking their toll. I awaken several hours later to the most glorious sound, the Call from my dreams! I jump out of bed and fly through the door to my little terrace. The scene is amazing, an expanse of scrubby landscape over the bougainvillea entwined stucco wall. I glimpse the caves in the distance and the sun about to crest the small hills. There is nothing but the songbirds to distract me from the rich voice amplified from a nearby mosque. I feel so at home at last.

I am haunted by the memory–or premonition–of the Call that repeats often in my heart.

In my travels through India I have marveled at the way an entire huge city–Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists–rouse themselves to this morning call. From a recent entry in my travelog:

“Udaipur, Rajasthan, Jan 1, 2009

This morning I arise before dawn and creep out of my hotel room in the early darkness, hoping to watch India in her deep morning slumber and then to catch her first waking moments. I tiptoe carefully down the narrow and twisted marble stairways to the courtyard lobby, the only lights the small votives set in the tiny Shiva, Ganesh and Hanuman shrines amid the stucco and tile. At the front desk I see a dark hand resting on the gleaming wooden counter, its arm draped below, the rest of the body fast asleep beneath the British-era hotel ledger. Across from the front desk another figure snores peacefully under a thick quilt. I notice other shapes sleeping on makeshift cots as I make my way quietly up the steps to the rooftop dining room. Choosing a prime alcove,  I savor the extraordinary experience. this morning. of arriving in time to hear the morning call to prayer. It is the best time of day, when mother India opens her arms, caresses her children awake to the new day. I am blessed to be a witness to the holy event.

In Udaipur, ancient Rajasthani city surrounded closely by small rural hill villages, the call to prayer starts out quietly, a few indistinct croons in the distance. Within a few minutes the intensity and volume increases as many voices join the holy cacophony. Amid the morning stars, a few lights begin to twinkle in the distance, the Lake Palace still lit up purple and green from the New Years Eve revelry.

At the height of its intensity, the beautiful plaintive wailing seems to completely envelope me and the ancient city. Indeed, all begin to join in; the street dogs yap and howl, the water fowl start their squawking and the pigeons begin their gentle cooing. A man comes out of a house at the water’s edge and leans over a wall to perform his morning nose cleaning with great honking sounds. Then he lights his first cigarette of the day. I can see the glow of his ash glistening against the water. Slowly the voices of hundreds of muezzins begin to crescendo as the sun ignites the hills from behind. All manner of city noises begin. The small boats on the water sputter and start. Just as soon as the last voice dies down from its distant minaret, a car honks loudly in the courtyard below.”

I hope to always hear the Call. I pray to ever heed it.


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The Archetype of the Coward; Facing Fear Part II

What is the core spiritual teaching of the Coward Archetype? Let me illustrate through my personal experience.

I discovered the Coward accidentally during the CMED/Sacred Contracts workshop in January 2009. The Coward, most often seen as a shadow component of the Bully, had not resonated with me enough during my own studies to put it on my stack of archetypes. But just as soon as I began working deeply with my survival archetypes, the Child, Victim, Prostitute and Saboteur, the Coward jumped off the page at me. (I sincerely thank the fabulous CMED teachers, Jim Curtan, Peter Occhiogrosso, Lynn Bell and Caroline Myss for bringing this particular archetype alive during the workshop.)

Sure enough, when I cast my Sacred Contract Natal Chart, the Coward Archetype landed in my first house!

For those of you not  fluent in astrology, the First House represents the self, how we appear to the world, our identity, ego, and personality. It’s the very first place to start.  I resolved to come home and, starting there at the beginning of my chart, to give each of my archetypes one week of attention. That would give me twelve weeks of work and then I could take another month to circle back and look at anything interesting that came up before attending the second installment of the yearlong Sacred Contracts Workshop.

I had no idea that, as my first house archetype, the Coward holds a major key to my chart and thus my entire spiritual life.

As I explained in the first installment of this piece (see The Archetype of the Coward: Facing Fear Part I), the Coward’s primary relationship is to fear itself. In this sense the Coward relates closely to the wisdom family of archetypes (Mystic, Philosopher, Seeker, Alchemist) whose primary focus is to locate Truth, which eventually resides within the self.

In my own case, I have bumped up against the concept of fear in many forms throughout the spiritual literature and traditions. For example, when doing the Daily Inventory in Al-Anon 12 Step work, the self questioning always leads to an underlying fear as the basis for unhealthy behavior, whether fear of security, survival or not getting emotional needs met.

In A Course in Miracles, Fear is contrasted with Love. This is common in many Christian traditions as well. Fear is the Darkenss or absence of Love/Truth, or Light.  In Tibetan Buddhism, fear belongs in the department of anger, one of the five “mind poisons” or forms of negative thinking. In the Buddhist view, fear is resistance to what is.

The final school of thought I’d like to mention is the Release Technique pioneered by Lester Levenson and well taught by Hale Dwoskin in his book the Sedona Method. Dwoskin clearly inventories every negative thought/emotion/belief while offering a valid practical technique for releasing them. The point here is that analyzing the fear or negative thought keeps it alive. If we simply resolve to allow and then release fear it melts away. This has been particularly useful in my case.

So here I was after the SC Workshop in early February with my Coward archetype staring me in the face, in the form of my very identity, self-image and outlook on life. It manifested throughout my life as an inability to “put myself out there,” a fear that if I truly express myself, no one will love me and I will be alone. It also manifests as “fear of my own shadow,” and a strong and willful but “hidden” ego.

The only way to cut down the habit of fear, I realized, was to own it, experience it and feel it, then release it. With the help of the Sedona Method, I resolved to do just that. I started out small, releasing fear in the form of procrastination, worry and obsessive negative thoughts. Within days of doing this, miracles began to happen to point the way as I began to search for information on the Coward.  Finding very little on the Internet other than definitions and derivations of the word, I started there, releasing my fear of going down the wrong track.

One day over lunch at a friend’s home, I decided to discuss my findings and asked him, “What does the word coward mean to you?” As he began to tell me, there was a knock on the door. A friend of his had arrived to pick something up. He walked into the house, a large person with an imposing 6′ 4″ frame and emblazoned across his tee shirt was the word “FEAR” in large red letters. My friend and I stared at him incredously! (Who says Spirit doesn’t have a sense of humor?!!)

The next day I was doing errands when I saw a car with a vanity plate that said “FREADM.”  I don’t know what the intended message was, but I read FEARDOM, as in the opposite of FREEDOM. I saw in that instant that freedom from fear is LOVE. Just to make sure I got the point I saw the car again later that day.

The following day, I picked up a movie that an acquaintance had recommended several weeks earlier. I had no idea what it was about but I was attracted by my friend’s description of scenes shot in Northern India where I had just been. I watched in astonishment as the story of The Fall unfolded. The movie is a story of a man who would rather die than face the pain of lost love. He is saved by the courage of a little girl. It is the best depiction of the Coward I have ever seen on film. Cool! Now I was on a roll.

Next, my writing teacher randomly told a story about the way lions hunt. Apparently the females do all the hunting for the pride, while the males hang around lazily (Wow!!!) But the two groups work cooperatively. The lionesses all line up on one side of the prey, say a herd of elk. The males then roar ferociously on the other side. This terrifies the herd which then runs away from the roar and straight into the waiting line of female hunters. The moral of the story, what the enlightened Coward knows, is that we should always “run toward the roar!”

Soon after hearing that story, I spoke to a friend from California. In the context of our discussion and without her knowing about my work with the Coward, she recommended a book, When Fear Falls Away, by Jan Frazier. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in their relationship to fear. Talk about running toward the roar! It blew me away and helped me enormously. I began to sit with my fear of being alone. Once I began to work with this most primal fear, I began to ask for what I truly want and need in relationship. I began to set real boundaries for the first time. I began to see that to cave in to fear is to abet the ego, to resist what is. And love can not exist where there is fear, resistance. Within 8 weeks of discovering my Coward archetype I have done what I never thought I could do. I have chosen not to be in a love relationship that is not good for me, that does not nurture me. I am now single and happy and facing my fears on my own two feet. Thank you Coward!!

The Coward has a lot to teach us about facing our fears rather than running away from awareness and acceptance. I believe that the core spiritual teaching of the Coward is to eventually bring us back to the roar of own hearts and the connection with Universal Love which awaits us there.