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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Recovering after the Marathon


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.


Forgiveness heals


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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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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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?





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.



Relationship; It’s Habit-forming

In recent posts I have openly portrayed relationship challenges, mostly spiritual in nature, as they have appeared in my life. Here’s the latest.

My beloved and I did face that fork in the road and we did, indeed, decide to walk separate paths. (See Relationship IQ) It was coming for a while and closure feels good. We stayed long enough to express the enormous gratitude we have for one another and for the process and path that we walked together. Seeking personal transformation when we came together, we faced enormous personal fears and challenges. When we reached the top of those mountains we were complete, both as individuals within the relationship and as a couple. Some day I hope to write about this in more depth and detail and to chronicle a wide perspective on the healing miracle of love and relationship in my life. Until then, I have some observations, a witnessing of my current spiritual path. I’d like to tell you how I am doing now.

The past many months and weeks have been a continual process of letting go. At first I let go of the newness of our union, the giddy coming together and the freshness of each new thing we discovered about one another. Next I let go of the things we discovered together, as more of our experiences became patterns and routines. Lastly, I have had to let go of the idea of being together permanently, the hopes, dreams, fantasies of making a life together. I have had to release the belief that we could be anything other than what we are now. This last thing — the idea that anything or anybody can ever be different from what they are at this moment — this is the thing that must die a permanent, gruesome and memorable death if I am ever to be truly happy.

I have thought a lot about impermanence. Like life itself, romantic relationship is precious because it is fleeting. As I grieve the loss of this life, the life of “us,” not yet ready to begin anticipating a new life ahead, I see that the only problem is habit. As soon as the relationship becomes a habit, it is dead. As soon as relationship leaves the stage of newness it is already declining. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to get a new relationship. It means that it is time to wake up to whatever is new.

I spent part of last week waking up to my life, noticing the grief inherent in each moment that held associations with my former beloved. Monday was the last dinner we will ever eat together. Tuesday is the first day that I will not speak to him. Wednesday is the first time I will not hear about his yoga class. Friday is the day I will tell my son that we are no longer together. This is the first weekend that we will not hang out together, sleep in late together, make lazy love in the afternoon. There will be no “family Sunday dinner,” tonight.

Each morning as I awoke, alone in my own bed, I reviewed my habits of mind: thinking first about him when I awoke, planning out time together, reviewing teh many wonderful times we have had together. Eventually I experienced the involuntary nature of these thoughts. I began to ask myself, “if I were not thinking of the past with him, what would I think about?” I began to play with allowing my mind to wander to other things — the sunny morning sky and fragrant Daphne right outside my bedroom window; my growling stomach eager for breakfast oatmeal, the quiet space containing my life as I sit at my computer to write.

There is no need to be violent, wrench the memories and reminders of our life together from my consciousness. But neither is there the need to dwell, to enable and ingratiate sentimental thoughts when they arise. So I will continue to ponder the fact that habit — being asleep — suffocates every relationship. Waking to the present, even when it is painful, remains the greatest gift of Love.