A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

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Zumba Dharma

11330015_10152922117146616_507874434507975438_nThere’s a new Zumba instructor on Thursdays and I’ve been noticing a pattern of arriving late to her class. She has brought new music, different choreography, and a whole new culture, including new folks I’ve never seen at the community center before.

As I sneaked into her first class of the new year this week, there were already 35 women grinding their hips to the beat and I had to find a spot away from my usual place near the door.

On the other side of the room I suddenly became aware of a new perspective. Beginner’s mind kicked-in and I could see my own resistance to this new situation. I decided to look at my own fear in that moment with a new-found curiosity. I found myself asking, “What would Kimo do?”

Kimo is the instructor I see the other five days of the week. She is a gifted teacher and choreographer: joyful, funny, real, demanding in a good way, and so good at dancing. Always able to go with the flow, I have seem her tie her shoes in the middle of a number without missing the beat; deftly step around a puddle from a leaky roof; overcome technology glitches with the stereo system, speakers, iPod, and microphone. She even taught in bare feet one day when, for the only time in her long career, she forgot her workout shoes. The show must go on and Kimo does, day-in, day-out with grace, humor and aplomb. (There are links at the bottom of the page to view Kimo’s dance artistry.)

But my favorite thing about Kimo is her way of “telling it like it is” in charmingly Japanese-accented English. I find myself using Kimo’s wisdom, not only to get me through the challenge of Zumba, but the challenges of being a human being.

Here’s a little of Kimo’s dharma applied to Zumba and life in general:

Show up and do your best

This is my first chance to focus on the positive. I’m in the room and that’s half the battle. It is far better than procrastinating, sitting at my desk wasting time,  or worse, not going and then complaining that I don’t like the new teacher. I owe it to myself to acknowledge the fact that I am here and to do the best I can.

Look at the instructor’s reflection in the mirror

Rather than being pulled off by those around me (distraction) or watching the instructor’s feet (tunnel-vision), if I concentrate on the teacher in the mirror, I see the whole picture. Everything I experience is a reflection of my mind. Watching Kimo or Kristine in the mirror, I can much better understand my own movement. This is instantly relaxing and centering, even though I must keep reminding myself to do it. Seeing the instructor smiling, I realize that I have the karma to experience such a beautiful sight, such grace, power and coordination. I smile back at the reflection.

Keep marching when you don’t know the steps

It’s not about being perfect, but moving to the music. The more I march in place, the easier it is to find my rhythm and step in time with the others. Again, a wave of relaxation comes over me as I stop trying to do anything other than feel the music and keep marching. Soon I am effortlessly catching onto the complex choreography and laughing to myself with every “misstep.” How often in life do we psyche ourselves out when, if we just keep going, our problems will naturally work themselves out?

“I have faith in your booty!”

Kimo actually said this one day and instantly had everyone laughing. She encourages us to play, have fun, laugh and not take ourselves so seriously, and yes, shake our booties! Having faith in my booty means to stay grounded in knowing that I don’t have to be perfect, but just move and allow my body to lead the way. A baby doesn’t worry how she looks during those wobbly first steps. She just wants to get from point A to point B. And for those of us who think it is silly to shake our booties in middle age and beyond, Kimo puts us in our place. As long as we are able, we should shake it, and have fun doing it!

Don’t forget to check yourself.

If you want to really learn the dance, watch yourself in the mirror to check if your moves match the choreography. Once you can do it while looking in the mirror, you will develop the muscle memory that allows you to dance rapturously oblivious to outside cues, just feeling the music and letting your body lead the way. Similarly, we can’t expect to learn how to live a virtuous and happy life unless we observe our own thinking and conduct, looking at ourselves first when there is a problem. Self-reflection and self-correction help us to develop the habits that produce a meaningful and happy life.

Keep coming back!

The last and most important of Kimo’s instructions: “Keep coming back!”  No repeat, no result. Progress, not perfection. There are many ways to say it, but the bottom line is that unless we do a little every moment, every hour, every day, week in, week out, we can’t get to the bigger goals. So just remember not to bully the small efforts you make every day. Congratulate yourself often for showing up, again and again. Your attitude will improve and you will develop a strong and positive new habit where there was once complaining and procrastination.

After reminding myself to act like a brand-new beginner and to heed Kimo’s masterful words, I know that I will now look forward to classes once again. I have broken through my negative attitude about the new Zumba instructor and I look forward to this coming Thursday – a new day, a new dance and a new dharma.

Kimo’s Facebook Page

Kimo’s Choreo YouTube Channel

Kimo’s Zumba Website








A mundane mystic faces her fear of loneliness

one of my early visitations

one of my early visitations

Last Monday I left Chicago, and the second part of the year-long CMED Sacred Contracts Workshop, all pumped-up about my experience.. During an intensive four days led by renowned teacher, Caroline Myss, I worked closely alongside five other individuals, a crew of six navigating the waters of personal transformation. In the end we each produced a Chronos/Kairos/Cosmos Chart, a holographic depiction of the obstacles sabotaging our personal growth. As every spiritual seafarer knows, one must be able to see below the tip of the iceberg in order to safely navigate the chilly depths.

During the workshop and in the presence of my crew, I asked to transform my fear of being alone. This is a deeply protected fear that prevents me from fully expressing my gifts. My struggle looks like a craving for distractions, anything to divert myself from the privacy of my own soul. I would rather go to lunch, watch a movie, call a friend, or throw a party than to sit silently listening to my heart. In the past, such avoidance created a lengthy depression and broken marriage. Lately I am more prone to to take time for myself, no matter how uncomfortable I feel. Still, I sometimes resort to an unhealthy focus on others. It’s not that I choose activities that are a waste of time, it’s that I use them addictively, to avoid rather than to confront myself. Soon I have squandered a whole day or a whole week, and still I am fearful, lonely, and searching for an antidote. I have run headlong into the states of mind that I hoped to avoid!

Working with my Sacred Contract has helped me to see that when I shun solitude I resist the full expression of my true self.  I am, by nature, a reclusive Mystic/Renunciate dressed as a vivacious, hedonistic Lover and Storyteller. Through the voyage into my archetypes I have come to know that these paradoxical identities illuminate my own personal path to liberation. Still, the Hermit and Lover spar constantly; the Renunciate and Hedonist challenge one another at every turn.

In her seminal book Sacred Contracts, Caroline Myss describes the oft-misunderstood Mystic:

“Many want to believe that they have mystical inclinations, yet underestimate how arduous the genuine mystical path is. When they find out, they’re usually happy to let someone else have this role.”

I’ve been looking all my life for that someone else to play my role for me. Others may approach their life path through the pain of illness, the chaos of anger and blame, the grief of abandonment and loss. My lifelong challenge is to accept the excruciating loneliness of the mystical path. I have tried everything to avoid my destiny, but none of my plans have worked out. So these days I pray for acceptance and peace, that I may gracefully fulfill my dharma.

With the Mystic in the 6th House of my Sacred Contracts Chronos Wheel, my acceptance is to be found in the humble act of “peeling potatoes,” as St. Theresa of Avilla, dubbed it.  The Sixth is the house of fetching wood and carrying water. There is nothing glamorous or ecstatic about getting up each day, making breakfast, caring for my child, going to work, tending the pets and the plants. My work is to accept the humanity of my earth-bound existence rather than to pray for a heavenly release from suffering.

I don’t know that I will achieve my highest aspiration, to attain enlightenment for the sake of others. But if I do, perhaps it will be by staying home, listening to my child, making hot soup, and quietly chronicling my own mundane mysticism.

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Creative control is an oxymoron

I’ve always wanted to live a creative life, to be free to express myself and thereby brighten the world with beauty, love, truth. Although I have dabbled my whole life in the arts — drawing, painting, music, poetry, dance — my creativity flows best in the form of words and ideas. Words give voice to one’s thinking, and thought is, for good or ill, the most powerful form of energy on the planet.

I don’t know why this should be, but indecisiveness and worry seem to be the evil twins of creativity. I had a dream several months ago, just before a big letting go which brought many creative opportunities to me:

dream collage, carrie ure

dream collage, carrie ure

I’m standing in a huge dry river bed on the slope of a great mountain. There are large boulders everywhere and it’s clearly the scene of previous cataclysmic geological events. Suddenly someone yells to come inside. They’re about to “push the button.” I enter the building, a huge hall that parallels the length of the river, with gigantic viewing windows. Just as soon as I enter the building an enormous cascade of water comes shooting down the river. And then it’s full, calm. The water is lovely, blue and translucent. I wade into it and move my hands through its fresh clean opulence. I see something shimmering and I realize that the water is full of beautiful golden pearls. I lift my hand, scooping the perfect dazzling round gems.

I’m learning to be a conduit for creativity. To me, the urge to redecorate a room, paint a watercolor, make love, all come from a depth of tapping into the universal creative force we call life. My creativity comes from living. It can only be accomplished in the present moment and it’s an unmistakable feeling of being alive. It’s the ultimate form of letting go. And that’s where the fear comes in. Just as soon as we let go, we are no longer grasping. We grasp from fear and we feel the fear as we let go.

How many of us would prefer to live a life of control? Don’t we often get caught wanting to depend on something or someone? Wouldn’t we like to be prepared for the next unpredictable moment? Don’t we try, again and again, to nail the Jell-o to the wall? We want to live the creative life, the life of freedom and yet we demand a regular pay check at the end of the week.

I don’t have all the answers yet in my own life. I do try to remember that I am the channel for this divine creative force that wants to run through me. I can choose to dip in and out, pull out the gems that flow plentifully. I can never try to control the flow. It’s too vast. So I tune my vessel, keep it polished and try not to stop it up with unnecessary worry, fear, resentment. And when, on those days it’s just not flowing, I sit still and pray.




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.



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.



The Archetype of the Coward: Facing Fear Part I

cowardly-lion6I admit it. I’m a Coward. Yet thanks to the work I have been doing with Caroline Myss http://www.myss.com/CMED/home/ in her yearlong Sacred Contracts Course (or Scared Contracts), I have some new tools for facing my fears. I’d like to explore the archetype of the Coward and share my own experience.

First, let’s define the word. My trusty Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the term coward as “one who lacks courage or is shamefully afraid.” The word comes from the Latin cauda, or tail. The coward would be the one who “turns tail” to flee rather than face danger.

Many archetypes face personal danger. Some examples are the Hero, the Martyr, the Warrior, and the Knight, to name a few. Each of these stands out because of its unique goal or prize. Thus, the Hero conquers the ego, the Warrior vanquishes the enemy, the Knight wins the lady’s hand by facing dangerous tasks and the Martyr takes a stand against injustice or immorality.

But the Coward, alone, has his primary relationship with the Fear rather than the goal. He faces his fear and choosing to act or not, he learns about himself. As primarily action archetypes, the others–Hero, Warrior, Knight–undoubtedly experience fear, they just don’t give it a second thought. Therefore I would argue that the Coward is primarily an archetype of the mystic or wisdom family. While he might accomplish great tasks in the process of facing fear, he primarily wrestles with his own thinking. As William Shakespeare put it, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

The Coward, therefore, has much to teach us about facing our fears. Two well-known American figures, one real, one fiction illustrate the archetype well: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and The Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.


While FDR is best known for single handedly pulling our nation out of the Great Depression, his most famous quote, uttered in the first paragraph of his inaugural speech in early 1933, marks him as a Coward:

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It is interesting that FDR used the word “paralyzes,” as he himself, a paraplegic polio victim, never allowed the press to photograph him in his wheel chair. Indeed, he must have faced many fears during the illness that robbed him of his mobility and that could easily have killed him. A staunch introvert, FDR was known to be adept at keeping people at a distance. Although very charming and engaging in person, very few people claim to have known him well, and perhaps this is another manifestation of the Coward archetype.

FDR held back in other ways, as well. His political campaign against Herbert Hoover in 1932 during the lowest point of the Great Depression was most notable for its lack of concrete solutions to the nation’s financial problems. His inaugural address, with its spiritual tone, speaks of the nation’s “common difficulties” concerning “only material things.” Clearly FDR recognized that we would never solve our practical problems without first healing the spiritual crisis. (You can listen to this inspirational speech online at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057/) In classic Coward style, he challenged himself and the nation to face our fears, our own negativity. Rather than bully his opponents, FDR transformed his Coward through spiritual honesty, integrity and will, while accomplishing national political reforms that stand to this day. The transformational energy of the Sacred Coward comes through very clearly in his speech.

The Cowardly Lion

On the lighter side, most of us are familiar with the Cowardly Lion from the book and movie The Wizard of Oz. The lion represents the companion archetype to the Coward, the Bully. For every Coward who does not successfully transform, bullies himself or others as the Lion bullies Dorothy and her other companions on the Yellow Brick Road. His famous lament, “If I only had a heart!” of course refers to courage — from the Latin cor meaning heart — the elusive quality the Coward covets for himself.

During the journey to Oz, the Lion repeatedly encounters the dangers perpetrated by the evil witch and each time he must conquer the urge to run. At one point, startled by his own tail, the Cowardly Lion begins to see his fear as illusion, his tail signifying the internal and personal nature of the struggle. Only after he understands that it is his own fear, not the outside world, that undermines his power, is the Lion fully initiated. The Wizard then confers the medal of valor and we see that lovely moment when the adorable Lion owns his rightful place as a tenderhearted soul.

Every Coward must ultimately uncover his own fears as unjustified or remain forever the Bully, acting out his unconscious desires for real power against himself or others.


In my own Sacred Contracts Archetypal Chart of Origin, I have the Coward in my First House, the house of the ego, the personality, the identity. In the next installment of this article I will elaborate on my own experience of facing fear. Stay tuned!