A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


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The Apollo Archetype

self portrait by Asher Daniel

self portrait by Asher Daniel

Archetypally speaking,  if we’re going to move from the Fossil-fuel Age to the Solar Age, we’re going to need a mascot, and the Greek god Apollo is the likely choice.

My recent fixation with Apollo started several months ago when I took the diagnostic self-test in Peter Lemesurier’s fine book, “The Gods Within.”  Who knew that I was a prissy, controlling, self-centered, overly rational and eternally boyish adolescent trapped in the body of a middle-aged woman? The truth is that I am not alone.  No matter one’s gender or station in life, our western culture prizes staying in our heads. Orderliness, youthfulness, and the fascination with science and technology rule the day.

I sat with a client the other day to use her Sacred Contracts chart to access higher wisdom about a thorny life issue.  As we settled in, she opened her spiral-bound pad to a drawing that stunned me because the day before I had made the same sketch. In her version, a circle filled with third-eyes radiated six paths and six negative spaces, twelve rays in all. Each ray pointed to an idea or course of action, like a solar-powered TO DO list. We had both taken our personal mundane issues and applied symbolic sight using the image of the sun.

I saw the Sacred Contracts sun-dial illuminating our way, and I felt connected to the wisdom of the ages. After all, mystics have always sought their answers in the larger perspective, and in doing so have “discovered” every human science from astrology and astronomy to physics and meta-physics. Apollo shows us that our discoveries in the world are fueled by the search for the self.

Just as a magnifying glass can concentrate the vast solar rays to burn a pin-hole into a blade of grass, we can use the powerful Apollo Archetype to harness overwhelming universal themes and bring them to bear on our own earthly issues.

For me, it’s easy to conjure the Apollo Archetype because I live with an adolescent boy. My son (pun intended), stands right on the precipice of puberty. He is poised at the perfection of childhood energy, innocence, purity, and light-hearted joy. Not afraid to play, he is in love with discovering his own mind;  he is giddy with appreciation for technology; and he is innocently enthralled by competitive team sports. He has left sloppiness behind and arrived at gracefulness.  At the end of his 12th year, not yet sullied by the messy chaos of falling in love or the trauma of making life-altering decisions, Asher is the very embodiment of the Greek god Apollo.

Everyday I am inspired by Asher’s energy and enthusiasm. I am amazed by his ability to stay in the batter’s box, feet planted, a fast-ball racing toward him at 60 mph. He knows going up that even the best batter has only a 30 percent chance at hitting the ball, and a much slimmer chance of making it to first base. Yet he stands in the box and faces doubt, fear and distraction. I challenge myself to do that same dance at my desk each day.

It is no wonder that the first step in healing and integrating Apollo energy is to bring everything into the light of day, where shadows lose their power. Thus, cities pass “sunshine laws” to expose lawmakers’ actions and redress corrupt back room deal-making.  Daily, all over the world, hidden banking practices come to light during these trying economic times. There is a new level of transparency of human endeavor as scientists discover the most detailed mechanisms of the mind and body. Spiritual bookstore shelves burst with modern stories of enlightenment, examples of the harnessing of Power (the sun simply radiates energy), rather than the exploitation of Force (fossil fuels must be extracted by mechanical means).

As Lemesurier points out about Apollo Therapy, “We need to let his heavenly light back in to dispel our self-imposed darkness. And not only on the psychological level,  but on the bodily level too.”

Clearly, it is time to lighten up, to see ourselves in a new light, and to shine our lights. I would encourage anyone in the grips of depression, despair or hopelessness over personal or global issues to study Apollo and become intimate with his true nature. Consider being a spiritual solar-panel. Harness the power of symbolic solar sight to generate and radiate your own individual contribution to the world.

Like it or not, we must expose ourselves to illumination while integrating the deep shadows cast by this important archetype if we are to redeem ourselves and our world in the Solar Age.

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Turn magical thinking into symbolic sight

My magical friend Clare

My magical friend Clare

Is there somebody in your life or in your own head who constantly tells you to be realistic?

“Get real! Don’t be such a dreamer!” Or how about my father’s favorite saying during my childhood: “Get off your high horse!”

That was music to the ears of my Magical Child. Whenever I got the message that I was unrealistic in my expectations, too idealistic or just weirdly creative, I took my dreams inside and spun fantastic scenarios of the life I would lead when I became an adult, the sovereign of my own material realm. I’m grateful that my childhood magical thinking generated friendly companionship when I was lonely, spiritual guidance when I was lost and a creative life plan that I am just now beginning to understand and implement. To put it another way, no matter what went on during my upbringing, I never stopped meditating on my own happiness.

Yet we all eventually outgrow adaptive or self-soothing childhood day dreams. We arrive one day at a decision point. Do I take this job or that one? Do I stay home with my child or go to work? Do I marry or stay single? Many of us decide, then and there, to throw away the dreams, do the right thing, GET REALISTIC!

Now the good news. After years of laboratory testing, I have reached my findings on how to achieve lasting happiness. My studies show that becoming more realistic is not the way to go.

Please don’t quit your day job or stop flossing your teeth regularly. But neither should you throw out the inner dreamer just because the reality-Nazi in your head screams more loudly.

I recommend transforming your childhood magical thinking into adult symbolic thinking. There are several advantages to this strategy.

First, your inner child is more in touch with what really makes you happy. She is also gentle, innocent and motivated by love. She is neither expecting to get hurt nor bent on hurting others. Imagine a world — I often do — where EVERYONE is doing what makes them happy. I dare say that is a shang-ri-la worth visualizing!

When we access symbolic thinking we shift into the realm of potential. We open new possibilities for ourselves and we inspire others with our newfound vision. Often, a paradigm shift, alone, is enough to resolve our issues.

Take my mole “problem,” which has generated a fair amount of discussion on Facebook. Some have expressed squeamishness. Others have inquired about the causes of the problem and compared my situation to the state of their own lawn. (The funny part is that I don’t even have a yard.) Still others want to know what can be done about them, you know, the moles. All these approaches, quite normal and rational, belong in the realm of reality.

Funny that, aside from the question of how to properly dispose of a dead rodent, I bypassed reality and ran straight for the symbolic. My Magical Child loves the creepy factor of stepping on dead rodents in the middle of the night. That always gets a squeal and a giggle. She laughs at the irony that the former owner of the house is a Ms. Moles. She’s enthralled by the fact that there have been five moles in five straight days. She is inquisitive; who knew that moles came in so many different sizes, shapes, and nose lengths? And she breath-takingly awaits future mole sightings, especially in the bedroom.

My grown up magical child, the one who provides my faculty of symbolic insight, knows that I have been working with facing my fears: resistance to making a living for myself (bringing home tasty rodents for my family); fears of digging down deep to get the bottom of my current life challenges; procrastinating job “hunting” and researching (digging into) my field. And, wouldn’t you know it, there is my life-long phobia of rodents. HAH! Symbolic sight helps me laugh at myself. It’s pretty funny to find myself projecting my fear of earning a living onto my nine pound brown tabby!

A friend replied after reading my last post, “I wish I had your positive attitude.” Well, I attribute my attitude simply to the stubborn habit, born long ago, of looking for the symbolic meaning first.

Sigh. I still have to pick up the dead mole at the foot of the bed, but I’m so grateful for the new insight dragged in with it.


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Mole medicine

Photo 75For the third morning in a row, my cat Havana woke me up today at precisely 4:45 a.m. And for the third time I stumbled out of bed right onto a dead mole. Three days, three moles. And they’re getting bigger.

She’s trying to tell me something.

Later I sat at the table sipping a cup of tea. The morning sunlight glinted on the dead mole which Havana had moved from the bedroom to the kitchen so that I could get a better look at it. As I sat ruminating about the many mole funerals I have conducted since moving here a year ago, I realized that I had indeed purchased the house from a person with the last name “Moles.”

Now I was really paying attention.

Mole medicine. That’s how the Native Americans phrase it when an animal totem appears in one’s life. Apparently I am a slow learner, my cat is a patient spiritual guide, and mole has many lessons to teach me.

Symbolically, I’m being asked to ground myself. I have written recently about landing the plane, peeling potatoes, and falling. All the signals in my world now conspire to show me the quiet humility in returning to my roots and family. I have been spending more time alone, in my home, taking care of simple necessities.

Mole teaches us to pay attention to sense perceptions, to trust the wisdom of the body, to balance thinking with feeling and to touch others. As I retreat from my head to sit more in my body, I notice that even my teen-age son wants to hug and snuggle more.

Mole likes to dig beneath the surface of things. His natural predator the cat, a nocturnal creature, also feels comfortable in the dark. How much of our lives have we spent afraid of the dark, the subconscious, our own hidden thoughts? I, too, have begun to explore the hidden aspects of myself with the clear goal of getting to the bottom of things.

Mole is blind, yet he digs for treasure nonetheless. For that reason mole teaches us to follow our intuition, feel our way and work steadily toward our goals.

Finally, mole is also the perfect totem for me now as I search for a job. Perhaps once a steady paycheck arrives, Havana will no longer feel the need to provide for the family.

We’ll see.

A mole

Digging in a hole

Digging up my soul now

Going down, excavation

Higher now

In the sky

You make me feel like I can fly

So high

Elevation

U2, “Elevation”


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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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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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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.


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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.