Saturday, April 25, 2015

Finding the Pleiades

In shamanism we describe a certain kind of magic as an 'omen'. This is not the kind of 'bad omen' we might ordinarily think of, but a particular synchronicity or 'coincidence' that blends our inner and outer worlds.

Recently I was teaching a mini-workshop on the significance of the star cluster Pleiades for tribal peoples in many parts of the world <> March 24. Because the city lights are too bright, it was not possible to see Pleiades from where we were, so we relied on an image projected onto the wall of a darkened room.

But just two weeks later I was sitting by Lake Mungo, an ancient site in the arid region of western New South Wales, gazing at the same star cluster, even though that sky too was filled with light.
Here's how:

Lake Mungo has been dry for 14,000 years, but before before then it was a lush, tropical setting where Aboriginal peoples lived for more than 45,000 years.

The original inhabitants had to deal with severe climate change, but elders of the three tribes connected with Mungo are still custodians.

They say that the human remains found here came from the Dreamtime (science says 42,000 years ago) and the Ancestors decided that this was the right time to let visiting scientists find them, by guiding the wind to uncover them.

This is a place with real presence. The wind speaks. The Milky Way sings its nightly journey across the sky. The sand moves, both hiding and revealing the remains of the ancient ones, their tools, middens and even their footprints.

There is a sense of calm and timeless patience. Tens of thousands of years are perfect for the unfolding of this powerful place.

The power is tangible. Those who are drawn to Mungo uncover it in their own way. The land speaks to those who listen.

On the recent weekend of full moon, it put on a dazzling cosmic show, linked to the ancient teachings of the directions. We simply had to turn from West to East and back again.

First, standing on the exquisite 'lunette' - the crescent moon-shaped line of sand dunes sculpted into fantastical shapes by the persistent westerly wind - we faced West and were presented with a sunset to remember.

Next, turning East, we saw the full Moon rise past the nearest dune. Shadows grew longer among the crevices and sand gullies, although the sky was still blue.

With nightfall, the clouds cleared and the dazzling moonlight made shadow pictures of it's own.

Tfhe Moon outshone and faded the stars. I wished that there was some way that I could see them too - I wanted it all!

We turned West again for a last glimpse of the Sun.
The Moon was behind us and between them they created too much light in the sky for us to see the stars. Then as the Sun vanished, the Moon claimed the night.

We spun back towards the East and saw that the Moon had taken on a strangely oval shape. At last, we realised that this was the night of the Libra Eclipse.

The Moon rose higher and the shadow of Earth crept across her face until she was transformed into the Blood Moon - like a red and faintly green lantern, glowing gently as though from within. Her light was dimmed until it was hardly there. Our wish for stars was realised.

The Milky Way grew clearer with all its uncountable millions of sparkling lights.

And, thank you Ancestors and creators of omens, when we faced West for the last time...

...the beautiful cluster of the Pleiades, usually seen only from the corner of your eye, and known since the Dreaming as the Seven Sisters, was following the Sun in its plunge behind the horizon.

< PS: NASA took this last photo.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Impeccability of Emptiness

‘Beginner’s Mind’ might sound like something you want to transcend as soon as possible, by working hard to become an expert.

The term is often used in meditation and the concept certainly exists in other modalities and therapies. It might surprise you to know that it is the crucial state of mind, or being, that makes expanding consciousness so much easier.

It includes such subtle states as humility, trust, innocence and curiosity. We put aside all the concepts, teachings, reading, information and knowledge – everything we think we ‘know’. This doesn’t mean that learning and intelligence is worthless: it can take us a certain way on the Path. But knowledge has it’s limitations and is better seen as the foundation for ‘what’s next?’

Beginner’s mind opens the door to what’s next. We are encouraged to approach each practice as if for the first time: to be open, curious and willing to experience whatever comes into awareness. Simply do the practice, no matter how boring, repetitive or beneath us, our conscious minds tell us it is. Just do it and, magically, we may become the witness to something really extraordinary.

This very special state is like the deep realm of silence that existed before the universe was created. In that void before form, there is nothing and at the same time everything exists as potential. The sky’s the limit.

In Shamanic practice there are resonances with beginner’s mind in the concept of becoming a ‘hollow bone’ where we temporarily release the ego in order to become a clear channel for insights from Spirit.

hand made basket rattle 
Shamanic healers usually do this through sound. We establish reliable, ritual portals into the mystery, by tracing new neural pathways in the brain through rattling, whistling, calling, clapping, singing a power song or drumming. Shamans knew long before scientists discovered the plasticity of the brain, that these paths can become cosmic gateways.

Rituals are the tools of shamanism and they represent knowledge, learning and intelligence, but just as with the techniques of meditation, they are only the foundation. The secret of rituals is to use them with humility, innocence and freshness (beginner's mind) to help us let go of our fear.

What is this fear? These days we like to think we can create certainty by learning techniques for our practices, using knowledge & experience, then following them diligently.

We're really trying to protect ourselves from the fear of having no ‘ground under our feet’ - that slippery place where we don't know what might happen next. In fact we're just limiting the possibilities.

The work is to summon our courage and step into the vast open inner cosmos that feels so dangerous but holds such freedom.

Monday, March 2, 2015

with Sandra before ceremony

Medicine Wheel at Joshua Tree Retreat Centre, California

About the Sacred Medicine Wheel

This beautiful medicine wheel is in the wide grounds of the Joshua Tree Retreat Centre on the edge of the Mojave Desert. I sat with it sometime every day during the five-day Soul Retrieval training session with the extraordinary shamanic teacher, Sandra Ingerman in October 2014.

The term 'medicine wheel’ comes from American Indians but circles made of stones, sand or other natural materials have been used as energetic portals, sacred spaces or possibly scientific observatories since the beginning of humanity. 

Circles are significant for all of us. Sharing things in circle makes them sacred. Circles are an ideal form, with neither beginning nor end. At birth you enter the family circle, then move through ever expanding circles - of community, humanity, earth and into the unknowable world of forces that we can neither see nor control.

There are prehistoric stone circles in many parts of the world, including Canada, USA, UK, Europe and Scandinavia
As a sacred portal or threshold, the medicine wheel offers a journey into wisdom. 

To build your own medicine wheel, even temporarily, align it with intuition and deep attention. The circle is alive with energy and responsive to you and the place where it is built, while also having the power to take you beyond the limitations of time and space.

Here are some ideas to help in the process. 

Clear yourself and your working space. 
Keep your attention focused by singing, chanting or drumming, or remain in deep silence. 
Call in your helping spirits and power animals. 
Be aware that you are opening into your depths and keep a journal of experiences and dreams.
Hold gratitude for all that you are and have.
Be patient and fully accept what you receive in your work. 
Trust that Spirit will give you exactly what you need, even if your ego doesn’t agree. 
When you’ve finished walk around your wheel, with incense, drum or rattle and invoke the energies of the seven directions. 

Alignment with most of the seven directions is the same no matter where we are on the globe. For all of us, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. The two central directions of Earth below and Sky above are the same for all peoples. Some traditions attribute femininity to Earth and masculinity to Sky, while others do the reverse. The Centre of the wheel is the same wherever we are. 

The differences are that in the northern hemisphere, South is associated with warmth and therefore, summer, while North is the direction of cold and winter. In the southern hemisphere, it's reversed.
The best way to learn about the medicine wheel or sacred circle and for that matter about the powers & qualities of guides and animals is directly from them. This is much more important than relying on books or individuals to tell you what they ‘mean’.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dragon in the Garden

Finding Magic 

When I was a child, I practiced magic effortlessly. I lived near Sydney Harbour and reached into rock pools to pull out shells, starfish (and once an octopus), to make the anemones close their sticky fronds around my finger; in the creek I found tadpoles and watched them turn into frogs; I caught lizards and quickly dropped the squirming dismembered tails; I shook cicadas in my hand and they sang for me; once I pointed at a bird and it fell out of the sky – perhaps my stubby finger coincided with it’s dive for food, but I felt my power. If I wanted to be a Queen, I WAS a Queen, or a King, or a Warrior. I was a Magician every day. I did not have to enter altered consciousness and laboriously pull the archetype into my being, the way I did much later as an adult. I did not have to remind myself to be grateful; I just loved it all passionately every day. 

There were special places. I sat in the safe curve of a massive Port Jackson fig and watched the patterns of leaves against the sky. An overhang in the Sydney sandstone that borders the harbour was a pirate’s cave. The creek, with its tiny waterfall, was the Amazon. 

The whole world was magic. Time stretched to suit my needs. The school holidays lasted for at least three quarters of the year. Term time was compressed into the rest. Even today, many of my strongest memories come from the barefoot, grubby freedom of those days. 

In thinking about how I, a suburban, Western woman can convey to others the essence of shamanic practices, I’ve reached deeply into those early times. They are the foundation from which, in later life I began to have experiences that mystified and intrigued me and eventually led me to study shamanism and shamanic healing.

This connection hasn't changed. Just the other day we found Dragon in our back garden. He's resting right now, gathering his strength to lead me back into this year's magic.