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.