“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” - Marianne Williamson.Clarissa Pinkola Estes
once said that if a book or movie resonated for you, there was a meaningful reason why. (I have paraphrased her words, slightly). She may also have included song and music in this idea. Music is a hugely important element of my life; hence I sometimes include music and songs in my blogs and on my Facebook
page. There is usually some obvious and sometimes also deeper meaning as to why I have chosen to share the songs I choose to share. (Sometimes it might be the video as much as the song which conveys a message). But even if these meanings are lost, music can be uplifting on several levels. Music, story, symbol and metaphor meet us where we are (emotionally, intellectually, spiritually).
Right now, I'm very much holding the idea of owning and celebrating my own authentic voice. I use the word 'voice' in this context, meaning both in the literal and figurative sense. It has taken almost 37 years to find my true voice, and it has been a journey requiring an incredible amount of sustained effort, energy, time, money, guidance and support - from gifted therapists, loving teachers and of course, one exceptionally Great, Yoga Master (my True Teacher, Sri Yogi Prakash Shankar Vyas – “Guruji”
). It is a process, this journey continues. In part, it has been - for me at least, about releasing chains of conditioning, programming (or karma) from childhood (past) experiences.
Knowing that I teach yoga to young and teenage children, one day a woman approached me through my website. I’d been recommended to her, by word of mouth through the community. She wanted me to teach (and I think in her eyes ‘tame’) her two beautiful, daughters. I agreed to meet them all together and the little girls seemed to adore me. We were soon playing around with some yoga postures. I couldn't help but love their gentle, innocent, cheekiness straight away. We quickly decided that despite their tender ages, it would work out - I insisted only that Mum remain present for the lessons. A few days later, the mother admitted that having met me, it was all the girls could giddily talk about: ‘When are we going to yoga?!’
There was only one thing: I'm a psychotherapist as well as a yoga teacher and I could not stand the language this mother quite often used to speak to and about her children. Here are a few of the names she called the pre-schoolers: “Beast”, “Terror”, “Brute”...As gently as I could, I broached the subject.
Being a small community, I had already heard that this was a woman accustomed to getting her own way and telling others what to do. She didn't like my feedback and predictably, I never heard from her again. Although I was sorry for the girls, I was glad that I had chosen to speak up.
We all love to be liked and approved of, but sometimes I believe we have to be willing to speak up, and even be willing to be disliked (or worse) if it means that in the process we hold on to our own sense of integrity. I always do my best to ‘walk my talk’. I am never going to be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. And I never try to be! What a waste of energy that would be. Having a new, public business page on Facebook
, with little protection from those wounded, angry souls they call 'trolls' I have already ruffled a few feathers. But I am going to keep ‘singing my songs
’ undaunted. Anyone who wants to ‘sing along’ with me, is most warmly welcome! Om shanti, shanti, shanti!
Impromptu therapy sessions with strangers have not really become any easier as I've grown older.
Let me explain. Ever since I was a small child, the scenario below has replayed, countless times. Different faces but always a similar theme: a stranger (usually) in emotional pain, recognising and reaching out to something in me (the Healer) that I have always known was a huge part of who I am, yet only relatively recently embraced and formalised as a counsellor and psychotherapist.
Being given a life story (case history) all in one go, and being asked to help without knowing a person which ordinarily takes place over months of work, would be challenging were it not for my God given intuition. Of course, the option is always there to turn away, to write the person off as “crazy” – But I rarely turn away, unless there is obvious danger. Although I do sometimes - I remember one man, ranting loudly at me in Los Angeles, practically snarling at my heels – on some level, desperately crying out for healing and love. In ancient times he would have been condemned as possessed by the devil or evil spirits. In truth I think he was a paranoid schizophrenic who had eschewed his medication. In an instant I knew he was therefore far too dangerous for me to engage with. I prayed for him - and for myself too! (he was the kind you would not want to meet on a dark night). And I let him pass.
In many ways for the individual concerned, such meetings hold the potential for being a moment of Grace – a chance to change some pattern that does not serve them. Many walk around for years, or an entire lifetime, with unresolved emotional wounds. Various factors can contribute to them staying stuck: sometimes it is a case of insufficient courage and/or humility to ask for help. Sometimes it is simply a lack of conscious awareness that there really is a problem, a failure to understand that blaming other people is not going to resolve anything. And some simply want to moan and wallow.
So the main difference in how I deal with these situations now, is that I know how to take care of myself better: energetically and with clearer boundaries. I know how to leave – I can suss out within seconds; the hopeless, the energy vampires - only feigning a cry for help, and those rare few who may actually benefit from my time and energy – those few who may be capable of receiving healing energy and using it as a catalyst for positive change.
Here’s how it happened this time....
Me - Engrossed in a book on psychoanalysis. After finishing work for the day, I retreated to one of the gardens in Sidmouth to read and reflect.
"I used to come 'ere as a kid...it was a like a court! See the stage on the other side? This side is where they'd tell us off."
An unkempt middle aged (looking) man with long straggly hair and whiskers, launched into sharing his disorganised thoughts - as though we had begun a conversation left unfinished in another universe.
I did a quick appraisal of the person in front of me, noticing the large beer bottle-poorly hidden in the crook of his elbow, swaddled in his thick, woollen navy jumper. Having been in this situation hundreds of times before, I knew what was coming. As he commenced telling me his story, I momentarily considered my own safety and the terms under which I would acquiesce to this free therapy. I mentally decided that I would give him the gift of some of my time (every new client receives a free consultation after all) - with boundaries. The clock began ticking its countdown on the session. I would leave at the first hint of any potential for violence. There were few people around, but my experience and intuition had already made those calculations and relayed the information that I was safe enough.
A water feature bubbled and gurgled nearby. At one point he referred to the pointed stone structure as he saw it - as a phallus. “It’s disgusting! That they can put this here...”
He started off by standing some distance from me, gesticulating as he spoke with broad strokes using his free arm. Then gradually he took steps towards me and sat down on the bench opposite, as I knew he would.
"They were all a bunch of Jimmy Saviles!" There was aggression behind the forced humour. I did not know who "they" were, but continued to listen. I notice as I write this, the word 'vile' in the surname. Perhaps the man's annunciation of the word brought this into my greater awareness. He went on - "I was 7...It happened to me! And I've dealt with it now..."
He slurred his words and I wondered just exactly how drunk he was.
"I'm gonna be 57 this year..My auntie Maude and my Mum, they used to beat me. They were suffragettes. Which is just another word for man haters."
He referred to time spent in care and in psychiatric wards with padded cells:
“The more they beat me, the tougher it made me!” He declared. “I’m over it. See, I just get angry!” It was a flimsy attempt to cover his vulnerability. And he knew that I knew it.
Me – “That [anger] seems a good way to avoid the feelings.”
He grimaced, indicating his awareness that he’d been called out.
Me - "Have you been to your doctor to ask for a referral to see a counsellor?"
He replied nonplussed: "I don't need a counsellor; I'm talking to you..."
Me - "But I'm not your counsellor."
"It was a doctor who did it! I don't trust the medical profession, they're just a bunch of money grabbing..." He trailed off, thought unfinished. "The victims think it’s their fault! You see? I did - I thought it was my fault. But it ain't!"
Me – nodding enthusiastically, in agreement.
It usually takes several years for victims of childhood sexual abuse to recognise and truly understand this essential truth. In his case, it had taken 50. (And counting...)
Me - stating clearly: "I hear your anger and I hear your pain - it's valid!"
"I think I took it out on my first wife. And I think I took it out on my second wife. And my third child...all different women...I'd like to have contact with my children...I wrote letters...But they think..." [Makes circles with his index finger, at the side of his head]
“I’m not an alcoholic!” Surreptitiously, he snuck the beer bottle out from under his arm for a moment. Although he had long since clocked, that I had noticed him hiding it. “It’s my first one today...” He said it, as though this were a great achievement.
Me – “You do realise that, that is what all alcoholics say?”
“Well...maybe I am going that way.” He seemed to consider this. “They won’t let me in the pubs. I’m banned from the town...”
I wondered where he was sleeping. His jumper seemed to bear evidence of...I tried to guess – sleeping under a tree? He had the smells to go with that theory.
I started gathering my belongings, signalling the “session” was drawing to a close. He clearly observed my cue, but continued undaunted. I silently prayed for him while he rambled. At times he struggled to find simple words - his brain straining and failing to operate lucidly, under the influence.
I felt sad.
Me – “I’m going to have to interrupt you, as I have to go.”
I was standing now. “AA would be a good place to start. Go to the library. Go online, you know?”
(I almost added, “You know, on a computer?”)
Clearly marginalised, he had earlier defined himself as something of a gypsy and, a “comedi-hen” – He had strutted and made clucking noises in the open space. He could certainly have been an entertainer, had he obtained access to support to recover from the abuse in his earlier life. I held a silent, distant hope for him that he might yet recover still.
“Oh...AA...” He said it as though the thought had never occurred to him that he
might be in need of attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
“Get clean. Then, get back to me.” I got up and waved goodbye.
I left him there, mumbling to himself about AA. I hoped something of what I had said might remain with him through the foggy, boozy, haze - though doubted it would. Find out more about my approach to counselling and psychotherapy by clicking here.
Yoga ultimately offers practitioners the gift of becoming masters of their own energy. I think this is especially helpful for women, who are often culturally trained to: “give, give, give” – to anyone and everyone who happens to asks. However, it is worth remembering that not all requests are legitimate! Not all requests require a yes, or an instant response. Some demands for our energy are better met with no response at all.
Another way women are especially good at giving away their energy is through excessive speaking. (Just sit on any bus!) This is sometimes idle chatter about nothing much at all. Excessive speech, or ‘verbal diarrhoea’ can also be a defence mechanism, a way of avoiding difficult feelings - or as a way to simply avoid being. One might use speech like a smoker avoids feelings with cigarettes, or compulsive eater stuffs down emotions with food. Without conscious awareness it is easy to become a human doing rather than a human being.
Yoga practice brings us back in touch with ourselves, with our bodies – which women and increasingly men too - have sometimes disowned as not being “good enough”, “skinny enough” or “muscular enough”. Little wonder, with all the cultural messages we are offered. One of my very young Goddaughters, recently confessed that she felt her bum was “too big”! I was stunned and horrified. Parents (and to a lesser degree, Godparents) have the daunting and honoured task of being the gatekeepers of what their children are exposed to, of where they place their energy; whilst being mindful about the examples they themselves set for their children. I hope over time my Goddaughter will imbibe a little more of my attitude towards food and weight, which my own journey of healing and Yoga has helped, bring to greater balance.
So the journey of yoga is the journey of returning to oneself, in every sense. In my yoga class, students learn about bandhas, this Sanskrit word means, lock or seal. This might be the first taste for some, of learning how to keep precious energy inside. Bandhas are physical, but as we progress through a yoga journey and eventually become advanced practitioners, this idea of keeping one’s energy inside becomes less “gross” (no longer purely about physical
‘locks’) but more fine. For an advanced practitioner, yoga ultimately transcends the physical. It becomes more about vibration and energy.
However we start in yoga with the physical body because we at least have some chance of learning how to control the body! Learning asana, (postures) – this is far easier to manage at first, than trying to control the mind.
As well as being a yoga teacher, I am also a qualified and professional counsellor and psychotherapist
. The science of psychology works at the level of the mind. So combining yoga and psychotherapy is a powerful way to bring the mind to a more peaceful state and free oneself from destructive patterns of thinking and behaving.
Long term psychotherapy changes the structure of the brain. Think of a mouse that has been kept in a cage. Let’s say that every other day the food left for him is poisoned – and of course the poor mouse gets sick. Eventually, he will learn this pattern and come to expect it. Eventually, every second day he will probably refuse the food – even if sometimes the experiment is changed and the food is no longer poisonous on the second day
, it is seemingly
too late - his brain has now been wired to this pattern. This is how it can be for those who have experienced trauma or abuse; the brain is wired, or configured in a way that reflects the experience of previous abuse. This often means that past abuse is repeated, re-enacted in slightly different ways, unintentionally. (Just as the rat believed and so behaved as though the food was poisonous every second day – whether that was true or not). But the great news is that it is NEVER too late. The pathways the brain sets up in response to abuse, can be undone...reconfigured. This amazing ability that the human brain has, is known as neuroplasticity. And this is arguably, a large part of how psychotherapy is effective: in part it is a process of unpicking destructive ‘seams’ that have been ‘sewn into’ the brain and creating new, healthier and more life affirming neural pathways.
Yoga also changes the brain. In particular, meditation profoundly changes the brain - at least for those who are able to commit to the yoga journey long enough, to get to a stage where they are willing and able to meditate. Yogis would say that this readiness takes millions of lifetimes to achieve.
We can only begin where we are and that is good enough. First, thinking about the ways we perhaps waste our energy, or refuse to take responsibility for our own energy. Refuse to use our own discernment about where to place our energy...Thinking about who we interact with...Who are the energy vampires in our lives? Who are the ones we leave feeling refreshed or at least happy – with a sense that there has been an exchange of energy, rather than a theft. We can all make such simple choices about our energy in these ways and it is our privilege to do so, if we so wish.
This is cool...watch and listen to Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Rudy Tanzi discuss neuroplasticity
Women are sometimes brought up to believe: 'One day my Prince will come and rescue me from myself/financial responsibility.' In some cases the latter does indeed happen. (The former NEVER truly does). Perhaps husband simply steps into Dad's shoes. But divorce also happens. I believe in the U.K. it's now about the same as in the States: 50% of marriages end in divorce. So clearly, a man is not a plan. Yes, 'half the house'/alimony will keep things ticking over for a while, but some women feel beholden, even enslaved by 'eternal alimony'; never reaching for their true potential in case they earn "too much" and lose their alimony. Others avoid relationships with the potential for marriage, for the same reason. To me this seems like living a half life.
This theme of abdicating financial responsibility, crosses social boundaries: "The Benefit Trap" would be an another example. There is never any need to take responsibility for one's own welfare, if someone has promised to do this forever.
And why do we sometimes feel that financial wealth and spirituality cannot happily coexist? I think this is perhaps partly because many of the great spiritual Masters seemed to eschew all attachment to wealth. (Attachment being the operative word here – money does not make a good Higher Power). But even Spiritual Masters need money in order to live in the physical world.
So if there is no need to demonise being financially comfortable, what other obstacles do we face in regards to allowing ourselves to be abundant?
Maybe some of us women are (despite ourselves) stuck in the magical thinking of our childhood fairy tales, like Cinderella. But there is no magical grandmother in the sky waiting to save us. Surely we have a duty to ourselves - to do our best to make sure we earn enough, and could survive (and take care of any children) if the worst ever happened.
And now that many women out-earn the guys, men might also find themselves slipping into a similar kind of financial sloppiness - like little boys waiting for Mum to dish out the pocket money.
In the Western world (versus the developing world) we are often blessed with opportunities to study - at any age and class (to use a "dirty" word). Higher education usually opens doors to greater financial abundance. So there is no excuse – most of us can improve the grey matter we have. We can improve on the level of education we attained, to make ourselves more employable or gain the skills necessary to create or improve on, businesses of our own.
My Yoga Master Teacher has often encouraged me, (and other students) to study further - to become self reliant. Wealth is required for self realisation, (or for the psychologically minded) self actualisation. Maybe because it is difficult to sit peacefully in meditation when the mind is cluttered with worry about how to pay the gas bill or rent!
The spiritually minded might say: "Yeah but I have bad karma. So I'm stuck in a poverty trap." Believe me, I know this one well. And in some cases, it might be true! There’s no question that being in that place sucks, but as the saying goes, "God helps those who help themselves." I don't feel this is a reason to just give up. I never did. I have been studying for the last seven years almost nonstop. And I'm still far from finished! If you are alive, then the world needs you for something - something that only you can do. So I say - go figure out what that is.
If we've somehow been taught that we do not deserve financial ease, then it might be time to chuck that thought out with the trash, and with the guidance of whatever Higher Power we believe in, begin to step out of the role of innocent, impotent bystander, when it comes to money; and co-create with the Creator, a life to feel good about.
The yoga path has often been compared to climbing a mountain. During the climb, as one advances, there may be exquisite scenery which dazzles the eye and in the moment, this should be enjoyed. This 'scenery' is an analogy for the psychic experiences which may eventually arise for an advanced practitioner. However, such experiences can become obstacles to further progress. If one is climbing a mountain and gets too enraptured with the view, a rock may cause a trip and even a painful stumble back down the face of the mountain. It can be exactly the same with 'yogic scenery'. So, this should be enjoyed without any attachment, or expectation that it will occur again.
There are many obstacles on the yoga path, both seen and unseen. Guruji
speaks about 'right living for a yoga practitioner', in a recording which can be found by clicking here
- this is essential listening for any serious yoga practitioner.
If we are lucky enough to have physical access to our Teacher, or a genuine guide on our spiritual journey; in some ways, it is my belief that the way will be much easier. When we are beginners but live far away from our Teacher, we have to be extremely dedicated to prevent a 'pit stop' on the mountain trek, from becoming in fact, a grinding halt. For those of us, like me who live physically far away from their Teacher, as a beginner (which I am) - an enormous amount of discipline is required to keep going. Then slowly, slowly, it becomes less relevant that the physical body of one's Teacher is not so close. As Guruji has said: "Physical is one thing, but spiritual is another." This can only truly make sense to a dedicated yoga practitioner.
The most helpful suggestion I have found for the journey, is this: to follow one's Teacher's instructions, to the letter. Even when this has given a result different to what I expected, I have still gained immeasurably. However, sometimes the gain only becomes apparent many years after the event. Sometimes, a Spiritual Master's directives remain unclear for even longer.
In the recording as mentioned above, Guruji explains how drugs and food can present challenges for the yoga practitioner. As a yoga teacher, I have seen firsthand, cases where a lack of discipline and discernment around food in particular, can cause real problems. Laziness plus lack of discipline around food is a double whammy. And many people really struggle, especially with the former. I knew one student of mine who attended classes like clockwork with some practise in-between - then sometimes binged over the weekend with food and alcohol, lost practice through feeling sick and unmotivated, then wondered why only little to no progress was possible.
"I practise every day!" This person once lamented. This is a surefire way to come unstuck and lose the precious gem one had in the hands. For a dedicated yoga practitioner; taking drugs, eating unhealthily and drinking alcohol are about as helpful as taking drugs while walking on the very edge of a mountain. And it seems that the further we walk on the path, the more violent the effects - of alcohol, drugs and poor food choices are, on the system. Perhaps controversially, (even Guruji has said it is not essential to be a vegetarian - well, yes - though I wonder if there is a missing addendum to this statement (I will check next time I speak with him): if you are Jesus or Buddha!) I would, personally, also add - eating meat to this list. Now, this is my opinion only. But if we consider that to walk on the yoga path, (taking ourselves seriously, rather than 'practising to lose 5 pounds') we are striving for 'ahimsa' - non violence. So how can we justify eating part of a pig or cow, when we have other options for protein sources? We love our dogs and cats - knowing that they have just as much personality and capacity to feel pain and joy as we do - yet for some, this compassionate awareness is often not extended to sheep and other animals, which we conveniently refer to as "cattle" - distancing ourselves from them as fellow sentient beings. Just as a man on death row will be flooded with fear, adrenaline and other hormones rushing into his muscles at his final helpless hour, where do we think all that fearful energy from the final moments at the abattoir go?
At some point on a serious yoga path, we have to decide what we want more - the temporary "high" from, for example - chemicals like nicotine, alcohol, or a bloated belly, OR, the profound peace which awaits the courageous ones. It is always
our own choice. No one can force us to walk this way. In the end, it doesn't matter what our Teachers tell us if we cannot harness our own strength to keep walking, with a strong sense of focus and discipline. No one can walk this path for
us. Yet it is not
about being perfect first either - mistakes and obstacles will come, and we should expect them, even embrace them as a sign that we are worthy of being challenged. All my best teachers have challenged me somehow - how else could I grow? Soul or Higher Self, God, whatever - it's no different. So it is about how we deal with those mistakes and obstacles. Ideally, this will be with patience, calmness and a willingness for self reflection - not just thinking until the head hurts - but doing some inner work; doing our yoga practise with devotion and concentration, doing what we have been taught. Keeping a journal, recording our dreams and paying attention to what they might be trying to tell us. And if we do not know how to do such things - finding someone who does, so we can learn how! This is also taking responsibility for our own development and progress. In such ways, we can try to understand our behaviour better and not keep repeating the exact same mistakes. It goes like this: Progress, not perfection. Focussed effort, and then (maybe, much later) perfection.
We have to be patient and gentle with ourselves as we learn too. I knew of one student who gave up after just two lessons, feeling defeated at the lack of progress! It is worth bearing in mind that men can have a very hard time on the yoga path, due to the male ego which can sometimes be incredibly challenging to overcome; stubborn, aggressive and impatient. So although men are not constantly interrupted on their yoga path by moontime
, or pregnancy and child rearing, they have formidable
challenges of their own.
Another helpful idea might be to consider this: If you keep doing the same thing, how can you expect a different result? Sometimes, I see this as a therapist. There is a desire to change, but no desire to actually do the work it takes to change direction, to change ingrained patterns of thinking. "I want to feel better." Someone might say, but then when presented with new ideas, challenges to: "this is what I've always done." - it all seems like too much effort. So again, it is helpful to remember that we all have the power as adults, to choose. We can choose whether or not we really
want to change. Maybe in truth, we only want to talk about changing, to moan. Maybe the pay-off is actually in having a permanent gripe which gives a false sense of justified victimhood. Maybe in truth we are afraid of the idea of lasting peace and inner quiet. If we decide that we truly want change, growth, true peace, spiritual awakening - we cannot expect to stay the same! We cannot expect for our life to remain the same!
Related to the yoga path, I love what Sri K. Pattabhi Jois once said:
"Everyone can do this yoga, the young, the old, the sick..every person except the lazy person."
I love even more what my own Guruji said: "Carry on, carry on!"
The view from my window - looking out over Bethlehem at dawn.
Beside the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent several years preaching to the people and teaching his disciples.
Wherever a True Spiritual Master has lived, (lives), blessed, or spent any significant period of time – there, anyone sensitive enough to notice, (especially dedicated yoga practitioners), will feel this energy, powerfully.
I have never been to Varanasi, but I am told that the energy there is powerful, due to Masters up to and including my own Teacher (Sri Yogi Prakash Shankar Vyas, “Guruji”
), and those genuine Master’s of other lineages; blessing the area with an amazing resonance.
I have certainly felt such amazing, what I would call, divine energy - in the area where my Guruji lives. For me, it's pure Heaven. There is also a special kind of light there and many other wonders that might be lost on the masses but very clear to Yoga practitioners. In Assisi too, it is easy to slip into a deeply
peaceful state in the church housing the remains of the Great Saint Francis.
Therefore, when I arrived in Bethlehem - the place of Christ’s birth and the base for our group’s pilgrimage of The Holy Land, (Israel), I was surprised not to feel much straight away. But on reflection, I considered the level of violence that has marred the land and surrounds, and began to wonder if I would feel Jesus' presence anywhere there.
On the pilgrimage, there were so many highlights-often unexpected ones: for example, the Dead Sea
was a hoot! Powerful undercurrents in the murky depths, constantly threatened to drag mud covered swimmers out to sea! Luckily I'd made a friend by this point and we held on to each other, pulling one another back from being dragged out – slipping and rolling over in the strong currents, floating atop the virtually pure salt water and giggling madly!
The spiritual highlights are almost too numerable and esoteric to describe. Some places I could've stayed forever (to practise Kriya Yoga meditation). For example; the scorching hot desert location near the caves where Jesus' completed his 40 day fast. (Had it been possible, I would have gone into the cave, situated high above sea level - but the Israeli authorities only permit approach and veneration from a significant distance).
The energy at the Grotto of the Church of The Annunciation
was SO beautiful and feminine - I could've stayed there forever. And the entire Sea of Galilee area was replete with the Great Master's exquisite energy.
Though all One at the highest stages; each Spiritual Master’s energy feels different – at least to a beginner like me.
Jesus' mother Mary was undoubtedly an incredibly pure, inimitable Master. Water from wells that she'd drunk from or blessed, possessed indescribably beautiful, healing, nourishing and purifying power. A 40-day water fast
water (for me) would be extraordinary!
The hole through which Jesus was lowered
But the real "event" for me, in many ways was not walking Jesus' route to his final, torturous moment, (The Stations of the Cross
) or placing my hand in the hole dug to accommodate his huge cross – (The Crucifixion Altar
- it is believed that Jesus was a tall man of about 6ft, so the cross needed a deep foundation). Touching the star which marked Christ’s entry into the physical world
was also a highlight (The Star of Bethlehem in the Church of the Nativity).
Being at these places was amazing
but in years to come what I will remember most is The Prison.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus was held (and many believe tortured and beaten) in a prison which was also on our itinerary. It's probably fair to say that no one was particularly looking forward to that, but for Christians, getting a sense of Christ’s deep suffering is a part of the Faith.
It was a predictably bleak place...A deep cave - unlike most of the holy sites, much unchanged
with rock therefore over 2000 years old. There was a hole at the very top of the cave through which Jesus was lowered, hung from a rope. It is hard to imagine how terrifying that would have been – at least, for any normal person - aside from the torture and abuse he endured before his murder. Today - in 2013, the cave has electricity, and stone stairs lead down into the base of the cave where as I closed my eyes, I felt the most.
It was on the way out, as we left feeling sombre, taking photos, that something remarkable happened. A fellow pilgrim (a lady, aptly named Mary) offered to take my photo; with me standing on a sturdy stone ledge. Shell shocked after the fall with a banged up knee.
“I thought that'd make a lovely photo!” She smiled. I had been thinking precisely the same thing at the exact same moment she asked me (something that happened between us, more than once during the 8 days). So up I climbed. I was wearing my sturdy, super-grippy Keen shoes -which had already served me beautifully, throughout much walking during the pilgrimage. They were more than up to the simple task.
Throughout the pilgrimage I rose (secretly) at 4.30 am or earlier, to fit in my Ashtanga Yoga and Kriya Yoga practices in order to make the early leaving times of our coach for the itinerary of the day - they were packed days. And even then it was occasionally a rush to make it - I know some people thought, how lazy/sleep loving I was! Mealtimes were strictly timed, so I missed many, which also raised eyebrows, but I was sustained by the blissful energy of the Holy Land. And I felt somehow honoured to be misunderstood in that way so many yoga practitioners and Great Masters have been before me. (See Matthew 5: 1 -12 - we went to the place where this famous teaching is thought to have been given).
My point is, because of my yoga practice, although high, the rocky platform (seen behind me in the next photo) was one easy stride for me to step up to. But - unbelievably, I lost my footing! For a brief moment which seemed to stretch out over an eternity, I was free falling. Everything slowed down and was completely silent. I knew that I was either going to die from a severed spinal cord on the several flights of hard stone steps that awaited my falling body, or perhaps be paralysed. At the very least I would be severely injured. Because of the angle of the fall, I knew without a doubt that death or something close to it was an absolute certainty-therefore I took no panicked evasive action. My life didn't flash before me, but without really thinking about it, I felt immensely grateful for my Kriya Yoga practice; which was responsible for the profound peace and absolute calm I felt in (what felt like) the face of death. It was almost blissful. I have often wondered how I would really react if turbulence on a plane ever spiralled into its most terrifying conclusion. Now I feel as though I have a much better idea.
On a replica boat from the time of Christ on the Sea of Galilee
As I floated downwards in the air, there was this kind of humourous bemusement, as I thought to myself:
‘How can anything "bad" possibly happen to me, in The Holy Land, of all places?!' One of the many gifts of being a Kriyaban is fearlessness - a sense of being completely protected at every single moment.
Later, a Guru brother said of the incident:
“It must have really increased your faith in Guruji!”
I laughed - on the surface, it was a logical statement, but the truly authentic Guru-disciple relationship is far, far beyond logic. So for me, my brother's statement was about as accurate as saying: ‘studying Chemistry must really have increased your belief that oxygen is present in the air!’ Ludicrous. Faith is for the religious what knowledge is for the yoga practitioner - This is something entirely different.
So - the impossible happened - I did not fall. At least not
in the way that I should
have. Mary grabbed my arm with a strength that belonged not to her. In her other hand she even held my iPhone (for the photo!), which remarkably, she never dropped! Think of that for a moment – it was like trying to catch plates falling out of the sky with one hand - whilst holding another plate in the other! The whole event would understandably perhaps be possible for a circus acrobat who has caught many a flying person before! But for an ‘ordinary’ mother of five?
Mary was of course, simply a channel for Divine Grace – with an unbelievable speed of reaction, she effectively re-distributed the weight of my body and the way it was falling, by hoisting me upwards by the arm. So that instead of tumbling headlong down the stone steps and battering my body against the rocks in the cave as I went, I landed bum and poor right knee
(again!!) first. It was over in a flash but we stood for a few minutes afterwards, clinging to each other, in dazed wonder and awe...
Again and again my Angel, Mary, repeated - speed and fright in her beautiful Irish accent: "I kept thinking I wasn't going to catch you in time! I could SEE you falling down the steps! I could SEE what was going to happen!" Again and again she repeated the words like a mantra...The exact
same words and thoughts in my own mind. She shouldn't
have been able to catch me in time! I was certain
beyond doubt that I was going to crash down ALL those hard stone steps - just as Jesus had probably been kicked about in the same area. We stood together for a few moments. I was utterly and completely bewildered to still be alive and standing upright, hearing her voice. I started to shake a little time after that, and Mary, my Angel, comforted me as the profound shock kicked in. Again and again in our last few days, we would sometimes just look each other in the eye-smiling, each marvelling at the other. And sometimes we'd talk about and re-live the moment.
As a psychotherapist it is interesting to note the seemingly planned divine perfection - even of the aftermath: The perfect way to very quickly recover from such trauma – like a car crash for example, is: sharing/re-telling what happened, being comforted, crying and physically shaking – ‘getting it out of one’s system’. (These are often the missing elements when for example, children are abused - So the feelings of shock and fear become 'frozen in time', and instead people find ways of coping with these hidden feelings, which are still secretly in fact, 'running the show'; mental and emotional problems, post traumatic stress disorder and physical diseases are just some of the possible outcomes of unprocessed trauma).
When packing for the trip, something had told me to take to the Holy Land, special, healing herbal plasters - purchased from the clinic of my TCM
doctor. I thought I might need one or two for my previously injured knee - from all the walking. I had no idea how important they would end up being for quickly bringing down the inflammation in my knee - (it ballooned for a while) and healing for the two small cuts. Once back at the hotel, ice packs helped too. I was limping for a few hours, but able to walk. And up until about today there has been some (diminishing) pain. I wonder if I will ever run another marathon again - but still, it is far better than being dead :) and before completing the spiritual work I have yet to do in this lifetime.
Waves of gratitude and love flooded me every time I saw Mary for the rest of our time. She was just one person of a small few on the trip, whose destinies are tied to mine. It was not surprising to meet a few souls such as this, in The Holy Land. In any case, this happens increasingly often, once we are on the ‘home stretch’ - (I'm not at liberty to explain this here, except to say that it relates to karma, Kriyabans or those on genuine spiritual paths).
During my evening Kriya Yoga practise following the fall (with one knee on ice), I learned something even more remarkable...The explanation for how I could possibly have been saved from such certain death. I will not share what I learned, but I would like to direct those interested, to read the book: “Footsteps to Freedom”
. There is much written in it about Karma and how Spiritual Masters sometimes work.
A spiritual sister later confirmed that my Guruji knew of the event before being told. (This sister was the first of my spiritual family in Australia to know about it). She said he seemed to ebulliently rejoice! I have since communicated with this Great Master-my Teacher, finding no adequate words to convey my gratitude and the sense of being so privileged and sheltered under the mantle of God's loving, compassionate and flawless protection.
Sitting on the beach - on what could be the last day of the British summer (4 whole days of it!), I needed to put my book down and close my eyes for a moment. The profundity of the content, the awe inspiring elegance of the neuroscience behind how our brains develop from infancy through childhood, was filling me with emotion.
I am reading Steven Biddulph's "Raising Girls" (amongst several other titles. I had to laugh when I hung out with my parents a few months ago and noticed that my Dad had about 7 tomes on the go!) Anyway, personally, I would highly recommend the book if you are a parent or guardian of a female child. (The author also has a similar title for parents of boys).
As those of you who know me or read this blog will be aware, I am a Godparent. The oldest 'Godchild' of mine is now a fully grown adult and is no doubt making his way in the world. After a certain point (past 21) it is appropriate to allow a young adult to choose the level of engagement they feel is right. So this young man is no longer 'under my wing' in any way, or even next to it. But somehow I know that the many years I spent helping to nurture and care for him; from babyhood, through his childhood, and early adolescence, will help him now-in his adult life. At least a few of the messages he learned about life will be the positive ones that I taught him.
My three Goddaughters - "my girls", however, are a different story. Though they are growing up fast and not always in my physical vicinity, they are still small enough that I could in theory (well, maybe just about!) still fit them altogether; in my lap and my embrace. In fact just the other day, the 9 year old said to me, "I might be a bit heavy," as she clambered into my lap, as we three - Mum, little one and me, cosied up in the parked car for a chat, before saying our goodbyes - as we had done a million times before. So familiar, yet such moments can be profound, as I clearly recall my Goddaughter; nine years ago in her pure white babygro, in the baby car seat behind me (passenger side), Mum driving. "You're never too heavy." I reassured her. (Don't even get me started on girls this age worrying about their size and weight! Our Western culture has a lot to answer for).
The mother of one of my girls sent me an email this morning, saying that my attentiveness towards her daughter had surpassed anything she could have imagined when she'd asked me if I would take on the role of Godmother. I almost cried on reading this...I have a spiritual connection to all my Goddaughters, perhaps most especially this one - now a young, (incredibly beautiful) teen. Each one of my Goddaughters is exquisitely beautiful, unusually bright and gifted in one or more areas. They never cease to amaze me.
For me, in so many ways, being a Godmother is a profound privilege; to be chosen as a guardian, by the woman who holds in trust the preciousness of a child’s life as highly (if not more so) as her own - well, it doesn't get much bigger than that. I remember once, one of my girls trying to work out the logistics of the arrangements, if the worst happened and her parents were not around: (it might sound slightly morose but I swear it was hilarious!)
"Would you come and get me or would I come to you?" She pondered.
"I would come and get you, straight away." I replied.
So, I enjoy reading books like “Raising Girls”, on several levels.
As a counsellor, naturally, I encounter clients who were not given the opportunity or loving support necessary to progress unimpeded through the maturation process - though the book is non academic in style, such expertly researched work only adds to my knowledge about psychology and the neuroscience of human development; allowing me to make even greater sense of the path that may have brought such clients to me.
In many ways, I can't get enough of learning about the science of the mind. Those pre-med studies are paying dividends now too. Perhaps a little like parenthood, for teachers and therapists, the learning never ends. Certainly it will continue for me for the foreseeable future-as I complete my Advanced Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy this summer, and then work towards accreditation over the next few years. Then, who knows...Masters, Doctorates, you can go on learning forever in this field. This perfectly suits my inquisitive intellect and indefatigable drive for excellence, as a student and as a professional. Learning helps keep one humble.
At a certain point in life-with the help of our early caregivers, on our own, or with the help of a therapist, we learn how to parent ourselves with love; slowly figuring out how to honour and celebrate our unique beauty and the gifts we have to enjoy and share with the world. By the time we are adults, most of us have at least a rough idea of how to live, work and take care of the basics. But learning how to lovingly take care of ourselves and helping the children, who are ours to care for, learn the same are two of the most important and far reaching tasks that we have to work out how to do, during our lifetimes.
That is what I am calling my latest smoothie creation (seen above)! With the warmer weather, it gets easier for me to add in more raw yumminess. And this is the perfect nourishment after teaching (yoga) for four hours straight. So, how to make?
Well when you start to really get into raw food, it can seem a bit of a faff, BUT with a little forward planning, it is possible to enjoy at least some simple and delicious recipes like this-with minimum faffing.
I used about 150 g of raw cashews - soaked for two days, because I didn't have time to make after a day had lapsed! (which would have been plenty of time for soaking cashews for "milk" - they soften up in no time).
Place the soaked nuts in blender and pour over mineral water to about half the capacity of the blender jug-(or less if you'd like a creamier consistency). Add Agave nectar
- (no it is not perfect but easier on my system than straight sugar). Use a good 'splodge'. ;) Add a few 'switches' of sea salt from the shaker. Add a couple of drops of vanilla essence. Then whizz the whole lot at the highest speed.
Have a glass jug and some muslin to hand. Now strain the cashew nut milk, through the muslin-into the glass jug. (Rinse the blender jug to get rid of any 'nut bits' - This is all very technical, as you can tell - NOT!)
Now place the strained milk back into the blender jug - add in a whole, ripe banana and as much mango as you have (most of mine had gone too mushy to use). Mango adds a great sweetness and fibre-blend well with ice cubes, if you have them, to minimise any stringiness from the mango. The ice-cubes just help the whole thing stay cool, otherwise the heat of the blades slightly warms up your smoothie. (Lukewarm is easier on your stomach, but will also reduce the activity of the health boosting enzymes too).
Drink immediately and enjoy!
If you are thinking of becoming a vegetarian or vegan this smoothie would give you a ton of nutrients and is also rich in healthy proteins and fats. It feels like the goodness just sinks into your bones...deeelish!
(For extra superfood wow factor add in some Maca
Those who know me as a yoga teacher, or “The Yoga Lady” as I have become known in this part of East Devon :) probably cannot imagine me doing anything else. In my capacity as a counsellor, body worker and healer-some clients will only have seen me in one particular light.
On the other hand, I was actually stopped in the street recently by someone I know only in passing, imploring me to start running more again – as he missed the sight! “You must be the fittest person in town!” He swooned. It was so sweet and it was an interesting message to receive from the Universe at that moment. Readers of this blog will be aware that I have had some knee niggles, so I have had to reduce my mileage significantly, or else there is a risk I would not be able to continue with my full teaching schedule. Serious runners need quite a bit of rest - so, as much as I love running and some might consider that I have a talent for it-it is not at the top of the list, in the hierarchy of my duties.
Those who know me as a singer
cannot fathom why I am not singing professionally or even much at all these days. My eldest Goddaughter once heard me sing and told me that I must audition for X-Factor! My middle Goddaughter once said listening to me sing was just like listening to music on the radio. Now nine, I would sing this little one to sleep when she was a newborn and many times during her babyhood - so it could just be the comfort of familiarity! The Parish Priest says I am “hiding my light under a bushel” (Biblical language inspired by: Luke 11:33).
It is difficult for some to understand that there are worldly paths and there are other paths. That is not to say that spiritual paths and worldly paths do not sometimes collide; they do-but if so, there is usually a good reason for this. Yoga practitioners rarely choose to stay in the limelight for long, unless fame is part of their destiny. If so, it would probably also have a higher purpose.
That being said, the energy seems to be shifting more towards me using my voice a little more, again. There was a time when that is all I ever wanted to do. Now I don’t mind either way if I sing on stage or not. I always sing in private. I have been privileged to sing for my Teacher and spiritual brothers and sisters, quite a few times - which means more to me than singing professionally ever could.
After I spent some time living in Los Angeles, (before
meeting my Guruji) working with Rihanna’s vocal coach – the amazing, Lis Lewis
, I was at one point, close to getting a record deal. Later, after meeting my True Spiritual Yoga Master Teacher, Guruji, I sought his blessing to follow the path of a recording artist. At that time, though I have been a healer since childhood (perhaps because
I have been) - it wasn't always clear that being a healer is my truest dharma. Ultimately, there is no real conflict - because voice, sound and vibration can also be powerful channels for healing.
So it is interesting that it may be at Kennaway House, where I teach yoga, that the invitation for me to perform could arise. (Watch this space). There are many events which take place at the house, including Jazz nights.
What is very clear to me when I consider my Teacher’s students is that in many cases, they are an incredibly multi-talented and creative bunch. One, whom I know well, is an amazing cartoonist. One or two that I know of, are famous for their creative talents. But that does not mean that these abilities will always
be given public exposure. The path of a Kriyaban is different. “Everything is reverse” – Guruji has said before. “There is always loss.”
And it is also true that when yoga practitioners get the balance right, life flows as it should and what is meant to happen, happens...About giving the Kriya Yoga method, Guruji once said:
“I am giving you everything.”
For a dedicated and devoted practitioner, the words of genuine Spiritual Masters resound with one harmonious truth, a bit like the voice of a singer who moves you.
So for a Yoga practitioner, it makes sense that it is written in scripture:
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”.
- Matthew 6:33
In simpler language, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois once said:
“Do your practice and all is coming.”