Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Crack Between the Worlds

In the shamanic world we look for what we call the crack between the worlds, the times when our internal and external routines are most easily interrupted or suspended, when we can open to and access the dreamtine, the realm beyond natural laws where new realites are conceived and incubated.

This week, inbetween Christmas and New Year’s, the crack between the worlds always feels more easily accessible to me. After the holiday rush, but before the normal routine of daily life is re-established, a pause can arise if we allow it. It’s a time to open to the void of not-knowing, of suspending our conscious and unconscious stories about who we are and what we can do, to make space for something else- something we do not yet know about ourselves- to emerge.

I have a breathing exercise that I often do at the start of my meditation practise that gently opens me to the physical experience of the crack between the worlds. It’s very simple.

Right now, wherever you are, take a slow deliberate inhale through your nose. Allow your belly to inflate with your breath, and then allow the wave of breath to leave your body completely. Feel your belly sink and your shoulders drop as all the air is expelled. Let the chair you are sitting on and the earth far beneath you support you completely as the weight of your body drops down into the chair at the end of the exhale.

And then, at the end of the exhale. . . . pause for a moment. Do not immediately and automatically begin the next inhale. Wait for the impulse to take the next breath to come from deep within your body. Do not hold your breath or resist the impulse, but do not reach for it. Let it come. See what it is like just to lightly pause at the end of the exhale, relaxed and waiting for the next breath to find you. And then, ride the wave as it enters and leaves your body.

Explore the moment inbetween, the place where you are neither inhaling nor exhaling, the spacious stillness at the end of the exhale . . . . This is what the crack between the worlds is like. . . . a momentary pause in our daily routine and mental chatter that allows something else to enter . . . that invites new visioning and deeper listening.

Don’t work at it. Just explore it, play with it, with a little curiosity. What are we when we are neither inhaling nor exhaling but are here, fully conscious in this moment. Who are we if we do not automatically carry forward how we have been into the next moment, or the new year?

What are the possibilities that arise? What longing is awakened? What risks ask to be taken? What dreams call out to us to be birthed?

(c) Oriah 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Solstice Prayers

Here in the northern hemisphere, this is the shortest day of the year. Tonight is the longest time of darkness. We go into the darkness knowing our brothers and sisters in the southern hemisphere are holding the place of the longest day, the shortest night. Through present-moment communication with those on the other side of the world we deepen our awareness of a sacred wholeness, an interdependent balance, and the cycles of our earth-home.

On this side of the globe, celebrations are about the promise of the returning light- something that doesn’t happen all at once, but gradually, a little more light each day from this point on until the summer solstice. It’s a lesson in trust, patience and the natural ebb and flow of life cycles- challenging realities for a culture that often eagerly seeks permanent, instant, life-changing “enlightenment.”

Oh, sometimes things do become clear in an instant- but living full awareness is more about stretching into holding what we know at the deepest level of our being. Today, perhaps a small deepening of the perspective that allows for more kindness or patience than yesterday. Tomorrow, a little more letting go of the illusion of control, a modicum of increased clarity about what we can and cannot do in any given moment. Tonight, perhaps the spontaneous arising of new gratitude and the smallest expansion of compassion for even the ungrateful within and around us.

Today- and especially tonight- I remember and hold in my prayers those aspects of self and my fellow human beings who are experiencing a time of darkness that makes the promise of the returning light feel like an empty daydream. For all those who are feeling lost in the darkness, overwhelmed with loss, unsure of their ability or willingness to continue. . . . may those individuals or aspects of self lean a little into the faith of those who, in this moment, remember and experience the promise of the returning light. For all those sitting in the darkness of confusion and not-knowing, of grief or despair. . . may they feel tonight that someone sits with them, holding in their hearts the seemingly impossible promise of the growing light.

And may we all find in the darkness a place of deep rest and rejuvenation, time for clear dreaming for ourselves and our people that we may co-create a sustainable and soul-full way to live together on this tiny planet we call home.

Blessed be.

Oriah (c) 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Unpacking The Annual Angst

Well, time for my annual confession: I am not a big fan of the holiday season. It’s a bit of a mystery really, since I absent myself from those aspects I find unpleasant (staying away from stores and shopping malls,) limit my socializing to an amount happily tolerated by a dire-hard introvert, and only get together with people I love and enjoy. I have learned to produce the traditional festive meal with minimal labour, maximum flavour and lots of assistance from family and friends. And I love having leftovers that eliminate the need to cook for days.

So what’s my problem? I don’t know. What I do know is that from about December 10th until January 2nd I find myself riding an emotional roller coaster- waking up some mornings filled with overwhelming gratitude for being alive and other mornings, with an uncharacteristic sense of dread, considering pulling the covers up over my head for a few weeks. Although I have my share of unpleasant childhood memories, none of them seem to be about Christmas. Don’t think there are any skeletons in that particular closet.

Last year, my first Christmas since my marriage ended the previous spring, I was stunned and relieved just to have survived the tumultuous separation. This year I’m like someone who’s lost an appendage and is feeling an ache in the finger or toe that is no longer there. I find myself remembering a decade of holidays with my now ex-husband- the good, the bad, the exhausting- and feeling a little bewildered. How is it possible to have shared so much, to have had a life so interwoven with another and now. . . . for it to it to be done, gone as if it never was?

Writing this, I realize there’s a clue to my annual general malaise to be found in this year’s particular experience. The seasonal traditions that remain the same for decades highlight the inexorable march of time and continuous change in my life. Hearing carols, a part of me wants to rush to the window to watch for my grandparents’ boat-sized Buick with a trunk full of mysterious and enticing gifts. Looking at coloured lights and tinsel on an indoor tree I see my sons- two small boys in flannel pyjamas- laughing as they throw tinsel onto the tree despite my half-hearted admonishments to place strands on the end of the branches. It all feels like it was just a moment ago. . . .as if I could catch the sound of their voices, or see them out of the corner of my eye if I turned quickly enough.

It’s not nostalgia for past conditions that unsettles me. I am happy with the present, filled with wonder at the men my sons have become, and loving the time I have now with family and friends. Some memories are lighter than others, some happily left behind. But the sights, sounds and scents of the season remind me of what is constant but easy to miss or ignore at other times: the movement, the passage of time. . . . awareness of how fast it all goes by. . . . how short our lives are. . . . how the changes are always happening, whether we notice them or not.

Acknowledging impermanence as an idea is not the same as the visceral experience of feeling life moving like a fast flowing river- sometimes moving through me, sometimes carrying me along. At moments I am overwhelmed with awareness of what has been lost and gained, of how little stays the same from year to year even as I hang the decorations my grandparents used sixty years ago. People pass in and out of our lives; family members age and die; babies are born, children grow up; our health and living situations change; the world changes. Much of it is good, some of it is chosen, and many aspects are beyond our control.

I hadn't been fully conscious of how this season plunges me into the experience of impermanence, into awareness of the relentless and irresistible inner and outer changes. Being with the full range of feelings that arise with this awareness- gratitude and anxiety, joy and sorrow, bewilderment and delight- opens me, softens me to our humanness.

And I recognize that even as there is nothing in this changing reality to hang onto, there is so very much in every moment to cherish.

Oriah (c) 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Embracing The Dark

When was the last time you sat in the dark without turning on a lamp or lighting a candle, savouring the darkness late at night or early in the morning?

I like the dark, I always have. As a child I used to complain to my mother that I couldn’t sleep with the light shining in beneath my bedroom door. One of the things I like most about my current bedroom is that I can block out all the light from the street lamps outside. When I go to bed there's no difference in the darkness whether my eyes are open or closed. Every night I spontaneously offer a prayer of gratitude for the restful darkness.

This may be one of the reasons why I was open to a shamanic path where spiritual practise involves sitting out in the wilderness at night (no fires) fasting and praying. And when you stay out for many nights in a place with no artificial lights you discover there are gradations of darkness, luminosity from clouds and stars reflected in the lake, and a pre-dawn shimmer in the sky that comes long before the birds begin to sing the sun up.

Here in the northern hemisphere of our beautiful planet, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. We are approaching the longest night of the year, December 21. Hence all the festivals of light in different traditions: celebrations and reassurances of the return of the light during periods of deepening darkness. But with decorative electric lights and the often frantic pace of holiday preparations and celebrations I wonder if we miss the gifts of the darkness.

Darkness- both a literal lack of light and those times when we are feeling loss or lost- asks us to slow down, to feel our way along, to wait patiently until our eyes (inner or outer) become accustomed to seeing the shadows (which can include hidden or rejected aspects of self.) In this slowing down there can be a deepening, a turning inward to sit quietly with what we don'know and with what has happened in the last year, asking for visioning for the year to come. Western cultures tend to associate the dark with what is negative or difficult, and fear of the dark can keep us frantically moving, trying to outrun our own inner places of ambivalence, anxiety and ambiguity. But our fear of what the darkness might hold can rob us of the rest and revelation it can offer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the festivals of light. But both the literal ones coming up and the times of fullness and activity in our lives might be more fully savoured and celebrated if we could also receive some of the deep listening, personal insights and rejuvenating rest of the darkness. Ask any artist who paints how they make that which is light brighter- they paint what is dark close to the light making both more vivid and real. Perhaps we need to taste the darkness before we launch into celebrations of the returning light.

So, in the midst of all the activity and preparations, it’s worth remembering the darkness and finding ways to give yourself some time to sit and greet whatever it has to offer to you. Even in the midst of the city where there are always electric lights shining, there is something magical in sitting in the (relative) dark late at night or early in the morning when the city is quiet. There, in the dark, we may find some of the insight and vision we need to prepare for the upcoming year.

Oriah (c) 2011