Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Psychic Vision

The Pagan Experience - Wk 5 - Mar.30 - Any topic of your choice! Have fun with this one. Prose, poetry, fiction, art work or any other creative format are welcome!

As regular readers of this blog know, my main occupation is in practicing bodywork. I'm a healer, and the longer I do it, the more that I embody the true meaning of the word (or at least I hope that is the case). A healer is someone who helps others return to health, by a variety of means.

“the process of bringing together aspects of one’s self, body-mind-spirit, at deeper levels of inner knowing, leading toward integration and balance with each aspect having equal importance and value.”*

The Oxford dictionary says a healer is "a person who claims to be able to cure a disease or injury using special powers: a spiritual healer and medium." Thanks for the condescending definition, Britain! I don't claim to have any special powers per se, but something that may be considered a "power" is what has prompted this post.

Mainly, I use bodywork-focused methods to help my patients. I am a Medical Massage Therapist, Yoga Therapist and Reiki Master. I'm trained in a variety of other things, including Ayurvedic Medicine, but day to day, I like to get my hands onto the bodies and figure out what is going on. But if you really were to do an analysis of what I do for my patients, I would say that treating soft tissue is the least of what I do. What it means to be a healer is something I’ll cover in detail in another post.

Today, I want to talk about something that is happening during bodywork sessions. But first, a story, quelle surprise! When I first got formally trained in massage therapy, one of our first lessons was developing touch sensitivity to different structures in the body. What does skin feel like? Connective tissue? Muscle? Bone? This is the first thing we have to know. I took to it immediately. Truly, I’d been doing massage since I was a wee one, so this wasn’t new.

As I began to practice professionally, my patients gave me lots of positive feedback. Being able to accurately palpate the correct spots made it easy for me to be a good massage therapist. From there, I began to be able to find the painful areas quickly. "That’s where it hurts, how did you know?" "You’ve found my pain!" Things along those lines. While I’m flattered, it’s usually quite easy to do. The person will tell me where they feel pain, then my training tells me where to look and most of the time, voila! A big knot!

Sometimes, it’s not so easy. Sometimes when I look in the most probable area, I don’t find anything.
Other times, I find tension that ought to be causing pain, but the patient says that it doesn’t hurt. And yet other times, the patient doesn’t give me specific information. They’ll vaguely wave and say “my back hurts” or “everything hurts”. Occasionally I even get patients who say they aren’t in pain at all.

But somehow, I always find it. Oh sure, there have been a handful of times I couldn’t find the pain, or I wasn’t able to help at all. Almost always, though, I just…find it. So how does this happen?

For a long time, I would answer simply: I don’t know. Then I assumed it was just my knowledge of anatomy and good training, with maybe a bonus from experience. The next stage was feeling as if it was intuition. Then, I began to feel as if my hands led me to where I needed to be. This made a lot of sense to me as an energy healer – Reiki energy is said to have an intelligence of its own. The energy knows where it needs to go. As a Reiki practitioner, I act as a channel for the energy. Ergo, something directs me.

Lately, something else is happening. I am finding that when I close my physical eyes, I can see more clearly what is happening in my patients’ bodies. This is something new. Earlier in my career, I could feel things well when I blocked out distractions. Now it has become visual.

What I see is hard to describe. It’s still on the dark and murky side, though I have a feeling this may change over time. It’s as if I can see the texture of their muscles and connective tissue. The best part of it at this point is that I can see where to put my hands. In fact, that’s how I began to become aware of what is happening.

I noticed that in bodywork sessions, I had naturally begun to close my eyes. Yet, I still knew how to avoid things like ringlets of hair, the legs of my massage table, bony structures and so on. I knew where to put my feet, how to position my body and where to put my hands.

At first, I thought that I just knew my massage room quite well, like a blind person would. Being of a scientific mindset, I resolved to test myself. Recently, I’ve acquired a new job and a new office. I don’t know it well yet. Could I still do my thing? Yes. In unfamiliar surroundings, still I could see.

So what is going on here? Initially, I thought it was simple clairvoyance:

"The meaning of the word clairvoyance is 'clear seeing.' and this refers to the ability to see psychic visions. Psychic visions are the type of communication that your spirit guide sends to you if you have the gift of clairvoyance."*

I already see visions from time to time, and that does feel like I’m receiving information from beyond the veil. Whether it’s from a guide, an ancestor or the Akashic Records, I don’t know. But that clearly feels like…almost like an email. Someone/thing sent me a message.

This feels different. It’s like a sense…just a sense beyond the ordinary five. It’s not quite the same as seeing with my eyes open. There’s some flavor of differentness about it. Like I’m seeing literal reality plus some layers of additional information.

At this point, I can only hypothesize that I’m seeing with inner vision, using my third eye. The theory here is that our third eye chakra is linked to the pineal gland, which is a vestigial organ located between the two hemispheres of the brain. Spiritual practices like meditation can activate the pineal gland to allow us to see information beyond that of consensual reality.

I hope that one day it develops into spiritual x-ray vision:

"This was the aspect of X-ray vision that was taken up most enthusiastically by occultists and supernaturalists. X-ray vision revealed what occultists had been saying all along, that matter was fundamentally insubstantial, especially when regarded by the transpiercing inner eye. Swâmi Abhedânanda’s How To Be A Yogi (1902) attributed the power of X-ray vision to the enlightened:

They digest their food consciously, as it were. They claim that by a third eye they can, so to speak, see what is going on in their internal organs. Why should this seem incredible to us when the discovery of the Roentgen rays has proved everything to be transparent? (Abhedânanda 1902, 47)"****

I have heard and read about stories where people could use inner sight to diagnose illnesses. They can look at someone and see what organ is affected, even the locations of tumors and broken bones.

I’m not at that level, by far. It feels very nascent, like a sense in the process of becoming. In fact, if I wasn’t blogging regularly, I would likely have not become aware of it so soon. It would be added to the list of things I have unconsciously done for years.

What happens next, I don’t know. I am hoping that this inner sight continues to develop. I’m also hoping that the third eye tension headaches I used to suffer from were an indication of growth, as I have also read is the case for some people. It makes sense to think that is true. These forehead aches have been happening in the past five years, which has been a time of explosive healing and growth for me.

If you have experience with this phenomenon, I’d love to hear from you. Comments most welcome!

* http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1466870/
*** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_eye
**** http://stevenconnor.com/xray/xray.pdf
The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Excellence Above All

The Pagan Experience: Wk 4- Mar. 23- Any writing for the letters E or F.

Over the years, I have blogged many times about my values. While not an overtly Pagan topic, my values as a human being certainly shape my spiritual path. As a human being who is interested in continual growth and evolution, it's a good idea to revisit values periodically. They do change over time, and I would venture to say, with gains in maturity.

Chief among my values is arete. Arete is a Greek word that roughly translates to excellence, but it also encompasses more complexity as well. Arete is associated with morality - one must embody the cardinal virtues to be truly excellent. Arete is also associated with purpose - the idea that a thing is excellent if it is fulfilling its potential and purpose.

Arete is also a feeling. Artists and athletes know this feeling, though they may not have a word for it. When I pull back my bow and release the arrow, I know when the shot is perfect. When I write a haiku and re-read it, a tiny arrow of arete pierces my heart. I know it's good, better than good, right. I can feel that same excellence, that simple, pure and right feeling in a properly executed Yoga asana, in a song, in ritual or in love.

I go one step further and associate the concept of arete with the Japanese concept of shibumi. Shibumi is roughly translated as simplicity, but it too is much more than that. Shibumi is essence. Shibumi is what is left when one carves away all that is not essential. And of course, what IS left when you get to the core of a person or an action? Excellence. Arete. That which IS essential. That which is real, and pure, and true.

Excellene and arete are also associated with the concept of quality. Quality is defined as "the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something." Quality is almost a synonym for arete, but it also contains implications about objects and processes that are slightly different.

Let me tell you a quick story: one year, I attended the Eno River Festival. While wandering through the vendors, I happened upon a jewelry designer's booth. I scanned through their lovely wares, and a ring with a black stone caught my eye. Of everything they had, this was the piece I would buy if I could. Good choice, the artist said. That's a $9000 black diamond ring, my most expensive piece. At the time, I didn't know that black diamonds existed. I just recognized the quality of the piece. This has happened over and over in my life. It's a superpower, if you will. It's not about price, but about the intrinsic quality. I can spot it easily and unerringly. I couldn't, however, also tell you why.

Just like arete, which I associate most with actions, the quality or excellence of objects is something that can be recognized and felt, though it may not be so easy to define or quantify. We know when it's there, and we also know when it is not. The things we do can be full of quality and excellence naturally, when we are in a good place in our being. Ever try to make dinner when you're angry? Did you accidentally cut yourself or burn the food? Ever try to play a sport when you're upset? That's when I miss the mark in archery. So you could say that arete, excellence and quality are not things you do, or things you create, but instead is what you are. The way that you exist.

“You’ve got to live right, too. It’s the way you live that predisposes you to avoid the traps and see the right facts. You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally. That’s the way all the experts do it. The making of a painting or the fixing of a motorcycle isn’t separate from the rest of your existence. If you’re a sloppy thinker the six days of the week you aren’t working on your machine, what trap avoidance, what gimmicks, can make you all of a sudden sharp on the seventh? It all goes together ... The real cycle you're working in is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be "out there" and the person that appears to be "in here" are not two separate things. They grow toward Qaulity or fall away from Quality together.” 
― Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Excellence is what I care about most.  I know when I'm existing in alignment with my purpose. I know when I am fulfilling my potential. I know when I am living in harmony with the Divine and with Nature. That feeling of arete, of shibumi, of excellence and quality…it makes my whole being sing. I know I'm on the right path when I feel it.

To me, this is everything.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Spring is almost here!

Spring is bursting out all over here in central North Carolina. Daffodils dot the sides of our country roads, the river is high, the Bradford pears are blooming and the grass is growing lush. My tribe of farm kitties has already been through the mating season and they now are rolling around contentedly in the Spring sun. Ostara is in just two days and I couldn't be more excited for the official launch of this most auspicious season!

The fresh air of spring
And the strong tug of the earth
I walk with the trees
-yours truly, 4/9/12

This is the time to plant the seeds, both literal and figurative, that we wish to nurture this year. We’ve dreamed about them in the sacred dark of Winter. At Imbolc, we cleansed away the unnecessary to create space for the new. We dedicated ourselves to the work of this year to bring these intentions to light. Now it is Ostara, the dawn of Spring. Our attention energizes our dreams, and our intention transforms them to reality. So mote it be!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Divine Relationship

The Pagan Experience - Wk 3 – Mar. 16 – Deity and the Divine - What is your relationship with the Divine? Is it devotional? Collaborative? An agreement of reciprocity? How does this engagement flow into your mundane relationships? Or does it?

The last five years, I have immersed myself deeply in spiritual community. As a result, I have learned the most interesting and unexpected things. More and more, I am forming a picture of my life that is utterly foreign to my experience of it.

From the inside, my life has felt rocky. I am a survivor of many traumatic experiences. So many things were taken from me, things that are impossible to get back or to forget. Through it all, I have been driven to heal, learn and achieve.

I have felt intensely alone for most of my life. From my strange biological family to my rollercoaster of a love life, my many acquaintances to my intellectual isolation…I have felt alone. For all my spiritual yearning, seeking and practice, I have still felt alone. 

During these five years, especially in preparation for my formal vows of priestesshood, I have looked back at all of the insane risks that I have taken…and I can’t help but see a pattern. I have been forced to admit that I have a strong protector or two looking out for me. 

How else could I have survived years of reckless partying? Yes, I was a wild child. Many are the sunrises I saw because I had yet to go to sleep. I’ve experimented with many dangerous substances and have come out unscathed. I have a sparkling clean record, good health and all of my mental faculties. Few could say the same.

How else could I have survived my many outdoor adventures? I have deliberately put myself in harm’s way countless times. I’ve never had a death wish, but I have experienced years of numbness and isolation. Pushing myself to the limit (and occasionally beyond) has been very therapeutic. Yet I’ve never sustained a serious injury or experienced any serious consequences for all my hijinks.

How else could I have made it in general? How did I survive years of emotional abuse, rape, molestation, genteel poverty, family tragedy and general chaos…if not for the Gods? To have come through so many challenges as a whole, self-aware, educated and positive human being…viewed in this light, it seems impossible, miraculous.

As a scientific mystic, a dreamer with a pragmatic mind…I am reminded of Occam’s Razor: when one eliminates the impossible, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. For me, I can only conclude that my life has been a series of miracles arranged by some type of intelligence for the purpose of forming me into a major force for good in this world.

Yet it hasn’t seemed that way on the inside. No, on the inside, I wasn’t really and truly aware of how different my life has been. I was simply living it. Most of the time, I have been in survival mode – not looking too far ahead, just treading water. Tap dancing from one crisis to another.

Every month, I talk about my path with others and I see new ways in which my life has been different. With every blog post I write, I am forced to confront more of the truth. I’m not a normal person.

I have written this post three times. Each time, I get to the critical point and freeze. Each time, I delete the hard parts, the scary parts, the bits of my path that make me worry about how others will view them.

The real truth is this: I’m a Guru in training, in the Yogic sense of the term. I’m a High Priestess, in all senses of the word. I don’t have a relationship with the Gods so much as I have a life they have been kind enough to allow me to think is mine.

Even writing this here on my laptop, disconnected from the Internet…this is a hard thing for me. The experiences that have made me who I am today were tragic, heartbreaking, soul-shattering and ego deflating. I didn’t suffer from low self-esteem. No, I had to learn what self-esteem was and then painstakingly cultivate it.

Other survivors of abuse will know what I mean when I say that even today, I overthink 99% of my actions. I consider the rightness of a given action through the lens of personal ideals and what is acceptable in society. But then I take that extra step – is the person in front of me right? Am I wrong? Am I crazy? Is this person crazy?

Coming from that background, no wonder it is hard to write about myself and my relationship with the Divine. But here we are. I have lived an intensely magical and spiritual life. I have been guided and protected at every turn. I am a channel of the Divine, especially in the practice of healing. I have made love with more than one Deity, and in fact, good sex for me…the best sex, is when the Goddess takes over. The Goddess has worked through me in ritual. Others have even described me as an avatar. I wouldn't presume to describe myself this way, especially not when I still have a mundane life. I'm not immersed in Divine bliss 24/7/365! 

So when you ask me what my relationship with Deity is…I must honestly say that it's a close one. Perhaps even a lack of boundaries type of closeness…it's like looking at your own nose. It's too close to see. 

Sometimes I think I went about this business of spiritual enlightenment backwards. Students of Yoga know that the first step to enlightenment, which is just a fancy way of saying "union with the Divine", is breaking down the ego. I have spent my life not in loosening the moorings of the ego, but in finding my individuality. Finding my separate-ness. Finding who *I* am outside of what has happened to me.

Certainly this relationship with the Divine flows into my mundane relationships. I try to support and help those around me. I love everybody, sometimes embarrassingly so. Friends, lovers, family and clients are no doubt annoyed at times when I can't refrain from giving advice or helpful tips, when I wander off into the woods, when I've been meditating FOREVER or when I just can't resist adding kale to every dish. Go easy on me, gang. Sometimes I need those around me to bring me back to the light of the here-and-now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

As Above, So Below

Mar. 9 - Week 2 - As Above, So Below – What do you seek from the Divine? How is that reflected in the mundane? Where do you find your place of synthesis?

As Above, So Below…this is a phrase uttered by many a magical practitioner. What does it really mean? This is a classic case of science catching up to spiritual knowledge. I love the fact that we live in an age when we are proving that the sages, witches, rishis, alchemists and medicine people are speaking literally about the nature of reality.

The maxim as phrased here comes from Hermetic mysticism. From wikipedia: "translated by Dennis W. Hauck from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, is: "That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing."[28] Thus, whatever happens on any level of reality (physical, emotional, or mental) also happens on every other level."

All at once, we are saying that there is more than one level of reality AND that the realities are causally linked.

Another way to talk about this is the macrocosm and the microcosm of our holographic universe. The whole of existence is a 3-D projection, so to speak. It has solidity and reality to those within it, yet it is made of space and energy. And just like a hologram, the whole of existence is within the smallest unit of life.

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour."

-William Blake

The other major way of talking about this concept is in terms of the Divine. That being the case, we can imagine that we are extensions of the Divine’s senses. We are Her eyes, ears, and body. She sees through us and feels our experiences. Sometimes the Gods work through us, accomplishing their unfathomable goals on Earth. But we too have the power of creation. We have agency, the ability to choose our reality.

As a grain of sand in an extremely large, possibly infinite co-creative and ever-expanding Universe, my job is to experience things and to make choices. Endlessly, every day of our lives, we choose and act. All of our thoughts, words, postures and deeds, they shape our reality. These acts of will are real, just as the wind and the rain are real and create effects in the world.

As above, so below. We envision our desires in sacred space, working in the hallways of always, so to speak. Our waking reality shifts and changes in response. What is above, in the Dreamtime/spirit realm/super-reality/altered state…(call it what you will) becomes what is below, in our mundane consensual reality. The Universe, enlivened by the Divine, creates and modifies endlessly. And so do we.

I was asked during Yoga teacher training to formulate a personal mission statement - an expression of my dharma, or purpose, here on Earth. Though it took me some moments to formulate the words, I knew. I have been lucky enough to know my purpose for most of my life.

”With excellence and honor, I inspire, protect, teach and heal those in need.”

There is my synthesis. This is how I embody the Divine in my mundane life. I study and explore, ever seeking and experiencing life as fully as I can manage. I use my learnings to help others along the way.

I am deeply grateful for this life, given to me by the Divine. I give them full honor in my hall. Raise the horn high. Drink the sacred mead and be merry that the Gods may do so as well. Hail to the Gods! Blessed be and Namaste!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Knowledge, Wisdom, Gnosis

Week 1 – March 2 – Knowledge, Wisdom and Gnosis – What do these words mean to you? How do you express these principles in your spiritual work? Is any one more important than the other? Why?

This is a fascinating question! Knowledge, wisdom and gnosis work together to guide and balance my spiritual practice. In a broader sense, these three concepts form my viewpoint upon the world.

Knowledge is the objective understanding and mastery of facts. I know that the sky is blue because of the way that light is scattered in the atmosphere and because the atmosphere absorbs wavelengths in the blue portion of the spectrum. That’s a factual framing of this information. I (mostly) understand this fact, so you can say that this is something I know.

One thing I love about my path is the fact that knowledge is essential, and my interest directs what sort of knowledge I should obtain. I would also argue that my thirst for knowledge is a big part of why I am a Pagan to begin with. As a shamanic witch, there are a lot of techniques to master. But which ones? That’s up to me. There is no one book or authority telling me what to study. I get to decide what facts are important to my practice.

“I am merely a seeker after knowledge, taking the world for my province, for it seems all knowledge is interrelated, and each science is dependent to some extent on the others. We study the stars that we may know more about our earth, and herbs that we may know medicine better.”
-The Walking Drum, Louis L’Amour

Wisdom is experience and understanding how and when to apply facts. Having spent a large portion of my life outdoors, I know that the sky is usually blue during the day. The particular color blue depends on the time of day, location and weather. I also teach summer camp. Having gained a bit of wisdom here and there, I know that when the children ask why the sky is blue, I’ll have to come up with a more accessible explanation than Rayleigh scattering and wavelength absorption. It would also behoove me to understand whether or not they actually need an answer, or whether they would benefit more from finding that answer themselves.

Wisdom is honored in the Pagan tradition. We value our elders, and continue the oral traditions of our ancestors by teaching and mentoring others newer on the journey. This is certainly true for me – if I have a situation that I don’t know how to handle, I consult my high priestess and close circle of magical colleagues. Wisdom is powerful because in one sense, it is knowledge that has withstood the test of being filtered through many people. Wisdom and knowledge are interrelated in this way – wisdom contains knowledge but is distilled from it in the way that grapes produce both wine and grappa.

“Apply knowledge with wisdom.”
      13 Goals of a Witch by Scott Cunningham, adapted by many

Gnosis is deep personal knowing based on mystical experience. In the Pagan world, we often discuss UPGs, or Universal Personal Gnosis – epiphanies or peak experiences that lead to this inner knowledge. I have experienced gnosis about the blue of the sky. Lying on a mountaintop, I have felt bathed and dissolved in the deep blue of the high country sky. I don’t know that I understand why the sky is blue as a result of gnosis, but I know that it is. I have experienced the blueness of the blue sky and it intoxicated me with bliss.

clouds flutter across
an endless blue winter sky
I long to join them!
-       Yours truly, 2004

As a mystical tradition, Paganism has deep roots in gnosis. Most of us do consult outside sources of information about our Gods, the elements, and energy. But to build relationships with these things, to use these things to make magic…that requires gnosis. One must personally experience magic to use it. Belief is essential in my work, and through gnosis, I have no choice but to believe. The gnosis I have experienced over and over have shown me that there is far more to reality than what is perceived with the five basic senses.

In my practice, knowledge, wisdom and gnosis are all essential. They are interrelated, but they also serve to balance one another. Wisdom can be thought of as the fulcrum on a pair of scales. One on side is the subjective experience of gnosis. On the other is the objective knowledge gained through intellect. Wisdom balances the two and helps me decide when to use what feels right to me and when to consult a reference.

Due to the essential nature of all three concepts, I don’t think that one is more important than another. I could make an argument that critical thinking and an understanding of how to learn is more important than these three. Without that foundation, it is easy to get lost. Reference books and subject matter experts often disagree. How then, is one to decide what is valid? That’s another blog post!

As for me, I plan to continue to learn, to continue experiencing and hopefully, with a little luck, continue to gain wisdom.