So, once again I am on the brink of leaving my ‘regular’ life behind to leap into the abyss and explore some more of what this crazy, beautiful planet has to offer. It has been such a journey getting to this point, and it still feels strange. I am a bundle of emotions – sadness and grief at what I’m leaving behind and might yet lose, yet wonder that this sadness is only there because of the deep love and gratitude that lies beneath it. And of course there is huge excitement, joyful curiosity and fear in the mix too – I often feel I’m in the middle of a furious maelstrom of emotions these days, yet there’s a deep strength underlying it all, and I seem able to stand firm and trusting at its still-point centre, even when my mind can’t possibly explain what’s going on!
Many people have asked me what I’m doing this year, and sometimes also asking, ‘why?’. It’s a natural question, and one I’ve struggled to answer. I’ve struggled in part because I am shy to bring my explorations out into the open. And I’ve also struggled because my mind can’t make sense of what I’m doing – it can’t rationalise it, put it into a tidy, neat box and justify it. So I’m often left without many words, just a sheepish look and a helpless shrug. But I know that I need to lose the sheepishness and instead own and honour what I’m doing without fear of judgement and without any feelings of embarrassment or shame. Why? Because I am following a deep, deep instinct. It is that crazy, inexplicable thing that we all have, if we can only quieten the mind long enough to listen: intuition. No, I can’t explain it in my head, but I feel it deeply in my heart and gut and it’s impossible to ignore. Sometimes we have to leap, even when we don’t know why. And in that leap of faith, that act of surrender and trust, invisible arms appear to support us and carry us to the other side, from where we will look back and see the method in the madness, the thread of truth through running through the mists of confusion.
So what am I doing with myself this winter? Well, firstly, I am revisiting a beautiful and magical retreat centre in Inverness (www.anamcara.org) where I attended a course recently, entitled ‘Plant Spirit Medicine’, which signalled my first ‘official’ foray into shamanic practices. I have been drawn to shamanism for many years, pretty much since I began my inner questing in earnest, and it has become increasingly obvious that, through my own inner journey, of which connection to nature is a massive part, I’ve adopted many of its practices intuitively and naturally, without ever having ‘learnt’ these, and I think this is its appeal. To me, shamanism is an umbrella term for intuitive, innate and timeless healing wisdom that comes from connecting deeply with the land and with yourself as an integral part of the land. It is no coincidence that every ancient culture across the globe has some kind of ‘shaman’ healer and/or knowledge-keeper as an important member of the community, and that the practices used by shamans across the world are eerily similar. And if these practices are both universal and, seemingly, timeless, then we would be foolish to write them off, especially when so many of our existing systems are so clearly failing us.
Shamanism is about bridging the gap between the seen and unseen realms, and honouring every living thing as equally sacred. This is a path I’ve been walking anyway, but now I’m ready to give it some kind of framework, and I have found the perfect teacher at Anam Cara, and the perfect place to immerse myself in the sacred celebration of the land. I will be volunteering at the centre for around six weeks, and hope to learn more about running retreats and managing a large piece of land, which follows permaculture principles, as well as exploring community living again, as these are all things that I am very interested in and that I think will become increasingly woven into the mainstream as humanity opens its eyes once again to the old ways, and rekindles a longing for deep connection to land that is crying out to be fed within us.
Then, after six weeks of retreat living in Scotland, I am off to India to, firstly, study astrology via the medium of dance (yes, really), and then immerse myself in yoga for a couple of months. Again, I’ve felt sheepish confessing this newfound love of astrology to people, but it’s a passion that has found me. It has grown within me stealthily until, like the shamanism, I feel it’s time to honour it by dedicating time, money and energy to learning more. Just like the shamanism, it’s an ancient, timeless practice – the alignment of ancient sites with constellations is but one of many illustrations of how our ancestors valued astrology as a potent science. And, like shamanism, it has grown within me as a natural, intuitive extension of my persona rather than as a conscious intellectual exercise. I literally feel the effects of the planetary movements on my being, and my studies into it are more affirmative than illuminating, just like the shamanism, although of course I realise there is so much to learn – again, hence the need to delve into this world and provide a framework of sorts for the intuitive wisdom that is gradually being remembered within me. I feel these different worlds are all just facets of the same complex totality of existence, but we need some form within the freedom, and the mind likes to learn, even if the heart and spirit already know it all. Like all things in life, it’s all about the balance.
So why have I felt reluctant to share my new direction with people? Fear of negative judgement of course. Fear that my yoga students will drop away, thinking I’m becoming too weird and far-out hippy. Fear that friends will disown me for the same reason. Fear, fear, fear…
The thing is, this fear is abating fast. Of course, it’s still there. But I now understand that if I don’t honour and respect my decisions then how can I possibly expect others to do so? Furthermore, I now place personal authenticity above feeling the need to please others. Because I have finally realised that the only way I can ever please others is by being true to myself first. And I know that I have to teach my truth too, and that this is the greatest honour I can give my students. I’ve always struggled with the ‘teacher’ label anyway – I just want to share my passions with those keen to learn, that’s all. So I have to allow my teaching to grow as I do.
And, here’s the funny thing. It’s all yoga anyway! I have always struggled to fit myself into any kind of box – I resist labels when I can, and it’s been a long journey to accept that yoga is a big enough container for my personal growth. But yoga means union, which means bringing everything together, and in this I can believe. Yoga is taking us towards the experiential understanding that we are all one and the unconditional love that follows such a revelation, and in this I also believe.
And, as I learn more, I see how shamanism and yoga are but two sides of an infinitely multi-faceted coin, and I notice that references to astrology appear as aspects of the ‘siddhis’ (special powers that committed yogis will start to eventually experience) in Patanjali’s yoga sutras (III.26-III.28). I used to think the siddhis were all-out bonkers, but these days they just seem a very natural part of expansion of consciousness, which any kind of healing/inner work is contributing to – but the proof will always be in the pudding (hurrah for puddings); all the great truth teachings are merely affirmative of your own experiential findings – we have all the answers we need within us already. And all great ‘teachers’ will just remind us of this and help us to extract them. As one of my recent teachers/mentors said, ‘we are the Patanjalis of our time’. So I think my forays into shamanism and astrology are actually very much a positive sign that yoga is working for me. And, it’s all one anyway, so I don’t even know why I’m quibbling… 😉
So, this doesn’t mean my weekly yoga classes will now include astrological discussions or shamanic rituals, but it does mean I might occasionally weave these into my teachings, if it seems to fit, which it does surprisingly often. And it does mean that I continue to expand and grow my body of knowledge and experience in a way that feels intuitively right to me, and this is surely one of the best teachings I can give to others; to be true to yourself, to follow what makes your soul sing and your curiosity soar with joyful excitement. And, more than this, to follow that deep, deep knowing within you, even when it makes no sense at all.