2. Giving up the struggle (Sacred Valley)
I came to Peru out of a feeling of inevitability that I cannot explain. Even now. The idea was first planted in the garden of my desire in 2016, when I collaborated with Shipibos to organize ayahuasca ceremonies in Berlin. As an exchange, they invited me to an indigenous village near Pucallpa, to live and train with them. But things intervened, and life unfolded in its own uncanny direction, which is more intelligent than the best laid plans. My parents were already very ill – for the last two years of his life my father had become an invalid after a stroke, and my mother was caring for him as a full-time nurse, despite obvious signs of Alzheimer’s. I had strange, recurring dreams of being in a mountain village of hobbit houses, my father beckoning me to enter, saying, “Come, it’s time.” I intuited that things had reached a desperate turning point, and that I had to go to Romania to help my parents. I stayed for 18 months; they both died within a year of each other. It felt like I was saying goodbye not just to my parents or my childhood home, but to a cycle that had constructed the deepest layers of my identity. And after 9 years of living in Berlin, freshly divorced and in a limbo of uncertainty about my current path and life purpose, it seemed like it was also time to let go of the history that shaped my most recent ideas of who and what I was. (more…)
1. Navigating the Bardo (prologue)
The years have passed, but the moment remains with me. Not as memory, but as an eternal present spiraling back on itself, suspended in the gaps of time. On that fateful spring day in Berlin, in 2016, as I lay dying … I heard his voice call to me. It seemed very distant, as if coming from behind a door marking an unbridgeable threshold.
For what seemed like an interminable stretch of agony, I had been lying in a primaeval swamp, feeling my body-mind disintegrating, as if small molecules were breaking off and being swallowed, absorbed, by the swamp. There were multitudes of greenish-brown fractal creatures swirling and dancing in the liquid muck, simultaneously outside and inside me. I heard a loud, high-pitched noise, which reminded me of a dentist’s drill, or more like the buzzing of electrified, mechanical flies. I suspected it was really the sound of my own dissolution, as the center holding me together was spinning and releasing fragments in a centrifugal movement. I felt like I was caught in a loop, going back and forth between struggling to resist and allowing myself to be taken by the swamp thing. (more…)
My dear ones, my lost children of darkness and light. I come from your present and future past, from all that you have been, and from your hopes and dreams. I have been calling you for a long time, but your ears were deaf to my song.
Perhaps you have found your way to me after a dark night of the soul. I cannot promise to deliver you into the light. But I can sit with you, for a while, as you learn to light your own candles. And it is possible that your night will get darker still, and that you will need to carry many candles before the dawn appears. (more…)
(This is a very different kind of text, and I had some initial hesitations about posting it because it’s simply a practical handout for one of my workshops, rather than the crafted, quasi-poetic essays I’ve usually written. But perhaps its practicality makes it that much more relevant – so I’m sharing it in the hope that the ideas, exercises and guided meditations described in it will find their resonance in the right hands, and hearts…)
The essence of shamanism is dreaming; all the different external rituals of shamanic traditions are secondary. Shamanic dreaming is a wake up call from our habitual sleepwalking, or what Charles Tart called our “consensus trance” … into a non-ordinary reality, in which thoughts communicate with each other like filaments of light, bodies morph and become animal, plant and mineral, and humans soar on the wings of eagles to pluck sacred symbols from the clouds. Australian aborigines describe this non-ordinary reality as dreamtime. In the Mohawk language, a shaman is called dreamer, or “ratetshents.” The original Siberian word “šamán” means one who is lifted up in ecstatic trance to receive the gift of gnosis. Gnosis has a double aim: attaining inner sovereignty by recognizing and integrating one’s subpersonalities and dark shadows, and a direct download of cosmic consciousness, or what in magical-esoteric traditions is called communion with one’s higher self. (more…)
“When you resent a man, you become his slave. He wrecks your meals, destroys your peace of mind and stalks you everywhere. He is with you when you’re awake and invades your dreams when you sleep. He’s beside you when you’re at work and goes along on your vacations. He might even steal your last moment of consciousness before you die…” – Anonymous
Resentment is a feeling of bitter indignation for having been treated unfairly, a judgment that others have hurt us or fucked us over or haven’t done enough for us. It arises because anger isn’t expressed and discharged directly, as an immediate emotional-energetic response to some event that is happening in the present. When the energy of anger remains bottled up, it keeps re-feeding on itself, or regurgitating, and turns into resentment. That is the root of the word resent, to re-feel the original pain without discharging or releasing it. Because the emotional energy remains bottled up and festers, when a person we resent does something that annoys or hurts us, we tend to over-react even when it is something minor because it is not really about what’s happening in the present, it’s a re-hashed, confused jumble of memories and partly felt emotions of other imagined or real offenses all piled into a single maelstrom. (more…)
Conditioning, noun: influencing, shaping, constraining, controlling; bringing something into a usable state by preparing, adapting, softening; changing behavior by rewarding or punishing each time an action is performed. We’re all familiar with Pavlov’s example of conditioning – by ringing a bell simultaneously with the feeding of test dogs, he trained the dogs to salivate at the mere ringing of the bell even if they could not see the food. Conditioning is easy to explain neurologically, as a biochemical response. The satisfaction of a bodily need or the discharge of an emotional tension leads to a release of hormones (like adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine in the case of fear, or dopamine and oxytocin in the case of pleasure), and to changes in the sensitivity of nerve cells. As an axon repeatedly fires to a cell, the cell is more easily stimulated each subsequent time because a neural pathway is established. An automatic reflex or unconscious response is formed, which is no longer subject to control by the will. Conceptually and emotionally, it’s more difficult to explain the complex conditioning of human behavior, since it begins to take shape before language and memory develop and has to be inferred backwards, from its effects. (more…)
As a response the Facebook page that I started as a companion for this blog, a friend wrote me that what she enjoyed reading the most were the definition-like entries for individual terms like will, friendship, intimacy, shadow … and joked that I should compile them into an alternative dictionary. I thought it wasn’t a bad idea, and so I did. Fool’s Dictionary (https://foolsdictionary.wordpress.com) is something in between Profane Light, with its long, reflective essays, and the Facebook page, with its frequent bursts of fragments, musings and incidental remarks – although there’s a kind of loose promiscuity between all three. I chose the word “fool” for the suggestive associations of the archetype. The fool inhabits a topsy-turvy world, sometimes playing the court jester who speaks the truth to power, at other times betraying the carefree innocence of a child who is unschooled in the language and conventions of the adult world. (more…)
Car horns are blaring in the distance, the sky is intermittently lit by small sparks firing off in anticipation, bodies on the streets are scurrying around in an agitated frenzy of last minute shopping, and most people I know are busy deliberating which event to choose for the compulsory festivities of the “big night.” After indulging, somewhat mechanically, in this repetitive, noisy ritual for decades, I began to reflect on the meaning of New Year’s Eve. Although I was convinced that it was a modern, semi-Christian ritual, some digging revealed its pagan origins. The earliest new-year-type celebrations occurred in Mesopotamia around 2000 BC, in the form of eleven-day festivities at the time of the spring equinox in March, which coincided, symbolically, with the season of rebirth. January 1st was adopted as a marker of the New Year in 46 BC, when Julius Caesar officially codified the 12 month solar-based calendar (it was already in place for some time, but not observed), replacing the ancient 10 month calendar that was based on moon cycles. The first month of the new calendar was displaced from March to the newly invented January, which derived its name from Janus, the god of gates and doors, who had two faces, one looking backwards and the other turned forward. (more…)
Aurora, the dawn, the princess of light and goodness who is blessed by fairies to always have a smile on her face, has a dark, malefic shadow. When Aurora meets Maleficent (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYemY3xFsB4), she says, “I know who you are. You’ve been watching me my whole life. Your shadow has been following me ever since I was small.” She invites the shadow to come out from the dark forest so she can look upon her face. Maleficent answers “then you’ll be afraid.” In this short but brilliant pre-release teaser clip (which doesn’t correspond to the actual timeline of events in the film), when Maleficent steps out from the darkness, a wall of thorns immediately rises up around the enchanted forest, separating the shadow world of dark, mythical creatures from the human kingdom of light. It sounds like a perfect Jungian account of our first encounter with the shadow – when we first get a glimpse of parts of ourselves that frighten us and we habitually repress, we erect impassible walls to keep them out. (more…)
This is a longer re-vision of an earlier text on the inner power of will and the discipline of willpower. The dream chronicled in the original post was actually a vision I had in a meditation (or more like a shamanic journey), which re-occurred a second time with some changes that allowed me to see further connections. This re-vision clarifies a few ideas that remained vague in the original post and also adds some new elements that deepen the reflection by linking it to the concept of the will in the hermetic tradition of magic that I wrote about in my most recent post, “The lost art of transmutation.” During a presentation in Berlin that was based on the transmutation text, I showed a well-known clip from The Empire Strikes Back – Luke Skywalker, when confronted with an extremely difficult challenge, mutters under his breath “Ok, I’ll give it a try,” and zen master Yoda replies “No! Try not. Do. Or do not! There is no try.” Yoda is speaking about the will from a magical perspective, which he links to the fact that we are “luminous beings” who can harness “the force.” But, on the contrary, I would say that in the ordinary perception that makes up the consensus trance we habitually call reality, there is a lot of “try” – trying is, in fact, what most people do best (and sometimes they manage to succeed, in short bursts, to push themselves into fulfilling their attempts). But there is very little doing of the kind Yoda means, of setting an intention and then having the action – even an action of seemingly impossible proportions, like lifting a spaceship out of a swamp – flow smoothly and effortlessly, from an inner power, without resistance … (more…)