Spirituality

Ayahuasca diaries: letter from a forgotten grandmother

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…)

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Shamanic Self-therapy (workshop)

(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…)

The luminous will

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…)

The lost art of transmutation (intro to Magic in Everyday Life)

“We all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out.” – Robert McCammon

I remember when I was six years old and I saw my first magic film. It was a cinematic adaptation of a Russian fairy tale about Ruslan and Ludmila. I was absorbed by the screen and transported into an enchanted forest inhabited by tree sprites, fire spirits, mermaids with painted skin and green hair, talking birds and dancing bears. I was there alongside the princess Ludmila, when she was abducted by a sorcerer-dwarf with an enormous white beard, when she fought off his army of elvish-blue guards with silk pillows, and when she escaped into a forest of white reef corals, and made her way across a bridge of floating ice. I didn’t understand much about epic battles between good and evil, but I knew that I didn’t like the sorcerer-dwarf and that I felt immediately drawn to the wise, old magician who lived in the forest and could communicate with the animals and resurrect the fallen hero with the elixir of life. (more…)

Then, now … and all along

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” – Rumi

Dust rises up from my tires in the rear-view mirror. Ahead, a hazy mirage unfolds, the air heavy with distilled time, which shifts the desert landscape like ripples. Horizontal emptiness, sand and shrubbery stretch out as far as the eye can see. Not a road sign anywhere. I know I’m on route 1258 and that it’s supposed to connect to 655, but an eternity has passed without any intersection. I stop and put the car in park so I can look at my map. The letters and numbers have shrunk, becoming too small for me to read. I bring the map closer to my face to examine it. And then I hear his voice, saying, give me the map. Suddenly he’s in the passenger seat next to me. I hand him the map, timidly, and he rolls down the window and flings it out. I want to protest but all that comes out is a half-audible whimper, I’m lost. He says, lost is just an interpretation. Let your eyes and ears flow into the vastness of the desert, marvel at the trees with the green, pointed spikes that look like they fell down from the moon. Enjoy the intimacy of a moment that will never come again. You’ll get to your destination, eventually. Maybe even sooner than you think. (more…)

The madness of falling in love

I remember when he raced up six flights of stairs, twenty minutes after we had parted, knocking on my door, breathless, to give me the gift of a strange potted plant with rubbery, green flowers. I thought the plant was ugly, but found the gesture beautiful. I remember the first time he washed my feet in a bath of chamomile flowers and sliced lemons. And when he held my hand and helped me climb the rocky cliffs overlooking the Aegean sea, and said, let go of your fears, don’t let the world persuade you that you’re small and you can’t do it. I remember all the times he carried my groceries and my burdens, and performed impulsive acts of generosity, without any reason or expectation. And I felt an infinite appreciation swell in my heart, not because of how he made me feel or what I got out of it, but because he was that kind of person, because of what it revealed about him. In those moments he appeared exalted to me, miraculous. I glimpsed a kind of sacredness in his words, in the way he moved his hands and walked, and in the wrinkles that formed at the corner of his eyes as he smiled at me like a schoolboy with a secret crush. Everything around me – trees, birds, little dogs passing me on the street, people riding their bicycles – began to take on an enchanted glow. It was as if falling in love gave me sanction to be joyful, to break the rules, to abandon my inhibitions, and to become a child again. I felt giddy, danced in parks with my eyes closed, kissed him on street corners and in supermarkets, and held him tightly as he whispered in my ear on the benches of deserted playgrounds. The magic in my heart poured out and filled the four corners of my world. (more…)

Woman, I bow to you

I walked into the basement of an old house, which suddenly transformed into an attic room with a skylight looking out into the universe. I opened the window and climbed out to the roof. There was a metal staircase leading upwards into the stars. After I reached the 10th step, the staircase disappeared under my feet, but I continued to climb, jumping on purple clouds interspersed between the stars. I saw a white, glowing doorway without a door. When I stepped through the treshold to the other side I found myself in an emerald green forest. I heard the sound of a waterfall in the distance, and birds singing all around me. I realized my back was hunched over because I was carrying a heavy bag on my back, a brown burlap sack, like I imagine travelers might have had centuries ago. I walked along a path and came to a crossroad where I saw an old man with long silvery hair and a golden crown. He said, I will take your burden. I told him I didn’t have any burdens. He asked me to remove what was in my burlap sack. I opened it and saw it was a kind of crystal ball – or more like a plastic ball with snowflakes one finds in souvenir shops – in which a film was playing. Actually it was a music video of a Moldovan ballad* I recognized, sung by a type of Robin Hood outlaw (called “Haiduc” in folk stories), pledging his heart and inordinate reverence to a young peasant girl wearing a crown of flowers, who made rivers flow and blades of wheat grow wherever her feet touched the ground. A semi-modern version of an archaic fairy tale, which I found poetic and beautiful. The king said, let it go, and held his hand out for the crystal ball. And something in me cringed, I didn’t want to give it away, it was part of me, and I wanted to carry it even if it was preventing me from walking upright. The king put together some branches and lit a fire by touching them with his finger. He asked me for the ball again, which I reluctantly handed over, and threw it into the fire. It began to melt like the liquid mercury of a thermometer, seeping out in grayish puddles over the ground. He then blew the fire out and walked away with my empty sack, leaving me alone in the forest. (more…)