what is real?

IMG_7164.JPG

Waking from a dream. What is real? I crawl under the crook of Pete’s arm. Nestle in, lay my head on his heart. This is real. I focus in on the details of the room. The morning sun hiding behind the stirring curtain. The warm wind. The whirr of the air-con. The horns on the street below. My breath. My skin. The ache in my neck. The morning. The day. The small smile that softens my face as I remember. This is real.

I hate waking from a bad dream. Or not even a bad dream. Just one with an old friend, someone you once wronged, an unwound knot, a knotty wound, a haunting. Tight around your throat, you wake up agitated and upset. What is real?

This has been my mantra for the last couple of weeks. It came through in a meditation. Perhaps I’d been caught up in some story. I can’t remember but it’s stayed with me. When walking down a hectic Indian street, the only foreigner in town, all eyes on you, it’s easy to feel awkward, different, afraid. Am I too white, too tall, are my bare arms offensive, is it ok to smile, is it appropriate, do I disgust you, am I provoking you, do you hate me. It’s all too easy to project my insecurities onto the blank faces and staring eyes.

What is real? My footsteps. My breath. The layers of noise closing in and pulsing out. The heat. My sweat. The eyes. The people. The people looking at me. This is real. But that is all.

“Watch your thoughts. Feel your feelings”. Wise words from my teacher, Leila. Pulling the two apart helps to keep us present to what is actually happening. It keeps us connected to ourselves. Helps us to steer clear of the storyline and stay on the feeling path. What is true right now? What is real? What are the facts? What is happening in your body? What voice are you listening to? The one in your head or the one that runs deeper. Your intuition or your conditioning? The one that’s coming from the root of your heart or the one that came from someone-somewhere-sometime.

In many yogic traditions, this dance with reality is understood through the concept of Maya. Often translated as appearance, illusion or ignorance, Maya is the veil that covers our real nature. The veils that lead us into storyland and away from centre. Away from our felt state. Away from what is actually happening. For me, meditation is the practice of witnessing the veil lift and fall, lift and fall, as I pulse in and out of centre, as I watch my thoughts and get to know my patterns. This new mantra is part of breaking those patterns, noticing where I get scared, being ok with being scared but staying curious as to who is scaring who. I’m pretty sure, most of the time, I am the one scaring me.

What is real?

It’s deeply grounding and soothing to respond to that question and I can do it anywhere, anytime. When I get stuck in my head or feel anxious about what happened or what might happen, I ask, what is real? I anchor into the sounds, smells, sensations and stimulus. I let them carry me into Presence. I feel my feet, connect to my breath, move into the moment, and ask again, what is real?

 

 

 

The handstand tree

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

Beyond the threshold of our handmade kitchen lies a small garden, and all I can see is the swing and the handstand tree. The sun warms the earth each morning, and calls me to rise up and meet the day. Walking over the cool pebbles, I find myself delighting in the dirt, seated upon a sheepskin rug and draped in a peat coloured blanket. Right hand to heart, left fingertips to panchamama, I sit beneath the open-armed tree and close my eyes while the birds sing me in and the sun melts through sleepy thought-form-fragments of the dream world.

When I open my eyes again, the swing is perfectly still and silently beckons with the promise of flight. I love a good swing and so I go, to-and-fro, under the canopy, before hopping off and clawing my hands into the earth, kicking my legs and turning myself upside down. Its not everyday I let my inner child consciously lead but when you have a swing and a handstand tree, it’s easy to play.

Play.

What if it was all play? What if all of ‘this’ was the universe expressing itself? A cosmic dance that was all for the taking, whether it felt good or shitty or ecstatic or terrifying. What if those moments of sheer frustration and uncertainty could all be seen as part of the play? “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” said the great Carl Sagan and that idea gets me, every time. The Universe isn’t just a pretty place filled with twinkling stars, silvery moons and planets that rain diamonds. It’s fiery and full on and those pretty stars are raging balls of gas and flame. There’s been a tornado on Jupiter that has been stirring its storm for 300 years. The sun, our great star, is both nourishing and destructive. The universe is ever expanding and full of contraction. Our existence is a result of perfect alignment and sheer chance. Space exploded in a cosmic fire and emerged from a point smaller than a single atom. One single atom of potential infinitude. One single atom of endless potential. And there are as many atoms in a single molecule of your DNA as there are stars in a whole galaxy. Now that is a whole lot of potential. Right there. In you.

Life is full of seeming paradoxes but what if we could live inside the whole of it? What if we affirmed all of life and took each and every experience for what it was? Could we allow ourselves to feel our feelings? To wrap our arms around all the parts of ourselves, whether we liked them or not. Could you see the potential that is inside each and every one of those seven billion billion billion atoms that make up the whole of you? You are literally made of potential and at the heart of that potential is the possibility for great joy. To find something that fills you up and helps you taste the nectar of your own being.

In a recent handstand workshop, the playful Hanuman and co-founder of Acroyoga, Jason Nemer, offered up a piece of wisdom that will always stay with me. He said, “fear is, more often than not, unlocked joy.” The fear to dance, sing, play, love, to stand on your hands, peer behind the mask, open your heart, fulfill your potential. Behind that fear is a whole load of joy, just waiting to happen. Behind that fear is endless potentiality. As Neil de Grasse Tyson says in the brilliant Cosmos, “we are, each of us, a living universe”.

There is a swing inside of you that silently beckons, with the promise of full flight. If we can come to delight in the dirt and turn ourselves upside down, we can move beyond our fears to taste the whole of life, in all its nebulous beauty.

look within

ibizaaprilretreat-108.jpg

“In our day-to-day lives, we continually fail to recognize the invisible light that renders the whole visible world luminous.”

John O’Donohue

There is a perennial branch that takes root in the centre of your chest. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, but you can know it. As the world gets louder and the violence rumbles nearer, a revolution is waiting to happen inside of you. Its revolt is patient, its power potent and its voice hushed beneath the anarchy and unrest that already exists inside your own head. Like any uprising, its beginnings are subterranean. Hidden. Only seen and heard if you choose to listen and look. You won’t find it ‘out there’. It is not a quest for stuff and things or for status and admiration. Its nature is less gross, less obvious, less clear. Its subtlety takes you into invisible realms, beyond articulation, explanation and name, but once you dig deep enough, there is no going back. Once you locate the source of this uprising, its deeper wisdom will surge through you and you will know. Unequivocally.

When times are troubling and people are being shot on your doorstep, it can be easy to despair. But as the wise and wonderful Christopher Wallis recently noted, the world is more full than it has ever been. There is more hate, more division, more unrest, more war, more suffering but there is also more love, more unification, more rest, more peace and more healing than there has ever been. There is more of everything, everywhere, all of the time.

Last night, I was deeply moved by the dignity and courage of Kim Leadbetter as she remembered her sister, Jo Cox. Kim spoke of how she had always had a healthy dose of Yorkshire cynicism and instead of speaking about her feelings, she would shout at the telly and get upset behind closed doors. Her sister believed in speaking out. She believed in seeing the good in people. Even when she was receiving abuse from the public, she would remind Kim that we must continue to focus on what unites us, not divides us. We must choose what we amplify. We can focus on the greater good of humanity or the dark inclinations that exist within each and every one of us. We each have both and we can’t have one without the other. In the words of Maya Angelou, there are rainbows in the clouds and sometimes our hearts have to be broken for us to realize how deeply we can feel. And feel, we must. We can talk about darkness, prejudice and suffering. We can point the finger and see these things as external but unless we feel all of it inside of ourselves, we can never truly grow.

If we learn to walk with our own shadows, take responsibility for the part we play in every encounter and relationship, we can begin to rise. We can become more aware of the impact we have on those closest to us. On those we come across in our daily lives. And in the difference we can each make if we each do our own work. If we listen more carefully to what we say, why we say it and where it’s coming from. If we listen to our intuition and that part of us that knows more than we ever give it credit for. Don’t listen to what’s going on out there. Of what he says and she says and Rupert Murdoch wants you to say. Get quiet, listen within and be honest with yourself. The pain is inside. It’s all inside. And when we realize that, we can begin to bring peace to the raging riot we wage upon ourselves. We can move into ourselves, into our fear and return to what was once love. The quest for the answer, for knowledge, for peace, is hidden deep inside of you. The visible world is only half of what we can know. It is in the invisible realms where transformation can take place.

 “In our confusion, fear and uncertainty we call upon the invisible structures to come to our assistance and open pathways of possibility by refreshing and activating in us our invisible potential.”

John O’Donohue