I am a Chimaera: Wildly Imaginative and Implausible

I have long searched for a tribe.  A place of belonging.  Somewhere I ‘fit.’  And I have come to the conclusion that there is no clear place for me.  It’s been too long a search and no category, place, group, field of study, practice, spiritual tradition, community, or profession I have explored has ever felt like home.  I feel a growing acceptance of this: I am a beautiful mutant, a monster with a heart, a fusion of reclaimed oddities.  I am a Chimaera.

The Chimaera was a mythical beast of ancient Greece made up of parts of several animals, and as the Wikipedia entry puts it:

“The term chimera has come to describe any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or to describe anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative or implausible.”

I like the idea of being wildly imaginative and implausible. 

I feel heartened by what Joseph Campbell, who many would consider a specialist in studying mythology, says in talking about his own life and work as an academic:

“In our sciences today – and this includes anthropology, linguistics, the study of religions, and so forth – there is a tendency to specialisation.  And when you know how much a specialist scholar has to know in order to be a competent specialist, you can understand this tendency….

Specialisation tends to limit the field of problems that the specialist is concerned with.  Now, the person who isn’t a specialist, but a generalist like myself, sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist – and neither of them has considered the problem of why this occurs here and also there.  So the generalist – and that’s a derogatory term, by the way, for academics – gets into a range of problems that are more genuinely human, you might say, than specifically cultural.”

Although I have studied a number of topics to significant depth, I don’t think I am a specialist by nature, I am a generalist.  And I think that is often harder for others to understand, not least of all because it’s very hard for me to accurately describe.

To put it in a positive light, I have been blessed with a life which has been rich and diverse.  I sometimes joke that I have a checkered past  - not legally but in terms of my ‘career path.’  I remember having a chat with my friend, Kate, when I was applying for a job once and the conversation going like this:

 

Me - “Who’s going to hire me?  My CV looks like I have no direction whatsoever!”

Kate – “That’s what a CV is for isn’t it?”

Me – “What do you mean?”

Kate – “Taking the mess of your life and making it look like you did it on purpose.”

 

So perhaps this is me creating my tribe like Kate suggested making my CV:  taking this messy creature that I am and saying “THIS is where I belong, I am my own home.”

On a bad day I can feel like a creature cobbled together from clunky and ill-fitting hunks of experience, a monster without a home.

But on a good day I know I can be a fascinating and fascinated bundle of wonder able to dance across many domains, to find connections between people and subjects others can’t see, to be a gifted generalist helping make the world more whole.

 

I have found my new prayer:

 

I am a Chimaera.

Wildly imaginative and implausible by nature,

Perfect and problematic,

Wonderful and terrible,

Fabulous and flawed.

I am my own home,

This is where I belong.

 

With Love.

Death and Life

You are going to die

You

Are going to die

There is no avoiding it

Pretending it won't happen won't prevent it

And more than that,

Everyone and everything you love will die too.

There is no solace in this world, no legacy great enough to ensure your immortality.

You are closer to death now than when you started reading.

Take another step my friend,

There is no avoiding it.

There could be misery in these thoughts...

Terror,

Disillusionment,

Pain.

But there is a gift as well:

It is only by embracing the reality of death that we truly learn how to live.

There is a fierce urgency that is yours to claim,

A freeing knowledge of your own doom

That waits

Like death

Just around the corner.

Many imagine the knowledge of imminent doom

To bring a rush

Of hedonism,

A selfish 'fuck you' to the world as you pursue your own pleasure.

...But that is not what I see.

That is not what I feel in myself as I contemplate my own demise,

No.

I want to share,

to give,

to love.

I seek belonging

Not belongings,

I welcome simplicity and peace, not a chaotic feeding of my inner glutton,

I seek substance not substances,

Because.

In confronting my death

I have to confront my life,

In facing the fact that I could disappear at any moment

I have to ask the question

"What if I could appear at any moment?"

What if...?

What if...?

What if I stepped out from behind the cloud of my own inhibitions and really lived?

What if I grasped the opportunity in my life

Not for fame,

Or greatness,

Or money,

Or any of the other egoic delights

I may pick up

Incidentally along the path,

What if I grasped the opportunity in my life

for ordinary wonder?

What if seeing death could help me to see life?

What if the marvel of life lies not in the marvels but in the minutiae?

The light on my cup,

The moment of satisfaction after eating a meal,

Or speaking to a friend.

What if I could appear to myself at any moment?

What if I could see myself with fresh eyes now, and now, and now

And know:

This is who I am.

And tomorrow I will be someone else,

And that is wonderful and terrible.

Wonder-full and terrible

To have to face

My own death

Every day,

The possibility of my physical death

And the reality of dying to myself every moment,

Because I am not the same person now as when I started writing this,

You are not the same person who started reading this,

You are not only dying but dead.

You are dead.

You are dead already.

You don't owe anyone anything,

And you owe a great legacy in every moment

Because you are your own ancestor.

Are you going to let the million you's who died so that you could live

Die for nothing?

Knowing that you will die anyway, can you sacrifice yourself in this moment

So that the you who is being born

Might receive a legacy of choice?

 

Can you embrace death, dear one,

so that you might learn how to live?

Spiritualising the Body

Often in the modern dialogue around spirituality we can be disconnected from the body. For various reasons with roots ranging from certain periods of Christian teaching, to Descartes' philosophical mind/body divide, right through to very contemporary ideas about spiritual 'transcendence', many of us seem to have ideas that the body is somehow less spiritual or even not spiritual at all. I have observed many times in many people some version of the thought that in order to be spiritual we need to disconnect from the physical. While materialism and fear of physical threat can be traps which keeps us from really focusing our attention on our deep values and higher ideals, if we are ever to reach towards enlightenment or any other kind of spiritual development, we must do so in our bodies, with our bodies, and through our bodies. I would suggest that our dissociation with our own bodies is a large contributing factor in creating the behaviour which has damaged and is destroying our planet. If we dismiss our own bodies as 'un-spiritual' and therefore not worthy of care, then how likely are we to bring deep care and attention to the 'body' of Mother Earth? I would also suggest that while we need large scale cultural change around how we relate to our environment, large cultural change can begin with small personal change. One way to approach this is to Spiritualise the Body. It doesn't need 'spiritualising', it is full of beauty and spirit already, so really this is more about remembering that. Remembering is a wonderful word in this context. We have been dis-membered, taken apart by these ideas of an 'un-spiritual' body and it is time to put ourselves back together – to re-member. This exercise is a first step towards that by taking something we do all the time – washing – and turning it into a spiritual practice.

 

In many traditions there are ways of physically cleansing the body which are also considered to be deeply spiritual acts. This can take the form of internal cleansing or external cleansing.

 

A number of shamanic traditions from around the world feature some form of 'purging' which often literally involves spitting or vomiting up matter which is considered to be linked to negative energy. Perhaps the best example of this is the Ayahuasca traditions of Brazil where they are ingesting a 'teacher plant' which has both hallucinogenic properties and purgative properties. The plant brings the shaman or practitioner visions which are considered direct interactions with the spiritual realm and at the same time the body is purged of negative energies, sometimes through vomiting - you don't need to worry that I'm going to get you to do that! A less extreme example of internal cleansing might be the use of fasting. When you fast, typically toxins are purged from the body, that's part of why you often get headache's and bad breath during a fast – that's the nasty stuff that's collected in corners being swept out of the body. While this has physical health benefits, in some of the traditions which work with fasting, the evacuation of physical toxins from the body is also seen to have a spiritual correlation so that your spirit or energy body is being cleansed by the process of the fast as well.

 

An example of external cleansing can be seen in the First Nation (or Native American) tradition of the sweat-lodge. The sweat-lodge is one of the most common traditional ceremonies that I have come across in the North American tradition and there have been suggestions that similar ceremonies may have been used in Europe too. The sweat-lodge is a small dome built from bent branches and then covered with hides or blankets with a pit inside to put heated stones in and a fire outside to heat the stones. The precise construction of the lodge and it's alignment to the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) varies but is always considered to be of great importance. This was a sacred place, not unlike a church. The symbolism of the sweat-lodge is that it represents the womb of Mother Earth and you go into the be ritually 'reborn' after the ceremony. The emphasis that I have experienced is always on the spiritual dimensions of the 'sweat' but there is a reality that this is a very real physical cleansing process too. Not unlike a sauna, the heat makes you sweat and by sweating you are releasing toxins from the body, on top of that the steam in the air means that once you towel off after the ceremony you are actually pretty clean, not just caked in sweat! Another example of external cleansing can be found in the Hindu tradition. Within Hinduism it is considered that each of us carries a seed of the divine within us so if we don't take care of ourselves then we are failing to take care of the divine within. As such, personal hygiene (for instance) is of great importance. You have probably at least heard of Yoga, and may know it was originally a Hindu discipline. What is less well-known is that what we commonly call 'Yoga' is actually only one of the 4 primary Yogic paths. What we usually call 'Yoga' is Raja Yoga. There is also Jnana Yoga which primarily involves exploring the nature of being through certain types of dialogue and enquiry; Karma Yoga which involves engaging in good works in the world; and Bhakti Yoga which involves devotional practices (ritual expressions of loving the divine). One of the traditional devotional practices of Bhakti Yoga is bathing statues of Gods and Goddesses, sometimes just bathing the feet.

 

So... what I want to invite you to do draws on the principles expressed in all of these traditions but most directly on these last aspects of Hinduism. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a ritual out of having a bath and bathe yourself like you are bathing a God or Goddess! Once you have done one really special one, you could make your daily shower, bath, wash, teeth-brush or anything else into a small personal ritual or spiritual practice. However, I really recommend doing one really special one and setting aside time to do it with great care and attention. If you can, I suggest a bath because showers tend to be quicker and more functional so a bath lends itself more to slowing down and taking greater care. Rituals or ceremonies typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end – like a story. The beginning tells your mind and being that something special is about to happen and helps to raise your levels of awareness and attention. The end lets you know when you are done and can step back out into a more ordinary awareness. The middle is whatever journey you want to craft for yourself in this special space of heightened awareness. So for this ritual you need to find a way to mark the beginning – this could be anything. Some simple ones could be the 'ding' of a Tibetan singing bowl, playing a special piece of music, or lighting a candle. At the end you can just do this same thing again (the 'ding', play the music again, or blow out the candle) – or you can find some other way to mark the end point such as writing a list of 5 things you are grateful for, reading a beautiful poem out loud, or a moment of silence. Then in the middle your task is to make your bathing as nurturing, loving, beautiful, present, and aware as you possibly can. Light lots of candle, use scented oils, have a lovely soft towel waiting afterwards, or even without any special 'stuff' you can bring deep care and attention to how you wash every part of your body. Slow down and take sensual pleasure in it all. As you pour water over your feet, pour love over them too. As you rub soap into your hands and face, be gentle, loving, kind, and deeply attentive to how it feels and how you could make it even lovelier, more caring, and attentive. Move through it all at least a little slower than you usually would and love every part of you, encountering it as if for the first time: with fresh eyes and wonder in your heart. Allow yourself to be newly amazed at this wonderful bodied being that is you, this awesome embodiment of your consciousness, this body that does so many amazing things – moving, and healing, feeling, sensing, touching, stretching, breathing, eating, connecting you with yourself, your loved-ones and your world. Love every inch of yourself, especially the bits you usually struggle to love, with the idea that this body-being is a vessel for the divine. God, the Goddess, spirit, soul, Love, the Tao, Buddha-nature, or Christ-consciousness – whatever name you give to that ineffable thing from which all things come, all things return, and which connects all things, play with the idea that some part of that divine awareness lives in you and by this act of loving and caring for yourself, you are loving and caring for the Divine.

 

Wishing you a beautiful time!

 

This article is an excerpt of the online Spiritual Exploration course I will be releasing soon.  Sign up to the email newsletter to get access to a 30 minute guided visualization which is also part of it along with many other free resources.

God is a difficult word

God is a difficult word…

It is loaded with so much cultural baggage, so much heaviness of meaning, so much poe-faced seriousness – both from those who love the word and those who hate it.  God has become this figure of judgement, marker of seriousness, and symbol of patriarchal oppression.

I feel sad about that.

I have a relationship with the divine that I really enjoy and because I grew up with a Christian mum, God is the word I most comfortably use for that divine presence.  When I talk to myself, I say God.  But… I sometimes feel uncomfortable using it even with my friends because it is so weighted with meanings I don’t agree with, and don’t want.  My sense of it is that I’m not the only one. 

I read this poem today from Daniel Ladinsky’s ‘Love Poems from God’ (a beautiful book of translations and transliterations of devotional poetry from many traditions, although Ladinsky is best known for his Sufi poetry) and it inspired me. 

 

First He looked Confused – by Tukaram

 

I could not lie anymore so I started to call my dog “God.”

First he looked

confused,

 

Then he started smiling, then he even

danced.

 

I kept at it: now he doesn’t even

bite.

 

I am wondering if this

might work on

people?

 

 

It feels to me like many of us have abandoned the word God, but what if we didn’t?  What if we reclaimed it instead and used it for our own purposes? 

 

What if it became once more the most beautiful thing you could say to someone, a gift so great it even stops dogs biting?

 

What if, like the Sufi’s, God became for us the name of our beloved?

 

What if the word God could drip from our mouths like sweet nectar from exotic flowers overflowing with sticky abundance?

 

What if there was no confusion in our minds about God and we each lived in a personal and glorious relationship with a sense of wonderous un-knowing-ness and love of the great and mysterious nothing-that-is-everything?

 

What if, when making love, we cried out “Oh God” and really meant it because sex felt divine and the divine felt so tantalisingly, viscerally sumptuous?

 

What if in prayer, we spoke to God like one of our best friends who can’t always change the situation for us, but it feels great to talk to them about it anyway?

 

What if no book could tell us what God thinks because it’s so sublime and subtle?

 

What if, once in a while, a piece of poetry, or art, or something in nature seemed to nudge us towards an understanding of how God feels about the world?

 

What if speaking of God wasn’t controversial but was joyful?

 

What if God wasn’t masculine or feminine?

 

What if God was common ground where we could all connect rather than where we come into conflict?

 

What if loving-ness was the closest thing to Godliness?

 

What if we could build a bridge of my “What if’s” and dance out across it together with joyous, clamorous shouting that comes right up from our bellies and out through our hearts?

 

What if…..?



First post: What does this Soul long for?

I have prevarricated.  Some of you may know what that is like.  I have been busy - that's true, but more than anything I have been wrestling with what my first post should be on this blog of mine, this new venture in internet communication: What is sufficiently substantial and representative of my intended writing to come to take this pride of place as the first thing I write here?

I don't have an answer to that.  While soul and spirit and heart-focused living are all definitely part of it; and 'human business' as my friend Mark Walsh describes it is also connected to what I want to write here; and Warrior living is at the heart of what I am offering in many of my workshops; it is all of these things and none of these things and something else as well.

So, it will be what it is and perhaps others will define it for me as it forms.

For now, instead of only offering you my prevarrication, I offer you a poem.  It is a wish, for my own soul and perhaps it will resonate with yours as well. 

 

 

What does this soul long for?

 

Love

Love

Love, Love, Love

And Loving

And Loving

And Loving

And longing's end

With space to grow,

And flow

And support

And manifest safe reality

Held

In the hands of Mother Earth

And in the hearth of my own home

And own work

And knowledge of integrated expansion

And magic

And continued learning

In enjoyment and immersion and pleasure and recognition

And tactile, rolling, tumbling fun

And walk, walk, walk

The sea

Hills

Shore

Rising

Woodland waves

Hand-in-hand

Heart-in-heart

Sharing

Wonder-eye-sparkle connection

Without and within

And everything done

And everything yet to do

And

Adventure, adventure, adventure!