My revolution: only connect

Photo credit: Katherine Pangaro (katypang at flickr.com)

This week, Danielle Laporte asked another really great question: “what do you want to revolutionize?”

This question could not be more timely for me. For the past two months, I have felt a drive to clarify and refine my mission: why am I here? what is my practical purpose in this lifetime?

Over the past week, the penny has dropped: I am all about deep connection, within the self, with other people and beings, with Life itself; not as an action, but as a way of being, a way of unfolding.

We often experience ourselves as separate. We seem apart from one other, and from other beings and things: ‘I’ am separate from ‘you’, from this bed, from my pet dog, from the ground on which I walk; you and I have different backgrounds, religions, genders, skin colours, abilities, desires, so different that we find it difficult sometimes even to imagine how to connect with one another.

We even experience ourselves as separated from ourselves, into different personae: this is the ‘me’ that shows up at work, this is the ‘me’ that goes to bed with my lover, this is the ‘me’ that goes to dinner with my parents. Or we think of ourselves divided into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ traits, some of which we embrace and some of which we try to get rid of, or into ‘me then’ and ‘me now’. Too often, we feel fragmented, lonely, frustrated and angry.

Above all, if we’re honest with ourselves, we feel unsafe and afraid.

Photo credit: openDemocracy on flickr.com

But this separateness is not true. Deep connection is the natural state of affairs, even if that’s not how we experience life. We can see the truth of that in our breathing: we breathe in air, and all the organisms and molecules in it; we breathe out carbon dioxide, which enables trees and plants to breathe and live; the trees and plants in turn breathe out oxygen, which enables us to breathe and live. We can see it in our eating: we incorporate other lifeforms into ourselves, literally into our bodies.

We can see it in our society, economy and culture: as much as the dominant way that each of these three operates seems to keep us separated, fragmented and unable to connect with one another, in fact they all rely completely upon our deep interconnection, not only locally, but globally. Through the work of scientists, we now know that deep connection is even the truth of how physical reality itself is made up at the most fundamental level.

Deep connection is our birthright.

It is as natural as breathing, as essential to our well-being and as central to our existence.

Looking back over my life, I realise that everything I’ve done that has meant a thing to me, everything has been about recognising, deepening and living connection: from protesting nuclear weapons, to co-founding Birmingham Bi Women’s Group, to being in a workers’ collective delivering locally grown organic vegetables, to working as an aromatherapist, to teaching, to writing poetry, to celebrating the changes of the seasons, to learning with NCBI, to working in community development, to marrying and burying people. Connection, connection: only connection.

No-one can give you deep connection, nor take it away. It is yours, irrevocably. But the experience of deep connection can sometimes be blocked.

The core of my mission, my revolution, is to find and release the blocks to deep connection. I’m doing okay with that myself, these days, doing my healing work, committing to practices that bring the experience of deep connection into my everyday reality.

My next step is to help you to do the same.

What does deep connection mean to you? Where do you feel it flowing freely in your life? Where is your experience of it blocked?

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The difference between religion and spirituality. (Identity, authenticity, action.)

Back when I was a mentor at The Interfaith Seminary, the question came up again and again from the students I was supporting of the difference between religion and spirituality.

For some of them, this was a matter of having rejected religion and embraced spirituality; for others, they were strongly committed to their religious faith and community, and could not imagine separating spirituality out from that.

In an era when mainstream religion appears to be declining, while both spirituality without religion and fundamentalist ‘our way or the highway’ religion appear to be on the increase, this question about the differences and relationship between religion and spirituality is an important one.

As a mentor, in order to help my own understanding and thus better support the students, I came up with two sets of questions:

Am I a good…

Christian?

Muslim?

Jew?

Buddhist?

Taoist?

Student of A Course In Miracles?

Sikh?

Pagan?

Hindu?

For it to make sense to answer ‘yes’ to these questions, one would have to identify as a member of that particular religion, faith or spiritual tradition, and – where necessary – accept its tenets and dogmas.

This is the core issue with religion that I see both in people who reject religion in favour of spirituality, and those who seek to impose their faith and dogma on the whole world:

Group identity and individual authenticity are pitted against one another.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the many things I learned from my training in Interfaith Ministry was that there is a deep well of wisdom and spirituality at the heart of each and every religion, regardless of how it has been practiced by its followers over the centuries, and what has been done in the name of its God(s).

So here is the second set of questions to consider:

In this moment…

Do I love God/the Source of All/the Universe? Do I love and forgive my neighbour and myself? What fruit do I bear?

Am I surrendered to God/the Source of All/the Universe?

How am I expressing my humanity? Do I have a living relationship with God/the Source of All/the Universe?

Do I practice loving-kindness?

Do I allow everything its own nature?

Am I willing to be as God/the Source of All/the Universe created me?

Do my deeds sing a love song to God/the Source of All/the Universe?

Do I relate to humans, animals, plants, minerals and spirit beings with reverence and love?

Am I free of ego-attachment?

Each question or set of questions relates to the equivalent faith in the previous set of questions, but these questions can be answered freely by anyone, regardless of their religious identity.

They are a set of questions not about identity, but about emotion, action, integrity and authenticity.

When we look beyond the identity of a religion or faith group, and instead look to the roots of its spirituality, we see that at the core of each faith there is fruitful wisdom and a challenge to each one of us as human beings.

This does not mean that we can ignore the injustices carried out in the name of religion, but it gives us the tools to challenge the people who carry them out in the terms of what they say they are, and what they claim as the source of their values.

The power of failure

Back in November, I launched my course, Journey to the Heart of Faith. Straight away, I had two sign ups. I was really excited: a sixth of my goal for participants reached in the launch week! It looked like my course would be a success.

A month later, one of the sign-ups dropped out. Oh well, I thought, plenty of time still to reach my target of twelve participants. I advertised my course with Wild Sister magazine, pimped it out on Twitter and Facebook, and extended the Early Bird offer for my newsletter subscribers.

What response did I get? Nothing. Ne’er-y a single new participant signed up for the course.

A week before the deadline for course sign-ups, I reconciled myself to the idea that I might only have one sign-up for the course. And even more disheartening, that sign up had indicated in the sign-up message they’d sent that they weren’t even that interested in the focus of the course!

So I made a decision to see this failure as an opportunity. I emailed my one participant, and asked what appealed to them most about the course as it stood. Based on the reply, that their real interest was in Pagan spiritualities, I rewrote the course. I pared it back to its skeleton, its key themes and the process linking one to the next, and hung on it new flesh, exploring those themes through various Pagan paths, traditions and spiritualities. I passed the new outline past my participant, and they were delighted.

I started writing. And do you know what? I realised that this new course was fun for me, in a way I couldn’t have imagined happening with the original course. Through accepting my failure, and asking, “How can I serve?” in relation to the one participant who had signed up, I had unwittingly given up struggle, and stumbled into the flow.

The Universe had conspired to offer me an opportunity to let go and be carried on the wave of my own energy, flow and joy, through my failure at what I had set out to do.

This was a situation in which it was easy for me to do this: there was not a lot at stake – other than my ego – and while I had invested some time and energy into the direction of the initial course plan, I had not invested so much that it was hard for me to let it go. But I’m hoping that this small step of trust, in relaxing into what is, rather than what I wish would be, will act to strengthen my ability to trust, to relax, to let go in situations where much more is at stake.

There are situations where hanging in there, gripping on and keeping going is needed; then there are situations like this one. In the words of the Serenity Prayer:

May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to the know the difference.

Science Fiction Wisdom: ‘Nusuth’ – The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula le Guin

” ‘The Handdara is a religion without institution, without priests, without hierarchy, without vows, without creed; I am still unable to say whether it has a god or not… It was an introverted life, self-sufficient, stagnant, steeped in that singular “ignorance” prized by the Handdarata and obedient to their rule of inactivity or non-interference. That rule (expressed in the word nusuth, which I have to translate as “no matter”) is the heart of the cult, and I don’t pretend to understand it… Nusuth, the ubiquitous and ambiguous negative of the Handdara…”

Ursula le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is an incredible novel. Written in 1969, in the year of the first human steps on the surface of the moon, and at the height of the early second wave of feminism, its setting and story address questions of the dual and the non-dual through climate, gender, sexuality, political complexity, political oppression, and spirituality.

The story begins when Genly Ai, an envoy of The Ekumen – a sort of intergalactic League of Nations – travels to the planet Gethen, which is in an ice age, to invite the nation of Karhide to join The Ekumen.

The residents of Gethen are genderless, until it comes time for them to mate, when they may take on either female or male reproductive physiology, depending upon the dynamics of the relationship between them. The nation of Karhide is a monarchy, while their neighbour, Orgoreyn, is a totalitarian state.

The Handdarata

The Handdarata are adherents of the Handdara faith of the nation of Karhide, which le Guin apparently based upon Taoism. The title of the novel is part of a Karhide Handdara poem, which begins “Light is the left hand of darkness”.

The central concept of their religion, according to Genly Ai’s narrative, is nusuth – a word which he translates as “no matter”, which could imply that to the Handdarata nothing matters, and all is of no consequence. However, as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that nusuth is a much deeper and more profound concept than this surface translation indicates.

There are other aspects of the Handdara religion which relate to the concept nusuth: firstly, “ignorance”, which in the Handdara context is regarded as a positive quality, an act of shifting attention away from abstract notions towards things themselves; secondly, inactivity or non-interference, rather like the Taoist concept of wu wei, which can be thought of as “doing without doing” –  simply following the natural unfoldment of the Universe, as a tree growing does.

Nusuth, peace and right action

When I first read The Left Hand of Darkness, I was in the process of immersing myself in spiritual teachings – from Sufism to Shamanism, from Tarot to Taoism – which supported and drew one towards a surrender to Ultimate Reality and unconditional love. Nusuth and its associated concepts made an enormous impact on me.

At that stage in my life I was moving from a very rigid, fixed idealism based in political certainties, towards a more pragmatic but no less radical politics based on love, connection, and embodying the change I want to see in the world. The idea of nusuth – that nothing matters, that everything is, without need for my interference – was a pointer for me towards a brand new way of thinking.

To me, nusuth is not, as it might seem at first sight and as Genly Ai states, an invitation to stagnation, a giving up on the world, a counsel of despair. On the contrary, nusuth presented me then, and still presents me now with the possibility of complete freedom in inner thought and in outer action.

To know that ultimately nothing matters, that everything unfolds according to its nature, that no action from me is required, allows me inner peace and clarity. For the Handdarata, this inner peace and clarity enables them to see the future; for me, this inner peace and clarity enables me to engage in right action, in the flow of the natural unfoldment of my self, and in alignment with love.

What is your take on this Handdara idea? Does peace give you clarity for action, or do you need outrage to fuel you to do the right thing?

Let us be truly with each other

You may have noticed that I’ve been a little quiet this month, as far as blogging goes. I’ve been working on several posts, but my energy is heading inwards, not spreading out. So instead of my own thoughts, I give you this prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh, which I found at the website of fellow Interfaith Minister Lisa Sarick:

As we are together, praying for peace,
let us be truly with each other.

Let us pay attention to our breathing.
Let us be relaxed in our bodies and our minds.
Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.

Let us be aware of the source of being

common to us all and to all living things.

Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion,
let us fill our hearts with our own compassion
towards ourselves and towards all living beings.

Let us pray that all living beings realise
that they are all brothers and sisters,
all nourished from the same source of life.


Photo Credit: Premasagar Rose

Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be the
cause of suffering to each other.
Let us live in a way which will not deprive other beings
of air, water, food, shelter, or the chance to live.


With humility, with awareness of the existence
of life and of the sufferings going on around us,

Let us pray for the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.

Know I am aware of you, breathing with you, praying with you. Blessed be. ♥

Blessed be all souls

This week began with Samhain, popularly known as Hallowe’en. It is the ancient, and modern, festival of the dead, of remembering and honouring those who have gone before us.

Photo credit:

The night of 31st October, moving into 1st November, is the time in the year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead, of the physical and the spiritual, are thinnest.

In pre-Roman times, there is evidence that the ‘Celtic’ peoples of the British Isles would leave doors and windows open, to invite the spirits of their dead, and their ancestors to join them for the evening. This is still a practice that some modern day Pagans follow.  The spirit of communion between the living and the dead can also be seen in the Mexican Día de los Muertos, the Roman Catholic feast of All Souls.

My favourite combination of these traditions, though, is the Reclaiming tradition Spiral Dance ritual, which occurs in San Francisco every year.

It is a solidly Pagan, Goddess religion remembrance of the Beloved Dead, the Mighty Dead and Ancestors – loved ones who have died in the past year, those who have died recently or in the distant past who inspire our spirits, and our personal ancestors of blood, bone and breath – but is strongly inspired by the altar-building traditions of the Día de los Muertos.

Remembering not only those who are dead, but those who are born

Where the Spiral Dance tradition differs from either Pagan or Catholic traditions of remembering the dead around this date, though, is that it is also a celebration of rebirth – both inner and outer. Its ritual facilitators take full account of Samhain not only as the year’s death, but also its birth into the ‘night’ of winter. So all babies born in the community in the preceding year are named, honoured and celebrated.

In the world as a whole, there are an awful lot of babies being born. There are now seven billion human beings on earth. Seven billion. Seven with nine noughts after it. 7,000,000,000.

That’s a lot of people.

One of the problems with such a huge numbers is that it is quite literally unimaginable. When we try to follow our spiritual instincts in connecting with our fellow humans all over the world, and feeling that human connection deeply, and we imagine all those other people, all over the world, our minds and hearts boggle, then turn away to things they can grasp: things like (we hope) the people we know and love, or (perhaps more often) whatever’s being waved in our faces by the media today, whether that’s our favourite soap opera / rom com / police procedural / action film, our favourite hate figure or a politician, or the latest news item to be horrified or scandalised about.

Expanding our capacity for love

Photo credit: Camdiluv

Compassion, the passionate love of our spirit for all beings, the deep knowledge of our connection with all beings, needs to be developed. It is, undoubtedly, a natural human instinct, but in the face of the unimaginable – whether an unimaginably large number, or an unimaginable degree of suffering, or an unimaginable enfolding of love – we shirk away in fear.

In fact, I would say that our fear is not of the unimaginability of numbers or suffering or love, but of the possibility that the numbers or suffering or love is so vast, so huge, so immense, that our sense of self will be swamped, overwhelmed, washed away in the deluge, disappear.

The only way I know of to deal with this fear is to start with where we are. The saying “Charity begins at home” could have been written just for this.

First, we need to fill ourselves up with love – love from and for ourself, our lovers and partners, our family, our friends, our pets, our spiritual guides and guardians – until we’re overflowing. Then we let the love overflow.

It really is that simple.

The more we fill ourselves up with love, the more love we can let flow over, and the greater numbers, suffering and love we can cope with. There is no possibility of our sense of self being swamped or overwhelmed or washed away, because when we allow ourselves to fill up with love, we are not small in the face of anything; we are filled with the greatest, most powerful force in the Universe – that is, in fact, the spiritual fabric of the Universe.

So let yourself love and be loved by your Ancestors, your Mighty Dead, your Beloved Dead, the Newborns and all other beings in your life, for that is how all souls can indeed be blessed.

Energy levels and fitness

Today is a Wednesday, which means it’s meant to be a ‘substantial blog post’ day here at ahamsa. But I’m tired, so instead, you’re going to get some thoughts on energy levels and fitness.

I am not, any longer, a fit person. I used to be. I used to be very fit and healthy.

I don’t know quite what happened – although I think it had rather a lot to do with high stress levels and eating a lot of chocolate for a period of seven months when my partner and our dogs were between houses and relying on the kindness, generosity and patience of family members.

I got fit for a while there in my thirties, when I could afford a local gym membership, and did vigorous, aerobic and muscle conditioning exercise three or four times a week. (It was a great place to work out the anger portion of my depression.)

But since I started academic study again, three years ago, I’ve put on over two stone (that’s 23 pounds in US money), become sluggish and suffered an increase in severity of symptoms which I now find are related to fibromyalgia.

So, what am I going to do about it (apart from whine at all of you lovely people)?
I’m taking up the ‘Get Off Your Broom’ Witchy Fitness Challenge:

from 'The Domestic Pagan'

I’m starting by taking a brisk, 20-30 minute walk every morning, come sun, rain or snow – no dogs, no stopping to admire the view (although I still intend to admire the view while moving), just me and my walking boots, doing what they’re made for.

I have other plans – like reducing my sugar intake and increasing fruit and veggies. But I’m starting with the walking.

And what has this to do, I hear you ask, with spirituality, and being peace, and serving beauty? Well, it’s been my experience that when I lack energy, my sense of spiritual connection and my ability to commit to daily practice are significantly diminished. The spiritual is physical; the physical is spiritual. Expending a bit of energy in aerobic exercise generates far more than it uses up, and forms a great foundation for a happier and more spiritually grounded me.