When you follow the burning desire for truth, life calls you to where you need to be.
For the last five days I’ve been drenching myself in the richness of birth place of yoga, Mother India. For many months I have been dreaming of returning to India, and specifically to spend some time in Rishikesh, one of India’s great yoga meccas. I have also been feeling the call of Mooji – an advaita zen master from Jamaica/UK, but whom I knew fairly little about. A seed of interest stirring.
But it was still far on the horizon… I had been planning to spend some time in India at the end of this year, and had been thinking about a short visit to Mooji’s ashram in Portugal in September.
But via a series of rapid-fire and surprising events, I booked a flight from the Philippines to India, and unexpectedly found myself exactly there: sitting
in satsang with Mooji in the heart of Rishikesh, with hundreds and hundreds of truth-seekers from all over the world gathered in silence and reverence.
Don’t ask me exactly how it happened, except to say that I found myself right where I needed to be. In the heart of truth.
It is a rare event to meet an awakened being. Even more so to meet one who so directly, simply and uncompromisingly points to the truth of who we are, in a way that pierces straight to the heart. No room for drama, stories, or for hiding. He simply lifts the veil, with clarity and love. I laughed, cried, wept tears of joy, dropped into the depths of meditation, sang, and found myself in profound silence and astonishment. I feel changed forever, and I can barely begin to articulate why.
You can watch the first satsang I attended with Mooji here (all of his satsangs are video recorded and streamed live).
It has reconfirmed for me that the spiritual path is really the path of the heart. Let the mind be, and become established in the heart. Cultivate awareness of the Self beyond the self, your pure state of being, and rest there. And as Mooji says, even the path is an illusion. You are already that.
Through this magical experience, I was reminded singing bhajans (devotional songs) with the hundreds gathered, that song, sound and voice is the most direct way I have experienced and witnessed to burst open the heart, and to allow spontaneous love and joy to pour forth. This is bhakti, the heart of devotion. I’m not sure why I continue to be surprised that the simplest things are often the most profound. But they are, and so it is.
And so the journey continues from Rishikesh to Goa, where I have the privilege of sharing my deep love of bhakti, voice and mantra on a women’s self-care retreat with my dear sister Emily Kuser.
The universe moves in the most unexpected ways, but always in just the ways we need. Trust, listen, and surrender. These are my offerings to life. In return, I have everything I need.
“To know yourself is not a knowledge.
It is only a discovery.
It is not an achievement.
It is not a possession.
Nobody possesses Self-knowledge.
If anything, you can perhaps say it is an exchange
of the non-self for the Self,
but who will receive the Self? No one.
That is why I say it is not an exchange.
This may sound like a riddle to you,
a mystery or a paradox,
but only if you listen with just your mind.
You will understand all of this easily in the
presence, guidance and grace of a liberated being.
Seek such company.”
It’s not just that it’s the end of the year. But it’s come to the end of an era, of sorts.
I’m leaving Melbourne and hitting the road. It’s been a long time coming, but it suddenly came round sooner than expected. Life has a way of doing that, and I’m getting better at going with the flow. There are less bumps that way.
It’s a sweet flow that will first be taking me to Bali, the Philippines, Sweden, France, Nepal and back to Bali… and from there, who knows… just how I like it. A good solid adventure, cutting all the ties and flying free, to charge up my practice, my spirit, my devotion, and following the path that takes me closer and closer to love, to purposeful service and to Self. Dharma. I’m in.
So I’ve been wrapping up Melbourne life. And with that comes the end of my teaching public classes in studios where I’ve been sharing my love of yoga for years. What a journey.
It’s also been a turbulent time. Intense periods of change always are. Letting go of relationships, home, work, friends, students… all of it.
And as I walked out of class last night feeling rejuvenated, soft and clear after days and weeks of challenge, I realised again what a gift teaching yoga is. Quite possibly the greatest gift I’ve ever received.
Teaching yoga – guiding other amazing, diverse and unique humans – on a path of connection, self-discovery, and authenticity, is no small task. Let alone doing that whilst getting their bodies to move, align, breathe, explore; find the connection between body and mind, heart and breath, moment to moment; share my own insights and discoveries, and invite them into their own self-autonomy and unique experience…
Perhaps you can see why I love it. It demands all of me. It asks me, every day, to step up, to get clear, to get focused and to be authentic – no matter what is happening around me or inside of me. And it always works. It’s the gift of giving that gives back.
To create and enter a shared field of awareness and insight; to come back to the ocean of consciousness that is breath and body; to see and feel people coming home, getting centred and clear; and to know that to be in my own integrity, I have to offer all of myself, I have to do my own hard work, to cultivate my own love and clarity, to be the living example of what I choose to share. This is the gift.
So thank you. To the practice and path of yoga for demanding your way into my life. For the studios who took me in and offered me a home to share my love. To my fellow teachers who walk this path. And, especially, to every unique and beautiful human who walks into class looking for themselves, for their courage, their love, their humanity.
Greatest blessings and love for the festive seasons, let’s celebrate change, community, and all of the gifts we offer each other, just by being ourselves and doing what we do.
Devotion is the last thing I ever thought I would be into. I don’t know if it was my non-religious upbringing, the scientific mind-based culture I was born into, or my innate disbelief (from childhood) in an all-powerful male God, but for the longest time ‘devotion’ just felt like a dirty word. Mostly, I realise now, I just had no idea what it was. And I had learnt to be cynical.
As a teenager, I was deeply interested in the ‘spiritual’ – crystals, candles, seances, psychic readings, early attempts at meditation that consisted of sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor with my eyes closed until my head fell back and I imagined that something had happened. I would spontaneously go into strange ‘moods’ (which I now recognize as altered states of consciousness), and would find socializing difficult; and when I tried to talk to people about it, they definitely thought I was weird. I participated in the first levels of reiki training when I was fourteen, and was naturally excited to test it out on those around me. One response I received from someone close was, “Don’t touch me, you freak!”
These early experiences had a huge effect on me. I stopped talking about my experiences and interests in the spiritual realms, and I became cynical of the light and sweetness inside of me. It was challenging and paradoxical: I believed in these things on the deepest level (I had experienced too many things to believe they weren’t real), and yet I was somehow also in denial. Self-protection is a powerful thing.
Even when I became deeply engaged in meditation and Buddhist practices in my late teens and early twenties, learning about love, compassion, virtues, and service, a part of me was entrenched in a deep cynicism. Even as light and love were growing within me, I was too afraid to let them show – for fear of judgement. And so I judged myself, I judged those who expressed freely (“f*&%ing hippy bhajans” was my standard internal response to people singing devotional songs), and I kept my heart in lockdown.
But the beauty of dedicated spiritual practice, is that ultimately it works.
Fast forward to my early thirties… I started to open to kirtan (devotional singing) through a boyfriend who loved and shared it, and began to experience both the full force of my resistance and the radical joys of my heart. And then on a retreat in India, where the divine Geoffrey Gordon was sharing daily nada yoga and kirtan, my heart cracked. One morning, during a silent ‘listening’ meditation where Geoffrey was singing a song to the divine duo Rama and Sita, I spontaneously started singing with him, tears streaming down my face, and the words echoing in my head, “I just love God so much!” It was done. My heart was open and the light started to pour out.
I’d had no idea that my heart was a heart of devotion. That I loved the divine, I loved the light, and I loved love. And that revelation and transformation would come through allowing it to pour out, fearless and unapologetic.
But as things often go with spiritual practice, we have these moments of deep insight, that often mark the beginning of an intense upheaval, and then take time to mature… So devotional singing cracked my heart open, and I found myself plunged into a period of despair. Then from touching the depths of darkness and desperately seeking a way out, I started to slowly open to love and devotion. I started praying every day. It became my mission to master love, to see with eyes of love, to live as love, to be love. I realised this was my deepest purpose, and would lead me to my greatest happiness – because then it wouldn’t matter where I was, who I was with, what I was doing – I would be in love. And so began my path of devotion.
So what actually is devotion?
Many spiritual paths ultimately offer devotion as the highest practice. In the yoga tradition, devotion is bhakti – a yearning for the divine, a deep love of God. And what is God? My personal experience of God, which connects to the non-dual teachings of yoga and tantra, is that God is consciousness itself. God is love itself. Everything in the seen and unseen world is made of this same fabric of consciousness, manifest in a divine play to experience its own nature and its own awakening. This is the yearning that stirs within us for awakening, for liberation and for love. It is the journey of the self to the Self.
So if we experience the divine as love itself, then devotion is a deep love of love, a commitment to love as the highest path. It is the path of the heart. But more than that, it is a practice of deep offering, surrender, and trust.
This is the practice of ishvara pranidhana – surrender (pranidhana) to a higher source (ishvara) – that is offered to us in two of the great texts of yoga, the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. It is a way of getting out of our own way and dissolving the personal ego that we battle with so much. It reminds us to open to life, in all its mystery, and allow grace to pour through us.
In the words of my great teachers, “Everything is conspiring for your awakening.” So when we trust in this greater force, whether we call it God, love, or the divine, we recognize ourselves as a small part in the great play of life, that is ultimately bringing us towards our own greatness. We bow down humbly, offering ourselves to the will of God, to the highest good, to love. And we listen. The practice becomes both the offering and the listening, for the voice that guides our next moves. And as we do this, we begin to experience grace and synchronicity, a deep sense of trust, and an often radical shift in perspective – even the hardships have their place, and as we willingly surrender to them in great trust, there is an ease that pours through us.
So devotion might seem like a dirty word, because it is in so many ways the unknown. And it demands that we drop down into the mysterious space of the heart and surrender the constant grasping of the analytical mind. Challenging in a world that triumphs logic and science. When we walk the path of devotion, we open to the great mystery of life. We walk the razor’s edge, because we know that we don’t know. We have to be willing to sacrifice our ego, to have our heart cracked open, to trust life and go where it asks. It’s the most daring and courageous path I know. But the gift is an ever-greater love that begins to awaken within us.
When you listen, you discover that life has a way of weaving itself into being through you. Because life is ever-creative, it is constantly revealing new gifts and insights, and inviting us to explore new paths into greater discovery and fullness.
As I return home from two months of travels and teachings in Thailand, Bali and the Philippines, I see clearly that the thread that has been distinctly woven for me this year has been awakening the voice.
I don’t simply mean the singing voice – the one that we’re told is good or bad, that sounds beautiful or like a cat howling, or in tune or out of tune. I mean the Voice of the Body-Soul. The voice that expresses the stories, the yearnings, the trials, the emotions, the ecstasy and the pain of all we experience in this human life, in this human form.
And as we get even more refined, we understand as the voice of consciousness itself. It is the power of the word, of thought, of the very vibration of life that takes us closer and closer to our essence. So we can start at the voice to travel the exquisite journey inwards, towards silence, towards our essential nature. It is one of the most powerful tools we have.
From a deep love of devotional singing, community and a wonderful acoustic space, I began late last year to offer free community kirtans. To my surprise, a kirtan band emerged, and growing numbers of people started coming together to sing. It felt amazing, and so I continued. I quickly discovered that people were deeply curious to use their voices more, and to work with mantra and chants. These are powerful tools to soften the mind, connect to the heart, and lead us into silence and meditation. And so I began offering workshops, exploring this yoga of sound, to which people flocked. These practices unlocked not only people’s voices, but also tears, emotions and experiences that had been repressed for far too long in a culture that says that only a small handful of people are ‘qualified’ to use their voices.
I was then invited to teach the Art of Voice and Mantra on my dear friend Emily Kuser’s High Vibe Yoga teacher training in Bali in July. I love these spaces outrageously, where there is time and freedom to explore and experiment.
Thirty students opened their voices and hearts fully to daily devotional song, so willingly and beautifully that we cried. They courageously used their voices to freely release and express the stories and pains lying hidden with the body. And then used their voices to soothe and soften. Without words, without stories, without guidelines or limitations. We discovered together the connections between the voice and the force of life, the breath; and the direct connection between the voice and consciousness, the essence of life. We sang, we laughed, we cried, we screamed, we crooned, we sighed and we discovered ourselves anew.
Through our Voice we are born and we die, we create and release, renew and discover. It is profound, simple, and astonishing. And something we all innately and uniquely have.
So I am completely and utterly in love. And dedicated to diving even further into this journey of the Voice. In early September I am flying to the US for a retreat with Sally Kempton and Silvia Nakach, for five days of mantra, voice and meditation with these shakti masters. And I am dedicated to sharing more of my own discoveries, gifts and awakenings with anyone who wishes to courageously and lovingly explore their own Voice. Because it’s one of the most incredible things I know.
When we follow the inner promptings, our own true Voice, we know exactly where to go. And what we discover along the way is bound to be astonishing.
* * * * *
Kali: Doing the Shadow Work, Saturday August 27th 12-3pm, Gertrude Street Yoga Studio
Sound and Silence: mantra and meditation, dates to be advised soon
As we move into autumn and the shortening and darkening of the days, the shadow themes have still very much been circling in and asking for attention. Where previously this might have brought unease, I’ve been consciously shifting my perspective to see what might happen if I embrace the shadow aspects before they become catastrophic. You know the point at which that happens? Usually when you are so stubbornly forging ahead, either not willing to let go of something or being reluctant to embrace the change you know you really need, that the only way to bring you back to your true course is to smash you to pieces to get you to pay attention. Ouch. I have been pretty familiar with this in the past.
So this time, as I have felt Kali get close to me, I have instead reached out to her lovingly and invited her in. Every day, I have been chanting and praying to her, the Goddess of Transformation, of Death, Destruction – and Liberation. I have willingly, daily, invited her to weave her magic of surrender and release, to reveal the truth and the essence of what really matters. At a time when everything is flowing beautifully, rather than waiting until everything has gone to pieces. As we embrace Kali, we invite ourselves to strip away whatever no longer serves us. It’s a daring move, as it often means surrendering things we love or are attached to. And it’s one of the most powerful practices I have ever done.
What I’ve come to realise through this practice is that I’ve been holding back for a long time from offering my deeper experiences of yoga, meditation, ‘spiritual practice’ – from fear that people might think it’s whacky, hippie or inauthentic. I was judged quite hard as a teenager for this, and well, it sticks. So in the end what I have been offering is in some ways what feels to me a fairly ‘kosher’ practice of yoga. But what I realised recently is that I have been holding back from sharing what have been some of my own most profound and transformative experiences. And many of these sit in the realm of the ‘mystical’.
So my daring is to offer what is closest to my heart, to not hold back. After all, yoga isn’t really about alignment and inversions. Yoga is about the deepest inquiry into life, the greatest bravery of the soul, the passionate unbridled revealing of the heart. This is what I want to share, because this is what I think is really important. It doesn’t mean that the functional and structural bits will be thrown out, but they’ll just be put into perspective.
In honour of Kali:
Aum aim hrim klim chamundaye viche swaha
May the bonds of ignorance and ego be severed, may we rejoice in transformation, wisdom and truth.
If this calls to you, I would love to explore together this passion for life, mystery, truth and bravery. It’s the theme of my Bali winter retreat “Radical Freedom” (1-6 August – early bird ends 30 April), and it’s what we will explore in my upcoming workshops in May and June.
On Friday, along with around 500 others, I attended the funeral celebrations of an old friend. Although we hadn’t been really close, over fifteen years we had woven in and out of each others’ lives between Melbourne and Alice Springs, shared dance floors and good food, campfires and stories, theatre performances and communities of friends and loved ones. Trish was one of the most vivacious, loving and brave women I knew. She lit up hearts, dance floors, and a deep love of life in each person she touched. What I didn’t know was that she had been suffering a deep depression, and in the end it overwhelmed her. Despite being surrounded by love. Despite reaching out to close friends and family.
Over the last week, I’ve had many conversations about suicide, loss, and the challenges of mental illness. Working especially with asylum seekers and victims of family violence, it’s hard to comprehend such deep suffering in someone whose outer life seemed so wonderful, rich, free and full of love. But it’s more common than we think. Dark periods can come like a mystery – and they may or may not be triggered by external circumstances. Some of us seem just to be sensitive souls who feel things too keenly, who search deeply for the meaning of this unfathomable life, and who sometimes become overrun by the tyranny of a wild mind. It may be biology, chemistry, spirit or soul, I don’t really know… but death, darkness and suffering are some of the mysteries that are as inherent a part of life as creation, beauty and delight.
I consider myself fortunate to have known a few of these dark periods.
They taught me deep humility and compassion, and they guided me towards a deeper search for meaning, strength and wholeness. I feel even more fortunate to have made it through.
In my early twenties, following a period of intense meditation and Tibetan practices, I had an immense ‘breakdown’ – a complete crisis of meaning that took me years to recover from. Though deep down, I knew also it was a spiritual breakthrough. Had I sought ‘professional’ help, though so necessary for some, I’m quite sure I would have ended up with a ‘diagnosis’ that I might have attached myself to for a lifetime. What I had instead was a wise friend with a kind ear, an overwhelming lack of judgement, and a soothing pot of vanilla green tea whenever I arrived at his door. It was his unerring support that initially got me through.
At the time, I punished myself so severely for not being able to live up to the spiritual ideals in my head, all the Buddhist teachings of righteousness and equanimity, that I completely shattered. Until finally I had to realise that whilst my mind might be lightning quick and so clever, and my moral high horse so high, my emotions and my heart needed time to catch up. They needed to be heard, they needed to be accepted, and they needed to be loved. I needed to become human – in all of its mess, its beauty, its confusing paradoxes, and its pain. I discovered that ‘spirituality’ isn’t a set of ideals and practices to be followed. It’s the process of becoming fully human. And it’s a journey that is unique to each of us.
It was in this first years-long recovery period that I discovered yoga. It was the practice I needed to get me out of my head and into my body. It was the practice I needed to strengthen my sensitive nervous system and to find ground. I was also fortunate for extended periods of vipassana meditation, that gave me the mental strength and insight to let go. To trust that I could let go of a thought rather than clinging onto it and riding it like a wild horse in a frenzy for days. And when I did that, I discovered nothing bad would happen. And even better, it would eventually pass. Letting go was actually the sweetest blessing. A challenging practice at first, but with the practice of coming back to the moment, to the breath, to simply observing and accepting what was happening within my body, I eventually found a freedom and a strength that I would not have believed possible.
When later breakthroughs (read: ‘breakdowns’) happened, I could knowingly sit in the immensity of pain, grief and inner torment, and surrender to the destructive force of life that clears the way for new growth and beauty. With patience and practice, it can come. Yet even in the trust and surrender, it was terrifying and exquisite at the same time.
It’s a terrible thing to be so sensitive, to be so inquisitive about life and so questioning of the ‘reality’ and the measures of ‘success’ that are presented to us. But it can also be a gift. Through our lack of satisfaction, through our darkness, and through the tender experience of our own deep suffering, we can learn great compassion and we can shine great light. We can plumb the depths of what it is to be human, and hopefully rise again to the surface with jewels that shine a brilliant light for others to follow.
For those who have done this, we must reach out to those who are still struggling in the depths, with love, compassion and the tools that might begin to weave a web of wholeness again. And hope that this is enough.
But ultimately, life is a mystery. Without judging, accept. Even in the midst of the deepest pain, seek grace. Go sweetly in the not-knowing, with love and with compassion. And as my beautiful friend Trish would say, be kind to others, for you don’t know what pain they may be suffering.