Traversing the outer and inner Self

With the beauty and power of southern France still rippling through me, I arrived in Lisbon at the end of April for a satsang intensive with Advaita master Mooji, to dance the wild inner terrain of the Self. His only interest is in liberation, freedom, awakening, and his ‘pointings’ to the direct truth of who we are, are so direct and powerful that I feel my deep yearning catalysing and all my ideas and concepts falling away. To know, first you need to ‘unknow’. My experience in the satsang intensive was so powerful that I cancelled my flight to Nepal, and as I write this, in a couple of hours I will be going to stay at Mooji’s ashram for the next week or two, followed by a silent retreat at the end of May, for a full month of immersion. I can’t say exactly what is happening, except to say that something is changing, and it is so sweet.

I am also excited to announce some upcoming offerings in Melbourne, Bali, and Thailand, including a 30hr Mantra and Nada Yoga Certificate in Bali in June, where I will get to weave in my insights, experiences and discoveries to share with you. All the details are here, if you are interested to join me somewhere.

And all of life is a continuum, an evolution, an unfolding… and although it’s a little ‘late’, I offer you some words and some images from my experiences in southern France, because it is, in fact, timeless…

In the lifetime that has been the last 2 weeks, I have climbed mountains, held all-night vigil and slept in caves, traversed gorges, wandered through the most enchanting forests, become lost and found in the weavings of a natural labyrinth, been blessed by innumerable waters in the form of sweet and salty rivers, creeks, lakes, seas, natural springs and thermal springs, waterfalls and deep pools in deeper gorges, I have spoken with a thousand trees and rocks, and listened to the songs of a thousand birds. I have been blessed by a snake, giggled with glee at flamingos, and enchanted by the patient, awkward wisdom of beetles.

I have followed that silent inner voice to mystery and synchronicity, and I have spent most of my waking and sleeping hours in the sweetest solitude, finding my place in the nature of things, and never feeling alone.

I have visited daily all these sacred places of nature and the sacred places of humans: churches, basilicas, cathedrals, chapels, abbeys, grottos, castles, towers, and initiation caves. And I have been learning the importance of weaving the greatness of each into a single thread of life-giving and life-sustaining connection.

I have been diving into the history of two thousand years, the stories and renderings of the lives and teachings of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, the Romans and the Gauls, the peaceful Cathars who were murdered as heretics by the Catholic church, the troubadours and the knights, the kings and the crusaders, the people who lived, walked, loved, built and were shaped by this land across the centuries.

In each of these places I have meditated, prayed, and sung. And I have been meditated, prayed and sung to. I have contemplated the great mystery of life, god, the sacred feminine, the profound and the mundane, the dual and the non-dual, peace and war, spirituality and religion, spirit and soul, love and forgiveness, and renewed my constant prayer for freedom, love and awakening – even though I do not even know what that is anymore. I have let go of ideas and found nothing to replace them with.

For a mostly non-coffee drinker, non-dairy eater, I have drunk countless coffees and eaten way too much cheese and croissants and loved every moment of every flavour. I have discovered the mirror-selfie and the timer-selfie, and taken one of each. I have become really good at saying, “Pardon, je ne parle pas Francais…” and people are still kind and sweet and patient.

I have been re-wilded, sweetly contented and utterly awed at every turn. I am both still and whirling with joy. But mostly I have found only that I know nothing. Which makes everything possible.

 

With love,

xo Mei Lai

 

Getting Wild

IMG_0169It started as a calling. Whether it came from within or without, I’m not sure. But it blew in like a strong wind, the foreboding of a great storm that threatens to dismantle everything, to blow to pieces everything you’ve known and carefully cultivated.

I’ve felt it before. I’ve walked out into the storm before, both willingly and unwillingly. And so this time I knew the serpentine song rising from my soul, even before it wove its magic around me. I felt the pull to the wilderness of the Unknown, to adventure, to the one true home. And I said yes.

Because I’m a total sucker for adventure. Especially one where you know that parts of you will die and there is no choice but to emerge completely transformed.

Bill Plotkin (“Soulcraft”) calls it the journey to the underworld, a descent into the dark mysteries of the individual soul.

It is the journey of initiation that we need to undertake to find our unique gift, our unique place, and our unique offering to the world that both serves the world and brings us our greatest joy.

It is not a running away, a rebellion, or a purposeful destruction of the fabric of one’s life out of despair or desolation. It is not a denial of the ‘light’, of the ultimate oneness of consciousness or ‘spirit’ from which we came from and to which we will return.

It is the acknowledgement and weaving together of the multiple threads of our existence, into beauty, magnificence and wholeness. It gives us purpose, clarity and love, and leads us more and more to taking up our own unique place in existence, in service.

A few days ago I arrived in Sweden, after three super busy glorious weeks in Bali in an IMG_0168Embodied Flow yoga teacher training with Tara Judelle. I had been invited by my dear friend Anja Bergh (Yoga Buddhi), another Embodied Flow teacher, to teach on her advanced teacher training in Gothenburg.

As the plane touched down, I got a thrill of excitement at arriving in a new place, somewhere I have never been. I remembered that it is one of my favourite things – a new land, new culture, new environment, new taste of the air and light of the sun in a different atmosphere. I was excited to have several days to explore before the teacher training would begin.

Worn out from the travel, I eyed Anja’s bookcase and announced that I might read something and have an early night. Without sparing a moment, Anja handed me ‘Soulcraft’, and that was that. Something sparked.

I woke up the next morning sick and heavy with a cold. My body unwilling to venture out into the cold and the rain, my soul as happy as a cat purring on its blanket, having all this time to dive inwards into Soulcraft, to put new words and ways of understanding to this journey I know intrinsically so well inside myself.

IMG_0170So instead of being out in the wilds of nature, I am cosied up in my friend’s house in the gentle woods of Sweden, with a book that is lighting up my inner wilderness, my own untamed and limitless self. Making the call of my soul even louder and brighter and clearer. It is exactly this, right time, right place and right circumstances. Putting context and words to the soul journey that I got thrown into at the end of last year.

In other cultures, these rites of passage are still woven into the fabric of the culture. In the West, they’ve largely been lost. There are some of us for whom the calling comes unavoidably like a freight train derailed into the centre of one’s life. And yet I believe it is there for all of us. It must be, it is our nature.

The ‘work’, I believe, lies in stripping away the layers of conditioning piled on us by society, family, and culture like dank wet blankets. Pulling out the weeds and preparing the ground for what must inevitably come, in its own way and in its own time. Kneading the self, that wily ego, so it becomes soft and vulnerable. Learning to listen with the ears of a wolf to the stirrings of the wind in the silent space of the heart. So that when the time comes (and it will), we can brazenly cry “Yes!” and trust ourselves to dive in to Life, even in the face of fear, resistance or even terror. At that time, Life will tell us which way to go. We just need to heed the call and go for it, without needing to know a single thing.

This is Yoga. Not the asanas and the pranayamas and the meditation techniques that make us feel better, stronger, healthier, more calm, more ‘spiritual’… but the heart of it – the way of life, the new ways of seeing and being, the light and the dark, the willingness to fall apart or be ripped apart, to not know, to surrender whole-heartedly to the beauty and the terror of it all.

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The tools and techniques of yoga are just the plow that prepares the soil of the soul, that break up the hard clods of the ego, that nurture the dark womb of the heart that – when the time is ripe – births love and joy. It is both the downward and the upward journey, so that we can become freedom right here and right now, home in our very centre.

I love this adventure more than anything. As I travel the wild terrain of my own soul, I know that I’ll survive with only the parts of myself intact that are worthy of living. I’m down with that. I’m willing to risk sacrificing the rest: my ego, my identity, my ideas, my concepts, constructs and comforts. I’ve done it before and risen from the ashes.

And right now, I’m in the darkness. But it is far from bleak. It is the fertile place of the Unknown. This place I love so much.

I have plane tickets, and a teaching schedule, and plans. Places I’m supposed to be and things I am meant to do. I love it and celebrate it all, and I am full of gratitude for the opportunities. But somehow I also know that none of that really matters. My practice is to let go of any ‘shoulds’ and follow the whispers of my heart and soul. Anything possible at any moment. All of it leading me to exactly where and whom I’m meant to be, a mystery unfolding moment by moment.

And what excites me most is that I know I’ll come back with treasures and hard-won jewels, wrestled from the jaws of giant pterodactyls. I don’t know what they’ll look like, but I know they’ll be my precious gifts, my offerings of beauty to myself, this world and to you.

This is my prayer for freedom. And I will walk the Unknown with love and joy and ferocity, so that I can become my own living prayer.

So that we can all live wild and whole and free.

infinity symbol

…if you’d like to come and explore some of this wild path of yoga with me, here are the opportunities.

Truth, Surrender and Bhakti

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.

mooji-rishikesh

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.

ganga-prayerAnd 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.”

~ Mooji

mooji-satsang

Awakening the Voice of the Body-Soul

Durga sanskrit mandalaWhen 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.

Kirtan band Mei LaiFrom 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 High Vibe Yoga freedomand 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.

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Upcoming workshops:

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

For the Love of Kali

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.

Kali FB imageSo 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 Fearlessness-Quotenot 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.

Death, darkness and ‘spirituality’

candleOn 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 Beautiful Transformationdeep 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 055needed 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.

follow your bliss womanFor 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.

 

The importance of getting inspired

Being ‘inspired’ is probably one of the moment’s biggest buzz words. For us free-living modern folk, life is all about ‘getting inspired, discovering your purpose, and living your passion.’

It gets bandied about so often and in so many circles, almost as a given, that we seldom stop to really ask what it means. Or worse, I’ve heard people say how much it makes them feel like a failure for not being inspired, not knowing their purpose or their passion. I get it. We don’t feel inspired all the time. Some would probably even say that we can’t feel inspired all the time. And there are necessary periods of life in which we fall apart, lose direction, and seem to flail aimlessly (probably whilst the next wonderful thing is brewing…). These are all part of life and our growing.

But inspiration is important. And what’s more, it is beautiful.

Mei Lai with giant amazing treeInspiration is that mysterious awakening that makes our cells tingle and become vibrant with excitement and joy. It is that brilliant stirring force that tugs on the strings that connect us to a sense of something larger than our individual selves, and to that something larger within ourselves.

The word comes from the Latin root ‘spirare’ – spirit, or breathe. Inspirare means ‘to breathe into’, and in Middle English inspiration was synonymous with divine guidance. Inspiration is that sublime feeling that arises when we are in direct connection to spirit. It is our direct connection to the essence of life – to breath – that gives us energy and sustains us. In my experience, you can’t possibly get enough of it. And if you care about living a joyful and meaningful life, it’s vital that you get it.

And it is the creative essence of evolution. It is what makes us human and what continues to unfold us towards greater beauty, love and creativity. Without inspiration, we are merely fighting for survival. What’s more, inspiration is unique for each one of us – what may be dull to one person may completely fire up another’s inspiration, and lead them to the next amazing discovery, project or creation. Inspiration is not just what makes the world go round, but what keeps it evolving. It is the creative force of life itself, bursting forth with astonishing beauty. And it is contagious.

So ‘getting inspired’ is as important as every single breath you take. And it keeps getting better – the more you have, the more you give, and as Joseph Campbell says about love: the more you give, the more you have. Everyone reaps the benefits.

Many people think that getting inspired is something that happens randomly, an accident of fate. But it’s not like that. Just as you can cultivate the breath through pranayama, you can cultivate inspiration – simply by seeking it out.

Rainbow architectureSeek out things that give you that tingling feeling of excitement. You know when you feel it, it’s fundamental. Read inspiring stories, watch movies and documentaries that move you, visit incredible architecture or wild valleys, seek out great art and music – whatever gets your creative juices flowing.

And if you’re not sure where to start, don’t waste your time wondering about it – start somewhere and just keep looking until you find it. Because you will. It’s as fundamental as your breath and the revolving of the planets around the sun, you just have to cultivate your awareness to know it for yourself. And when you find it, relish it. Roll around in it. Let it tickle your taste buds and draw you onto the next greatest thing. And know that it’s a never-ending spring. There is always more.

Let inspiration be the force that unfolds your life – into beauty and greatness.

Because it’s your own innate creative essence. It’s your birthright.