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.

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

Yoga, Women, and Tantra: What would a ‘feminine’ yoga practice look like?

Balinese offeringsI’m writing this from the midst of a women’s yoga, ayurveda, and bellydance retreat in Bali, that I am running with my two dear friends, Carla Simone and Lakita Lynes. Every day the sun is warm and golden; the view from my villa at Nirarta Centre For Living Awareness overlooks rice paddies, a sacred mother river, and the spectacular Mt Agung. It’s far from the tourist hustle bustle of Ubud. Far enough away that when we bathe in the cool clear river, the local villagers still peer with fascination at white skin and fair hair.

The Nirarta gardens offer delightful ponds with bright lotuses, tree ferns with fronds begging to unfurl, slinky yellow-throated lizards bustling about, and colourful Balinese offerings placed in almost every nook and cranny and doorstep each day. Every morning, I return to my room from class with delight to find different kinds of fragrant flowers lovingly placed on my bed, my desk, the bathroom sink, even adorning the statue of the voluptuous, bare-breasted woman carved into the outer stone wall. It is a place overflowing with natural beauty, and enhanced by the touch of the Balinese, who know the power of beauty, of the feminine, and are not afraid to celebrate it.

Women's retreat BaliIt is the perfect place for us to come together as a group of women of all ages to take time out of daily life, to practice, to dance, to learn together, and to lush it up in Bali’s natural beauty. But most importantly, simply to be women together. To share personal and collective wisdom, to explore what it means to be a woman in today’s Western society, and to simply support one another as sisters, unreservedly, wholeheartedly, and with full acceptance.

Morning meditation

So in this space I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on and sharing what yoga has to offer women, what yoga has to offer the experience and expression of the feminine – because most yoga as it is understood and practiced in the West today is very masculine, very ‘yang’. It seems like we’re all hooked on power yoga: turn up the heat and sweat it out, push harder, breathe louder, move faster, jump higher. You know the type… the type that has us injured and exhausted and limping home once the initial thrill has worn off.

So what would a ‘feminine’ yoga practice look like?

Yin yoga is recently being touted in studios everywhere as the feminine counterpart to power yoga: it is ‘receptive’, passive, still. It contains the principles of letting go, of non-action, of surrender…

Kirtan devotional singingBut this understanding of a ‘feminine’ yoga keeps us confined within our painfully constricted Western view of the feminine as passive, inert, and submissive – and the masculine as active, powerful, and willful. These limited concepts hardly help us understand the dynamic expressions of the feminine that we find in contemporary Western life – the multi-tasking devoted mother, creative artist, yogini, focused businesswoman, and passionate lover. And they hardly help us develop a yoga practice that has the ability to bring us into balance, help us lead a skillful life, and guide us toward radical freedom and union: the goals of Yoga.

So how can we expand our yoga practice so that it is not a mechanical yin or yang ‘workout’, but a truly transformative practice that cultivates in us at once strength, yielding, power, devotion, surrender, wisdom and love. All held within the all-seeing embrace of blissful, crystal-clear awareness that is Shiva, the masculine.

Enter the teachings of Tantra. Not the bastardised Western sex practices kind of Tantra. The traditional Tantra that teaches that there is no hierarchy, no division between the physical and the spiritual. No differentiation between the world of humans, nature, and ‘God’. That everything – every sinew, every cell, every thought, every dust particle, every emotion, all the upheaval and all the beauty – is infused with the divine, is the direct expression of the divine. And that divine power is the feminine, is Shakti, the energy out of which everything comes to life.

Fern natural beauty

In Tantra, we are offered tools and practices that bring us into intimate connection with the Hindu goddesses that Tantra celebrates as the personified expressions of the feminine energies that exist within all of us*. Amongst the most celebrated, there is Durga, the protectress and fierce warrior of love; Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, music and the arts; Kali, the terrifying force of destruction and transformation who wildly destroys our inner demons and illusions to bring renewed life and clarity; and Lakshmi, who imbues both the worldly and the spiritual with beauty, virtue, abundance and nourishment.

From this perspective, a ‘feminine’ yoga practice is one that gives us the capacity to experience everything: the fullness of life in both the worldly and the sublime, the delights and sufferances of the body, the mind, and the emotions; the beauty and terrors of human existence, relationships, politics – and to celebrate it all as sacred, as divine, as nothing but the incredible expression of consciousness itself. It is a practice that teaches us to honour this sacred human existence with deep attentiveness and celebration.

So let us move slowly enough to pay deep attention; to build strength, endurance, devotion, wisdom, and love; to truly experience the flow of breath as the river of life that sustains and nourishes us; to celebrate the dance of body and mind with all our individual quirks and perfections and imperfections; and to develop the capacity to embrace and to be everything, without judgement and without restriction: limitless, whole and free. This is the call to action and the real potential of a ‘feminine’ yoga.

River view Nirarta Centre For Living Awareness

* Last year I was fortunate enough to undertake a retreat with renowned meditation teacher Sally Kempton – a fount of knowledge, wisdom, experience, and transmission on Shakti and the Goddesses of Yoga. She has recently released an incredible book, Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Powers of the Goddesses of Yoga, which will open you to the rich world of traditional Tantra, the sacred feminine, and the goddesses. This post is offered in deep reverence and gratitude to Sally and the rich offerings of her teachings, both in person and in writing. If you are inspired or simply curious, I encourage you to dive in and explore!

Desert Gratitude: Remembering to love nature

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Grandfather ghost gum at Emily Creek, just outside Alice Springs

Last week I had the great fortune of spending a week out in Alice Springs, my home of 3 years (2006-2008), and still my heart’s home, where I had organised for my teacher and friend Amber Gray to teach a series of workshops in somatic trauma therapy and Continuum Movement (see www.restorativeresources.net to check out some of Amber’s incredible work).

One of my favourite things in the world is to sleep out in a swag, under the stars, in a dry desert creek bed. Just ten minutes out of town, we spent a few nights sleeping out under this magnificent ghost gum at Emily Creek, with the full moon and night birds as our companions. Although it was late each night we arrived to camp, and dawn when we woke to pack up camp and head back into town, I felt incredibly rested and nourished. I was reminded of the importance of connecting deeply with nature, and celebrating her beauty, her gifts, and her peace.

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(Photo courtesy of Heike Qualitz)

To place your feet directly in the earth, to watch the flickering glow of a camp fire, to listen to the calls of so many different birds, to chase the tracks of lizards and dingoes in the sand, and to gaze into the night sky to remember your place, your home, your heart. This too is yoga. The yoga of listening. The yoga of gratitude. The yoga of being.  The yoga that is union: feeling deeply connected to our earth, to all the creatures we share her with, and remembering our fundamental humanity.

So if it’s been a while, switch off your phone, shut down your laptop, kick off your shoes and take yourself to your favourite place in nature to celebrate, renew, and remember. Your body, your spirit, and your heart will thank you. And so will the earth, for remembering to appreciate her beauty.

I love to touch this fragrant earth pod
with feet toughened by love
of hard dirt and soft dirt and clay
of rock and sand and salt that’s left
like the taste of a breeze caressing coast,
evaporated kiss of sea.