Or, how to make love to life...
When I first began my spiritual journey as an adult, I have to admit didn’t actually have ecstasy as a goal. Ascension - yes, mastery, definitely, wisdom - absolutely, but ecstasy wasn’t really something I had on my list, because I would have defined mastery etc. more in terms of absence - absence of pain and suffering, feeling good and whole, experiencing flow, peace etc.
But I hadn’t really been led, by anyone I’d learned from, to expect states of extreme pleasure, communion and totality.
I hadn’t been led either, to think that ecstasy could be a tool to experience more of those other good things. Tantra for me has become an attitude to life. When I experience resistance in certain areas, I feel in and let the ecstasy do the work in healing and unblocking so that bit by bit more of life becomes ‘ecstasy-compatible’.
When I first opened to ecstasy, many of the elements were familiar, whereas others were completely new. I think it is helpful, if the concept of ecstasy resonates with you, to know what you are aiming for, and which states and experiences to develop. It is like joining the dots. You start with isolated incidents, then they ripple out, joining into each other to create a state which you can dip into at any time.
Ecstasy is a state of non duality where you can observe polarity but simultaneously hold two poles, understandings, opinions, in your consciousness, with appreciation but without judgement. You reach a point where the one enhances the other and you understand that both are a part of the whole, of what is divine. You can feel this rippling through your body.
Ecstasy has infinite moods and layers. It is literally all of existence, every feeling, every experience, transmuted into divine pleasure and communion. The more of yourself you can allow, can open to, the greater your capacity for the many ‘threads’ and harmonics of ecstasy.
So, these are some of the elements of ecstasy. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start...
Joy without boundaries. Childlike. Just because you are IT and this is IT. Touching joy in another at being alive and observing the primal nature that brings you together.
For ecstasy this is a key element. It is much more important than ‘love’, which is an overused term to the point of being meaningless for many. Compassion for another opens you to the depths and layers of feeling that will melt you at your core and bridge the polarity that separates you.
The more complex a situation, relationship, an appreciation, the greater its potential to teach you ecstasy. The fact that you need to hold awareness of many different appreciations at once which may seem impossible to resolve into black and white, right and wrong, forces you simultaneously into simplicity - checking out your mind and seeing only with your presence.
Dipping into your emotional reservoir - the feelings you’ve healed, those which are unresolved, those that others are going through to which you can relate. The songs we sing, the stories we tell. The histories. What it means to be human AND divine.
Not necessarily sexy, just alive and full of creative power. Power to heal, power to be vulnerable, power to surrender, power to explore the shadow, power to accept. Appreciating everything in its finest, many layered potential. Not judging.
A quieter state on which to build. Do you attain this in meditation? Where else does this crop up in your life? Talking to animals, after a yoga class, massage or Reiki treatment? For me, for years, inexplicably, this was induced by sitting with a cup of tea and my favourite catalogue. Practice imagining yourself in that state until you can tap into it just by focus.
Accepting your place in it all. Your childlike self, your divinity. Being humble yet curious. Infinite yet finite. Primal yet harmless.
Humour and delight
The kind of humour where someone adores you but can’t help teasing. A precocious child who says something gorgeous and you are not sure whether to weep or giggle. When you see a kitten and want to give it’s tail a tweak...
Especially this. You need to allow yourself to look at pain and surrender to it. If you try to shut yourself off from pain or other difficult emotions, if you resist them, you are also shutting yourself off from ecstasy and higher states. We need to own what it means to be human. This is the hardest element for the ego to swallow. When Babaji first showed me this it made part of me very uneasy. But if you want to own your birthright, you need to be able to look at pain with the perspective of deity, of everything being ultimately ok from the perspective of eternity, not of the individual stuck in illusion. Feel into pain, don’t resist it, express it, then access that higher perspective and work on transmuting it into one or more of the other elements.
If you do not feel this is ‘you’ (I didn’t used to), try starting with love and compassion. Think about it. Are there certain tasks you devote yourself to easily? Do you feel this more easily around certain people? A lover? A child? A mentor? Start where you find it, then spread it outwards. The goal of devotion is not to put the ‘other’ on a pedestal and make yourself wretched, but is in fact an act of enormous self esteem (big Self), which allows you to dissolve into communion with the other and puts you in a receptive state (also try my Divine Lover Bhakti playlist for more on this).
So those, for me, are the key elements of ecstasy.
Add to these a healthy dose of surrender, gratitude and inner connection, and you’re on the right track.
We’re nearing the end of the year, and for many this is a time for reflection: on where they are, on where they are going, on how far they’ve come.
If this is you, I would like to suggest trying something a bit different this year (read all the way to the bottom)...
This year, don’t ‘learn’ any lessons.
Don’t learn anything.
If you learn anything, learn to be deeply meditative. Become the observer of your life.
‘Learning’ implies judgement, that a greater wisdom is now achieved. It will get you so far, learning lessons, but even this kind of wisdom is linear, a part of the illusion of existence, the ‘before and after’ story you tell of yourself.
You are still identified with the ‘you’, not the I AM. The I AM always knows, always knew, always loved unconditionally.
What happens if you stop looking for meaning, for the moral of the story, for signs? Many people have accepted that there is no such thing as a ‘mistake’ in their life, only a learning, but what lies behind even that ‘learning’?
Just be. Just observe. Just allow.
If you are learning from the past, you are bringing the past into the present which means you are not being totally present. This is not the most empowering stance, because it does not allow you to enter into the magic space of self love. Complete self love is to accept the perfect imperfection that manifests as your life. You can honour the past, without feeling the need to react to it.
If you can’t release yourself from the past, how can you release yourself in the now, release yourself from fear of making mistakes? How can you release yourself from fear of negative repercussions or ‘punishment’ for ‘bad’ choices? You are the best you can be right now.
Don’t learn any ‘lessons’, but do learn to feel. Without reference to the past, what do you feel like doing today? Feel with your whole being rather than thinking with your mind. Feel with your toes. What wants to happen through you right now? Where is your compassion pointing? Dig deep. What is the highest compassion you can access?
Don’t learn any lessons. Start unlearning everything if you want to experience freedom. It’s the only way into the now and the power that lies therein. You AM. We AM. From this still point of observation, of unconditionality, what can you co-create?
Instead of the ‘life lesson’ paradigm, allow yourself to experience fully, let each experience penetrate your knowing, feel the pleasure, the pain without pushing it away, without judgement, denial or analysis. Let it seep into your consciousness with compassion. Once you’ve done this, you can let your now moment do the talking. If you are in presence, your choices will become more enlightened without needing to judge or ‘learn’. You will sooner or later feel like doing something slightly different. This is the quickest way to evolve your consciousness - without causing blockages of guilt, regret, condemnation and fear.
Let your experiences go without judgement or drama. If ‘negative’, thank them for being a part of your existence. Acknowledge the feelings moving through you, and refrain from analysing your choices. Why is it good or ‘bad’ in the first place? This is the portal into dissolving your karma, to accept your desires, your humanity without drama or punishment. No lessons learned, only service, only life, only being in the moment and observing gratitude.
If you unite yourself with the ONE in divine union instead of your individual little ‘me’, become the I AM, what can become of that little me? What can you do ‘wrong’ if you are in a state of compassion with the Lover, the Divine?
Don’t learn anything. Be faithful to the divine spark in you. Breathe, and ask yourself what you want to do now.
I remember writing this poem down during the summer, one hot day standing in the queue for the outdoor swimming pool on Jesus Green with my daughters. This was before the current shift which I’m describing above, hence the word ‘learning’, but I don’t feel inclined to change it now. The softness of the meaning is still present. I hope you like it.
Happy New Year.
Karma is a quiet master
a gentle sweetheart
healing with grace
touching your voice
I AM both the lesson
and the learner
who appeals to
Support each other
through your learning
What you forge
You carry this
a love story
beyond the hurts
Be loose, free
If anyone is asking
or anyone is listening
and in case I have any say
in the matter:
I choose you
I'm certain -
or else I wouldn't bother
there is enough love around...
I don't know the rules
or if favourites are allowed
but if I can have one
I choose you.
Parvati has spoken
and, if you ask me
she looks like a girl
who knows what she wants
gets her way
So, for the record
I choose you.
I haven't lived on leaves and air
but feeling the fire
my substance has become vapour
Meet me on Mount Kailash
and I'll choose you
What do I mean by these?
For me these are moments that really caused me to re-evaluate my view of the world and kick start some internal re-wiring. Defining moments are those you use to shore up your idea of what you are and what you are not in the world. Un-defining moments make the world bigger, force you to throw off pieces of your ‘self’ and find more at-one-ment.
I hope we all have some of these. Here is my list. It is not exhaustive and these are not ‘favourite moments’ or ‘time of my life moments’ (although some were that too). For some people these moments would be ‘so what?’ - that’s fine. These are some of the ones that I was fortunate enough to have that made me grow.
1. When I was 13 and went on my first French exchange to Dijon. Tipped off the coach and picked up by my penfriend’s family, we arrived at her home. The garage had automatic gates down to a basement garage. We walked up through a games room to the ground floor where staircases curved up on both sides of the hallway to the second floor landing. My room was the size of my whole upstairs at home. There were so many rooms that I forgot which one was the toilet and had to go in my ensuite shower in the night. In the morning we had breakfast outside (truly exotic - Frosties with yoghurt and raspberries) in the sunshine next to the huge swimming pool. We had pool parties after school. I secretly fell in love with her cousin. One weekend we drove down to their flat in the Alps for a spot of tobogganing, views of Mont Blanc and Raclettes. Hot chocolate and brioche before brioche was a supermarket staple. Bloody meat presented for lunch (just eat it - no one else is dying). Mind blown.
2. First visit to Camden Market as a teenager when my friend’s mum drove us there. I felt as if I’d entered an alternative universe of dreadlocks and joss sticks and other funny smells. Trinkets and memorabilia and tie-dyed clothing. Cue lots of saving of pennies and return visits. Happy days.
3. First term at Cambridge. Getting a ‘D’ in my first piece of Use of French homework and the soulful look from our lecturer. Never knowing the answer in the Russian grammar workshop. Vaguely wondering how other people did but also wondering why it was scheduled at 9.00 the night after the student club night. Busting a gut just trying to keep up. Not being able to define myself by ‘doing well’.
4. Arriving in Beijing on the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1996. (It does something to you to see the same country go past for seven days, the same lake (Baikal) for one whole day.) But specifically, the journey ended one morning at dawn as we pulled into Beijing. The parks we passed were full of older people practising Tai Chi. Before I had any idea what Tai Chi was. Before working out in parks was a thing. Beijing itself, The Great Wall. Wondering if we needed to go home at all.
5. Short and sweet - first night in Istanbul age 20. Being woken at dawn by the call to prayer from the three nearest mosques. (Argh. Do you have to? I like my sleep). Roll on a few (ahem) years. If you can't beat 'em....you marry them (or something). Nowadays when in Turkey I pass my mother-in-law in the dark on the way to the bathroom as she gets up to pray, me to meditate.
6. Living in Russia in the late ‘90s. Different rules. Not worrying about it.
7. Hmmm. Still not sure I want to talk about this. Breaking off an engagement because I fell for someone else. (I guess settling down at 24 was a little optimistic). The genuine horror of not being a ‘good girl’. Trying out the mantle of ‘scarlet woman’. Not being struck by lightning. And finally, most terrifyingly, not being sure why I had wanted to marry the guy I finished with in the first place.
8. Giving birth. Nothing prepared me for the way my body behaved in labour (and yes I did do the class - I'm thorough I did two). My experience was of my body transforming into an enormous pump over which I had little control, designed to expel a wee babe in super quick time. I learned fast that I needed to ham it up to get the midwives to pay me attention. My first daughter was nearly born in a corridor, the second not quite in the toilet. Neither one was ultimately fazed by the experience. Mild trauma and over excitement.
9. Early motherhood. Major identity crisis. Where did ‘I’ go? Who is that puffy face looking back at me in the mirror? Why is the weight not ‘falling off’? My ‘little sister’ is awesome but how do I come to terms with myself as ‘mother’? Am I the only one who feels like this?
10. Babaji. Beginning, middle and end. The ultimate love-hustler. In his presence everything is forgotten. All that matters is the joy that comes with it. Not being. Just love.
This is the quote that is keeping me centred right now, from Hindu saint Sri Anandamayi Ma:
"Before I came on this earth, Father, 'I was the same'. As a little girl, 'I was the same'. I grew into womanhood, but still 'I was the same'. When the family in which I had been born made arrangements to have this body married, 'I was the same'... And, Father, in front of you now, 'I am the same'. Ever afterward, though the dance of creation change around me in the hall of eternity, 'I shall be the same’.”
'I am the same'. Everything else is illusion.
What is your relationship with the divine?
Father? Mother? Friend? Spirit?
What about Lover?
Can you make love to your vision of God? Just the two of you?
(Warning: your ego and shadow body won't like this at all. They will tell you all kinds of stories about why this is a big dangerous idea. If you're ready to take those fellas on, read more...)
Sexual union is the highest form of worship because it implies complete acceptance.
Think about it.
If you were to make love to your deity, you would have to accept everything that the deity is and stands for (hard). You would also find you have to accept everything that you are - your humanity, physically, sexuality (even harder), and accept that you are accepted, even adored, for being just as you are (mind blowing).
It would take years off your spiritual journey.
You would be forced to integrate your shadow self and find yourself a more whole, total being for it.
You would never have another bad relationship, because you’d have the gold standard to measure it against and no one could take that away from you.
I don’t want to give anyone crazy ideas, but who do you call out for in your most intimate moments? Is the divine present?
Who is the face of the Lover? Are they separate or are they ONE?
If the Divine is your sweetheart, you will very quickly start to see all of life in a very different way.
Like I said, don't get any crazy ideas...
'Do more of what you love'
But I looked at my life
As there were no more
Minutes to be found
And I know you're not sadistic
So this must mean
Something more profound
I looked again at the strictures
And the activity
I could not have arranged it better
If I was deliberately
There was nowhere to go
Nothing to do
You told me 'Do more of what you love'
So I went back to you and said:
There is nothing left
There is no other way
You need to show me
How to make love to my life
Teach me how to make love
To my day
As an assassin
Gently whispers in the ear
Of his victim
As he lowers him to the ground
Eyes wide in wonder at his fate
Awaiting the last breath
You speak in tongues
Like an incantation or last rite
Stroke my hair
So, when Babaji first came into my experience, I remember being under the impression that I was in a safe pair of hands...
You know, I didn't know that much about him. I'd never read Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, so I did what any sane person would do in that situation - I Googled him.
And I came across a couple of stories from that book, including this terrifying one which takes place in the Himalayas with Babaji and his group of disciples:
So I read this story, and then I read it again.
'Phew, is that you?' I said. 'You're tougher than I am'.
And I wasn't sure what I meant by that at all....
And I turned it over and over in my mind, but my mind couldn't make sense of it.
But my whole being was switched ON.
And I still felt safe, because the part of me that was real was safe, but really, this should have been a great big neon flashing warning sign. (Retrospect is a great wise thing).
There was a lot of jumping. There might have been some pushing - the jury's out.
Some of it was fun, some of it was earth shattering, some was excruciating in ways that I have trouble explaining in any kind of linear way. And bits of me were falling off all over the place, shattering, breaking, dissolving.
And I would be asking around fifty times a day 'Are we there yet?'
We must surely be there?
You need to trust the one you've chosen to destroy you, even if you didn't quite see the whole of it coming at the beginning, and you need to feel as if it's a safe pair of hands. That it's worth all the jumping because you'll have a better experience after. Does your 'killer' look as if they're having a good time? This is important when it gets tough.
So, lest we forget, as we talk about awakening, enlightenment, ascenscion, consciousness and all the rest of these words that get bandied around, this journey is about dying. Letting go of all attachments to the body, the identity, the morality, the respectability, the good, the bad and the ugly. Becoming completely empty so that you are like an open window for the divine wind to blow through. Getting over yourself and getting out of your own way. And laughing, because you can't continue to take seriously what doesn't exist.
And really, if you're going to go, there are worse ways to go than by falling into Love...
Being is exhausting. Spending all day holding together your self-constructed identity will tire you out.
How about letting go?
The ego will never manage to overcome the problem that it simply doesn't exist. But it will keep you wretched trying.
Not being on the other hand is easy. You don't have to work at it.
Relax and let the cosmos breathe through your nothingness.
confidence - freedom - passion