“When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of him you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself.” -A Course in Miracles
“This is Life, where do you think you are going?” I heard these words spoken to me as I desperately tried to hide. I squirmed and fidgeted, struggling to get comfortable, but I couldn’t. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I had just drank some ayahuasca, the infamously powerful, hallucinogenic brew native to the Amazon, and as it’s effects took hold, I thought, “Why am I doing this? This is crazy, I never should have come here.” I was in complete resistance, panicking, questioning my decision to come to Peru to try this ancient, visionary plant-medicine. I was impossibly trying to hide from the experience, back out, withdraw, somehow, from something that was already inside me. I closed my eyes and curled up into a tight ball, making myself as small as I could, my head tucked between my knees, thinking maybe I could disappear into myself, compress myself into nothingness by sheer force of will. When I opened my eyes, I saw that the floor was gone, and I was floating in space, completely exposed, surrounded by a vast emptiness, going on forever. It was in that moment that I heard a stern but loving voice say, “This is Life, where do you think you are going?” and I realized, in a flash, “What am I doing? I can’t hide from Spirit! Spirit is everywhere! Where could I go that Spirit couldn’t find me? I'm alive. I am here.” The absurdity of my predicament became apparent, and I laughed out loud. I was curled up in a ball, hiding in plain sight from something that is everywhere, in every cell of my being, in every molecule of the air surrounding me. I felt ridiculous at the image of myself trying to hide in the middle of a vast empty space, like how my 2-year old daughter thinks that when she covers her eyes, we have no idea where she went. In that moment, I realized, “I cannot hide from this” and in just that acknowledgment, something in me relaxed. I calmed down. I surrendered to the experience. I let myself be seen, and all of my anxiety and discomfort began to fade away. I opened up and fully accepted what was happening, and it changed my entire experience from that point on. I realized in a very deep way that Spirit is always aware of me, always loving me, always with me - even in those moments when I’m not aware of Spirit, when I have forgotten, or when I am trying to hide. I had a beautiful, heart-opening night after that, with tears of sorrow and joy running down my face as I experienced many more insights and revelations, challenges and breakthroughs, as the sacred medicine worked it’s way through me.
I have been most fortunate to be a part of a number of sacred plant-medicine ceremonies, and truly, I like nothing better than being in these ceremonies, despite the anxiety I feel prior to it nearly every time. Nothing excites me like being with a group of like-minded people for purposes of healing, learning, and growing, as we use these time-tested, ancient shamanic practices to connect with the sacredness of life by working directly with Spirit through the use of these revered plant-teachers, like ayahuasca. There’s really nothing quite like it.
But it’s not easy. The anxiety that I experience beforehand can be very challenging. I have learned that it is my false personality, my ego, who does not wish to lose the control (or more accurately, the illusion of control) to which it so desperately clings. After repeatedly confronting this in myself, I now understand why. It can be, and often is, very hard to “hand over the wheel”, so to speak, especially at first. It takes courage to give up control, to let go of one’s ego. After all, that is what we are used to, and we generally feel quite comfortable and safe in this known identity, even if it isn’t our happiest or most authentic self, and so to surrender to one’s higher self, the spirit within, and to the incredibly powerful consciousness of these plant-medicines, is not an easy thing to do. The ego can’t imagine what is going to happen as the medicine takes you across the threshold into the visionary shamanic realms of “non-ordinary reality”, and in my case, likes to play out worse-case scenarios (“You could go crazy! You could die!”). It uses it’s best and only weapon of fear, disguised in a million different ways (many of them “reasonable concerns”), to try to keep me from doing this work, from awakening to the truth that I am spirit, something it is actually quite adept at doing, which is why it is also known as the worthy adversary. It has been keeping me off the path of awakening for many lifetimes, and will continue to do so as long as it can, because, as Chögyam Trungpa says, “Enlightenment is the ego's ultimate disappointment.” When I wake up to the truth of who I am, the game is over. Until then, the ego is in doing it’s very best to keep me in a state of ignorance, uncertainty, confusion, or distraction (it’s favorite tool) to keep me from realizing who I truly am.
After doing a number of these ceremonies over the last decade, and by repeatedly confronting and moving through my fear (can’t go around, only through) I have made some good progress as far as loosening my ego's controlling grip. Through these sacred ceremonies, I have made essence contact, connecting to that deeper part of myself which exists outside of space and time - my eternal and infinite self - my unconditionally loved and loving self - the I Am presence which I now know to be my True Self, the part of my that existed before my birth, and will go on after my death. But even though I have had this profound and life-altering experience on numerous occasions, I have yet to become enlightened. I am awakening, but I am not fully awake. I am still fighting my worthy adversary. For this reason, I need a practice, something to do outside of ceremony to not only remind me that I am spirit, but to experientially help me to identify as spirit, as the True Self that I know I am when I am in ceremony. In pondering this, I had a realization- one of those moments where it feels like a light goes on- "My whole life is a sacred ceremony!" It’s only my ego that is trying to convince me otherwise. So if I am able treat my whole life as a sacred ceremony, and I can subsequently stay in this ceremony, then I can stay in my heart, connected to my essence, identified as spirit, and I will continue to awaken.
So what is a ceremony? And how can my whole life be a ceremony? For our purposes here, I am talking about ceremony in a broad sense, as “a sacred event or ritual that transpires in a designated space or container.” With this definition, it is easy to see that my whole life is a ceremony. "Sacred" refers to my spirit, and the event is the movement of that spirit, my life-force energy, through space and time in the continuum of my ever-changing body. I am eternal, but I am here and now, temporarily in form, having an experience in this body, from birth to death. That is the ceremony. I am the ceremony.
From there, we can break it down further, and look at each phase of our lives as a ceremony - infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age. We can look at each individual year as it’s own ceremony (like how we celebrate New Year’s). We can think of each season as a ceremony, every month, week, and day as it’s own ceremony. Even a day can be seen as being composed of several smaller ceremonies. Breakfast can be a ceremony. Showering can be a ceremony. Commuting to work can be a ceremony. Every meeting can be a ceremony. Brushing your teeth can even be a mini-ceremony. Ending the day and going to sleep another ceremony. It’s sort of like Russian nesting dolls - ceremonies within ceremonies within ceremonies.
Everything can be a ceremony, which is to say, every action, activity, or event can be imbued with a sense of sacredness, awareness, reverence, and respect, depending on our intention in carrying out that event, and the way in which we actually engage in it while we're doing it.
I recently came across the following passage from the book, “Shifting Frequencies” by Jonathan Goldman, a healer and teacher who works with “sacred sound”. In it he says:
“There is no such thing as sacred sound because there is no such thing as sacred. All is sacred because all is part of the Divine. All sound as such is sacred. There is not a tone, groan, belch or whatnot that was or ever will be created that is not sacred. I urge you to open your consciousness to this thought so that you do not create self-limiting boundaries around yourself in regard to sound: ‘This sound is sacred and good, that sound is not.’ Who are you to judge the creations of the Divine?”
Indeed, who are we to judge? Who are we to declare things to not be sacred, to condemn anything? And yet, that is what we have done and continue to do all the time. Mr. Goldman is talking specifically about sound here, but the same is true of all of life. It's all sacred, and the only reason we have to go out of our way to remind ourselves of that is because we have forgotten. We have severed our connection to Spirit, and taken ourselves out of the flow of nature, out of the Oneness, out of the ceremony, and as a result we have created all the things we say we don't want - sickness, imbalance, greed, war, environmental destruction - you name it - the list could go on and on. It doesn’t matter why we did this (it’s a big topic for another day), but it is imperative that we reawaken to the inherent sacredness of our lives. Bringing sacredness back into our lives is bringing wholeness back into our lives. I see it as a very basic and very crucial ingredient in our evolution as a species. The lack of sacredness is the reason behind why we are able to treat each other, and the earth, so poorly. So how do we reintroduce the sacred into our lives, and into the world?
There are potentially many ways to bring sacredness back, but here I will offer 3 basic ingredients that are vital to awakening.
1.) Gratitude. Gratitude is key. It is one of the most heart-opening frequencies we have available to us. When we are in a state of gratitude, it becomes clear that whatever we are grateful for, indeed everything we are grateful, everything that we have is a gift from Spirit. It keeps us open to receive more, and fills us with a desire to give back. When I pray, the first thing I almost always say is, “Great Spirit, thank you for my life.” This is my way of opening myself up and reminding myself that I am in ceremony right now, that my life is a gift. It brings me into my heart, and reminds me of the sacred nature of all of life. As Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
2.) Love. This one may seem obvious, but it’s worth saying. There are many kinds of love, but in this case, we are talking about unconditional love. This is a total, non-judgmental acceptance of all that is. When you are in love, you are in alignment to Spirit, you are in the sacred, you are in the ceremony. Stay in ceremony could also be “stay in love.” Love is the frequency of forgiveness, acceptance, surrender, compassion, beauty, peace, freedom, joy, and more. It encompasses a lot. Cultivating unconditional love is a practice all it’s own, but necessary to our awakening.
3.) Awe. When something is seen as sacred, we are in awe of it. Awe doesn’t mean putting something up on a pedestal and worshipping it, it simply means to be amazed, to be in wonder, to have a deep respect, and to marvel at the mystery contained within. A sense of awe or wonder isn’t looking for answers, merely contemplating and sitting in the power, beauty, mystery, uniqueness, and complexity of a given subject or object. You can be in awe of just about anything - a sunset, a flower, a car, a person, a meal, an idea - it doesn’t matter. It is an indispensable ingredient in living life fully, in expanding, in staying connected to your heart, and staying in ceremony. It’s a good idea to take some time everyday to find the things in the world around us, and the spirit within us, that inspire and awaken a sense of awe and wonder in our hearts and minds.
I hope you find some of these insights useful, and can use some of these tools to develop your own practice to become aware of your life as a ceremony, and bring sacredness back to this world. It's time, don't you think?