Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Becoming Spirit: Insights (Part 5 of 5)

This post is the final in a five-part transpersonal theory series on "Becoming Spirit" via spiritual unfolding and Vipassana meditation practice, originally presented in 2004 at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. ~ ER

Conclusion: Review and Insights

To review: the first two stages of spiritual
unfolding – belief and faith – are certainly the most common stages of people on a spiritual journey. Next we have stage three, with rare peak experiences, and a tiny sliver of the population of those on a path who actually maintain plateau experiences through diligent practice. The fourth stage, that of permanent adaptation, or becoming spirit, seems reserved for those few who carry their practice into their daily lives in the most transpersonal, all-pervasive manner. As Sri Lankan Theravadan monk, the Venerable Henepola Gunaratana says, “The most important moment in meditation is the instant you leave the cushion.”

In Becoming Spirit, we must equip ourselves with the tools (such as Vipassana or other consistent, effective, transformative meditation practice) to move beyond the glitzy spiritual beliefs, the personas, the fabulous peak experiences that we can tell all our friends about at the next cocktail party or Tantra workshop. We must be willing to endure – even when the practice is dry or dull, frustrating or inconvenient. I must remember that I have started that journey of a thousand miles, and that “the purpose is nothing less than radical and permanent transformation” (Guaranata, p. 171).

I can still hear the words of my Vipassana meditation teacher ringing in my ears, words that penetrated my psyche to the core as I sat in ten-day silent retreat, and as the knee pain only known to those sitting for ten days straight burned through my being: “Patiently and persistently, just observe, just observe. Be very aware, very vigilant.” These are simple, potent, transformative words – encouraging me to keep going when my faith wavers, to remind me that I am passing through this impermanent experience, trudging the road of permanent adaptation of this equanimity, of this liberation – of becoming spirit.

Clay figure, Hyderabad, India

Works cited in this series of posts:

Dhammadaro, A. L. (1998). Inner strength: sixteen talks Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastary.

Smith, H. (1991). The world’s religions: completely revised and updated edition of The religions of man. San Francisco: Harper.

Tendzin, O. (1982). Buddha in the palm of your hand. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting through spiritual materialism. Berkeley, CA: Shambala.

Wilber, K. (1997). A spirituality that transforms. What is Enlightenment magazine, 12.

Wilber, K. (1999). One taste: the personal journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, MA. Shambala.

This paper dedicated with metta to S.N. Goenka, Vipassana insight meditation teacher.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Becoming Spirit: Spiritual Unfolding (Part 4 of 5)

This post is fourth in a five-part transpersonal theory series on spiritual unfolding and Vipassana meditation practice, originally presented in 2004 at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Read Part One: Introduction and Part Two: Vipassana and Part Three: Spiritual Materialism and Transformation first, if you like. Enjoy! ~ ER


Wilber’s Four Stages of Spiritual UnfoldingLink

Discussion of the trappings of the spiritual ego lead us to now examine Vipassana meditation as it relates to Wilber’s four stages of spiritual unfolding – belief, faith, direct experience, and, finally, permanent adaptation. The first – and most common – stage, belief, is a stronghold of the ego. Beliefs originate at the mental level, and are “usually accompanied by strong emotional sentiments or feelings; but they are not necessarily direct experiences of supramental spiritual realities” (Wilber, 1999, p. 313).”

It is easy to believe in a spiritual precept or concept, but it doesn’t even come close to actually transforming. Beliefs “are merely forms of translation: they can be embraced without changing one’s present level of consciousness in the least” (Wilber, 1999, p. 313).” And then, something else begins stirring inside of us… Faith.

Faith, stage two of spiritual unfolding, is what blossoms when belief loses its power to compel. Beliefs eventually lose their forcefulness. As Wilber explains, “Mere belief may have provided you with a type of translative meaning, but not with an actual transformation, and this slowly, painfully, becomes obvious” (Wilber, 1999, p. 313-14). Because of the block of the ego, our intuition cannot be fully realized when our beliefs grip consciousness, for all beliefs are ultimately divisive and dualistic.

To me, faith is what develops when, through exposure to a practice or by encountering another transformative spiritual window of opportunity – which I call a moment of “grace”– we realize that our belief systems are outdated and we reach for something more. This “something more” pulls us toward itself like a magnet. In Buddhist terms, we decide to turn to a way out because “we see the reality of impermanence, egolessness, and suffering, we get fed up and disgusted with repeating the same pain over and over again. This is a very positive step… Therefore, we feel we must find a way out of our confusion” (Tendzin, 1982, p. 12). In essence this is where some sort of commitment to path comes into play. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha can be considered a form of faith: “We acknowledge that the dharma is our basic guideline, our only reference point in working with everything we encounter in our life: our thought processes, emotions, bodily sensations, relationships, and so on” (Tendzin, 1982, p. 24).

Even though the stage of faith is somewhat of a spiritual “halfway house” on the road to total spiritual transformation and becoming spirit, it is a critical developmental stage. In my own experience, I have relied on faith when I could not see a clear path in front of me. I have had to “act as if.” The faith stage is a bridge to true transformation, and must not be overlooked. Faith provides a natural progression, as innate as DNA in pulling a spiritual practitioner toward realization. Faith possesses a “dogged determination to find its spiritual abode," (Wilber, 1999, p. 314), and opens the door to the third stage of direct experience.

The third stage of spiritual unfolding, “direct experience of spirit,” can be divided into two territories: peak experiences and plateau experiences. Certainly, it is the allure of peak experiences that have drawn many sincere spiritual seekers, perhaps even myself, to become dedicated spiritual practitioners. Wilber cleverly points out the pun: “peak experiences,” which are usually brief, are frequently life-changing “peek experiences,” offering a glimpse “into the transpersonal, supramental levels of one’s own higher potentials” (Wilber, 1999, p. 314).” He asserts that, “Occasionally… individuals will have a strong peak experience of a genuinely transpersonal realm, and it completely shatters them, often for the better, sometimes for the worse. But you can tell they aren’t merely repeating a belief they read in a book, or giving merely translative chitchat: they have truly seen a higher realm, and they are never quite the same” (Wilber, 1999, p. 315).

In my own meditation practice, I have had such “peek experiences” on an incredibly rare basis when “I” have left my body, looking down at myself, connected by an invisible thread to some grounded core. Such moments have been intense and awe-inspiring, encouraging me to continue on the slow, grueling practice days and months, which are the norm. It’s as if Spirit has given me a preview of some cosmic, far out bliss – just a nibble – and keeps the carrot dangling in front of me. Of course, as any basic Buddhist practitioner must learn, I have to immediately let go of expectations of reaching the impermanent, transpersonal state I have just been privy to, remembering the principle of “right effort,” which keeps me on the path, equanimous and unattached.

While peak experiences are enticing and often awe-inspiring, the REAL work in the third stage of spiritual unfolding begins with “plateau experiences.” Plateau experiences are more constant and enduring than peak experiences, “verging on becoming a permanent adaptation” (Wilber, 1999, p. 315). The bottom line is that to sustain a peak, or “peek” experience into a more enduring trait, prolonged practice is required. It’s as if we come to understand that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26). In other words, we realize that in order to make any further progress, we have got to get serious about this business of practice. To me, this is clearly what separates the women from the girls and the men from the boys when it comes to walking – and living – on a genuine spiritual path.

I would be dishonest if I portended to be even one millimeter along this path, as spotty as my own meditation has been over the past three years. Perhaps, however, the clincher is: I have begun, and, as Lao Tzu taught, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Wilber also holds that the most important thing is to simply begin practice, to the best of our abilities.

Moving into the fourth stage of spiritual unfolding, we enter the realm of becoming spirit, or permanent adaptation. Adaptation is a “constant, permanent access to a given level of consciousness” (Wilber, 1999, p. 317). How do we get to these higher, transpersonal realms on a permanent basis? The answer, just like all extraordinary feats, is practice. It’s like the story of the man who pulled his taxicab over in New York City to stop a man for directions to Carnegie Hall. He noticed the man was carrying a violin case, so thought for sure he would know the answer. “Excuse me, sir, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The musician looked up at him from his brisk walk and replied, “Practice, practice, practice!”

Whether we’re discussing performing at the grandest symphony or reaching permanent adaptation of spiritual states, the answer is practice. Once we’ve accepted and embraced this fact, our practice can provide us with the skills that truly carry over into the rest of our lives. Our whole “experiential existence,” or state of being, becomes the game in which those basic skills are to be applied (Gunaratana, 1982).

In my efforts to notice how Vipassana practice seeps its way into my daily life, I have caught myself having a “permanent adaptation” state from time to time. For example, I have been acutely aware of meditating while in a lucid dreaming state – not entirely sure whether I was awake and meditating, or if I was dreaming that I was meditating. (Regardless, it was a real validation that my practice was deepening tremendously.) In fact, Wilber asserts that we have reached the stage of adaptation when we have such constant consciousness through all three states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping. You know you have become spirit “when you rest as pure, empty, formless Consciousness and ‘watch’ all three states arise, abide and pass, while you remain Unmoved, Unchanged, Unborn, and released into the pure Emptiness that is all Form, the One Taste that is the radiant All” (Wilber, 1999, p. 319).

Perhaps a simpler, more mundane example of “becoming spirit” as a permanent adaptation is when I am driving down the road, stuck in a horrific traffic jam, and suddenly become aware that I’m observing my breath and feeling the sensation it leaves as it moves in and out of my nostrils. I’ve been meditating unconsciously – or ultraconsciously as it were – being as non-reactive to the potentially stressful state of affairs as possible, and I wasn’t even on the meditation cushion. It was a rare moment of “spiritual soaring,” or becoming spirit. Huston Smith points out that right mindfulness “summons the seeker to steady awareness of every action that is taken.” A basic tenet of Vipassana, or insight meditation, that carries over into a more permanent adaptation, as I’ve described it here, is thus: “We should witness all things non-reactively,” and “keep the mind in control of the senses and impulses, rather than being driven by them” (Smith, 1991, p. 110).

On a subtler level, I have noticed how this fourth stage of spiritual unfolding, that of permanent adaptation or “becoming spirit,” penetrates my life and my relationships. As Tendzin (1982) reminds us, we cannot exclude the non-spiritual from our life, and nonduality includes the “postmeditation” day-to-day living. For me, this primarily means “sitting” with decisions, with emotions, with reactions to people, places, and things – observing and being aware, until some form of (usually) spontaneous insight arises through the practice of Vipassana. “Becoming spirit” and pure Consciousness also corresponds to the state of pure freedom, of liberation, that is a true aim of Buddhist practice. Huston Smith (1991, p. 119), in his usual ingenious manner, wraps it up simply: “If increased freedom brings increased being, total freedom should be being itself.”


Works cited in this series of posts:

Dhammadaro, A. L. (1998). Inner strength: sixteen talks Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastary.

Smith, H. (1991). The world’s religions: completely revised and updated edition of The religions of man. San Francisco: Harper.

Tendzin, O. (1982). Buddha in the palm of your hand. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting through spiritual materialism. Berkeley, CA: Shambala.

Wilber, K. (1997). A spirituality that transforms. What is Enlightenment magazine, 12.

Wilber, K. (1999). One taste: the personal journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, MA. Shambala.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Becoming Spirit: Spiritual Materialism and Transformation (Part 3 of 5)

This post is third in a five-part transpersonal theory series on spiritual unfolding and Vipassana meditation practice, originally presented in 2004 at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Read Part One: Introduction and Part Two: Vipassana first, if you like. Enjoy! ~ ER


Spiritual Materialism, Transformation, and Vipassana

As Osel Tendzin, teacher of the Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche lineage, puts it so bluntly, “We look for a path, a teaching that is not based on accumulating further neurosis and confusion” (Tendzin, 1982, p. 32). Vipassana, or 'insight meditation,' fits the bill.

Spiritual Materialism

It bears mentioning that Vajrayana master Trungpa himself states, in discussing the trap of spiritual materialism, that the “simplicity of meditation means just experiencing the ape instinct of ego. If anything more than this is laid onto our psychology, then it becomes a very heavy, thick mask, a suit of armor” (Trungpa, 1973). In contrast, repeated experimentation with the spiritual marketplace – again and again seeking “yet another technique” – would represent the empty trappings of ego, a seed of spiritual materialism with all its pitfalls. As Trungpa warns, “If we do not step out of spiritual materialism, if we in fact practice it, then we may eventually find ourselves possessed of a huge collection of spiritual paths.” He goes further to explain that, having accumulated a huge hoard of knowledge, there is still something to give up: “Our vast collections of knowledge and experience are just part of the ego’s display, part of the grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world, and, in so doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe, and secure, as ‘spiritual’ people” (Trungpa, 1973).

Translation v. Transformation

Trungpa’s cautionary teachings on spiritual materialism coincide with Ken Wilber’s important delineation between translation and transformation. Translation can be defined as the way of spiritual practices and/or religions as a way to create meaning. In contrast, transformation, which a very, very small minority actually undertakes, transcends the self and facilitates true liberation. Here is the quote that made me a Wilber-lover: “For authentic transformation is not a matter of belief but of the death of the believer; not a matter of translating the world; not a matter of finding solace but of finding infinity on the other side of death. The self is not made content; the self is made toast” (Wilber, 1997, emphasis added).

In his delineation of translation and transformation, Wilber explains, “If translation is too quickly, or too abruptly, or too ineptly taken away from an individual (or a culture), the result…is not breakthrough but breakdown, not release but collapse.” He gives the example that we must introduce “lesser” practices that lead up to the radical and ultimate “no practice.” As Wilber reminds us – in the words of Chogyam Trungpa – “There is only Ati,” (i.e. Spirit, God, nondual Consciousness) but “there is a need to introduce and translate lesser practices in order to prepare people for the obviousness of what is” (Wilber, 1997).

To me, this conveys the importance of embracing the practices of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path (right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration) as one way to bridge the gap to transformation. Ultimately, these practices – including insight meditation as “right concentration” – lead to the “’no practice’ of always-ready Ati,” as Wilber puts it. Achaan Lee Dhammadharo, a Buddhist monk from the Thai Forest lineage, explains it as such: “Right views and wrong views are an affair of the world. Nibbana [Nirvana] doesn't have any right views or wrong views. For this reason, whatever is a wrong view, we should abandon. Whatever is a right view, we should develop -- until the day it can fall from our grasp. That's when we can be at our ease” (Dhammadharo, 1998). Clearly, this exemplifies translation falling away, ultimately into transformation and “no practice.”


Works cited in this series of posts:

Dhammadaro, A. L. (1998). Inner strength: sixteen talks Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastary.

Smith, H. (1991). The world’s religions: completely revised and updated edition of The religions of man. San Francisco: Harper.

Tendzin, O. (1982). Buddha in the palm of your hand. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting through spiritual materialism. Berkeley, CA: Shambala.

Wilber, K. (1997). A spirituality that transforms. What is Enlightenment magazine, 12.

Wilber, K. (1999). One taste: the personal journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, MA. Shambala.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Becoming Spirit: Vipassana (Part 2 of 5)

Friends: This is a 5-part transpersonal theory series on spiritual unfolding and personal practice. I presented this paper at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in 2004. Before continuing, you may wish to read Part One (Introduction) here first. ~ ER


Vipassana Meditation and Personal Practice

Before examining the question, “What is Vipassana?” it is important to note what attracted me to Buddhism in the first place. Perhaps most significant, in the words of the Buddha himself, is the message“be a lamp unto oneself” – not taking any one person’s word for it at face value, and investigate thoroughly. Put simply, to practice Buddhism is to practice being awake.

As Huston Smith points out so eloquently, the Buddha taught that “on every question, personal experience was the final test of truth. ‘Do not go by reasoning; nor by inferring; nor by argument.’ A true disciple must ‘know for himself.’” (Smith, 1991, p. 98) For myself, after two decades of New Age-type experiences ranging from zowie-wowie crystal healers to blue-green algae zealots, Wiccan Beltane ceremonies, and “the little people living inside Mount Shasta,” it was time to “get real,” and awaken to my own truth.

Vipassana – called Lhakthong in Tibetan and Vipashyana in Sanskrit (Tendzin, 1982) – is, put in its simplest terms, the insight meditation practice which is the foundation of Theravada Buddhism. Theravada is known as “the Way of the Ancients” or “the Way of the Elders.” Theravadan Buddhism is differentiated from Mahayana or Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism in that the concentration is on wisdom rather than compassion (Smith, 1991). Compassion, metta, or loving-kindness is seen as a result of Vipassana mindfulness meditation practice, rather than the other way around.

In my own practice, I have stayed with Theravada and Vipassana meditation because of its minimalist approach. At this point in my journey, “less is more.” At the core of Vipassana is mindfulness – “paying attention to the details of our experience.” (Tendzin, p. 32). We become mindful of the breath without trying to change it, just as we become mindful of the gaps between exhaling and inhaling. In my own meditation tradition, taught by S.N. Goenka of the U Ba Khin Burmese lineage, we expand this observation to include vigilant awareness of bodily sensations. The practice is simple, portable, and effective. Maintaining equanimity and balance of the mind, we become increasingly non-reactive to our tendencies of avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure.


Works cited in this series of posts:

Dhammadaro, A. L. (1998). Inner strength: sixteen talks Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastary.

Smith, H. (1991). The world’s religions: completely revised and updated edition of The religions of man. San Francisco: Harper.

Tendzin, O. (1982). Buddha in the palm of your hand. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting through spiritual materialism. Berkeley, CA: Shambala.

Wilber, K. (1997). A spirituality that transforms. What is Enlightenment magazine, 12.

Wilber, K. (1999). One taste: the personal journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, MA. Shambala.

Becoming Spirit: Introduction (Part 1 of 5)

Seven years ago, I presented this paper, "Becoming Spirit: Ken Wilber's Four Stages of Spiritual Unfolding and a Personal Exploration of Vipassana Meditation," at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. While my perspectives have evolved into a more non-dual approach (four years cooking in India will do that to a body-mind), I recently unearthed this paper and found it to hold several solid principles and guideposts to share. Each of us are at various points in the soul's non-linear unfolding. I've broken the hefty, theoretical paper down into five parts, which I'll be posting daily this week. May it inspire and nourish your spirit. As always, your comments are welcome.
P.S. If you like Travel and Soul posts, it's a great time to show it! Click here to make a much-appreciated donation to Erin's website. Thank you!


Ken Wilber’s Four Stages of Spiritual Unfolding

and a Personal Exploration of Vipassana Meditation

Erin Reese
December 2004
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology

“The most important moment in meditation
is the instant you leave the cushion.”

- Venerable Henepola Gunaratana

Introduction: Background and Scope


I fall back onto the zafu with a mixture of relief and resignation. Okay, okay, I think to myself. I get it – again. No more spiritual “experiences” for the sake of experience. It’s back to the meditation cushion for me. Time to sit. Empty myself. Disidentify. Ah… the sweetest sound I ever heard: silence.

I’d just attempted one more spiritual weekend warrior workshop – this time on Native American Shamanic journeying – with the best of intentions. I’d hoped to be “getting back to my indigenous roots,” broaden my horizons, and – admittedly – surf the waves of altered states through drumming and journeying. Even without a promise of a cosmic peak experience or meeting an animal totem in the underworld, I have to admit that adding yet another feather in my spiritual cap – or tribal headdress, as it were – is not the answer to my personal transformation. I may not get to add another chant or drumbeat to my repertoire, but I happily forego such tools in favor of the sweetest sound I ever heard – silence. What works to truly transform my life – and has worked for the past three years – is the non-flashy, non-sexy, non-distracting practice of Vipassana meditation.

Over the past three years of my – admittedly spotty – experience with meditation, I have practiced getting clear, getting empty and letting go of fantasies of the mind. And yet, here I was being prompted to travel to the lower realms, meet an animal guide and let it speak to me. As the drumming progressed, all I wanted to do was be quiet and observe. I didn’t want to use my will nor my limiting thought processes to manufacture a journey. I had practiced enough mindful awareness to understand that if I have an altered state during meditation, that’s one thing; but to expect it, force it, or manufacture it wasn’t working for me. Staying present – right here, right now – was what truly called out to my soul.

The bottom line is that spiritual experiences in and of themselves have, quite frankly, become empty, even boring, to me. Although this became apparent many years ago, I had to, like the Buddha taught, continue to do more research and affirm the truth for myself. Hardly a quick fix, it’s become increasingly clear that spiritual practice is where the rubber meets the road on the journey to total awareness, or “enlightenment” if you will. Our efforts have got to carry over from the dharma hall into one’s day-to-day “householder” activities. In short, the work has to penetrate and transform our lives.

Ken Wilber is one transpersonal, or integral, theorist who advocates the same, holding that spiritual practice is a main force separating those on a path of spiritual translation to one of spiritual transformation (Wilber, 1997). In addition, a sincere, committed spiritual practitioner must strive to move beyond a flashy collection of experiences that look good and sound even better when we’re talking about them with a captive audience – spiritual materialism, in the words of the renowned “crazy wisdom” Vajrayana Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

In this paper, I explore how deliberate spiritual practice evolves beyond “just another experience,” so that we embody, and truly become, spirit. I begin by offering a brief overview of Vipassana meditation. Next, I briefly examine Trungpa’s principal of spiritual materialism as it relates to Wilber’s delineation of translation and transformation. Finally, I examine Wilber’s “four stages of spiritual unfolding” as presented in his book One Taste (1997) – belief, faith, experience, and permanent adaptation – with an emphasis on the latter two stages as they relate to Vipassana meditation and my own individual practice.


Thailand Sunset

Works cited in this series of posts:

Dhammadaro, A. L. (1998). Inner strength: sixteen talks Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Valley Center, CA: Metta Forest Monastary.

Smith, H. (1991). The world’s religions: completely revised and updated edition of The religions of man. San Francisco: Harper.

Tendzin, O. (1982). Buddha in the palm of your hand. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications, Inc.

Trungpa, C. (1973). Cutting through spiritual materialism. Berkeley, CA: Shambala.

Wilber, K. (1997). A spirituality that transforms. What is Enlightenment magazine, 12.

Wilber, K. (1999). One taste: the personal journals of Ken Wilber. Boston, MA. Shambala.

Friday, December 2, 2011

On Grief, Love, and Loss (Part Four - The Power of Love)

The Power of Love will take you to the Moon and back. The Power of Love will show you a strength you never knew existed. And the Power of Love is what makes miracles manifest.

This is from November 2009 and is the final in a 4-part series on grief, written in the weeks after my spiritual teacher, Ramesh Balsekar, died. At the time, I was still living in the south of India.


In the last weeks, I’ve been in a lot of pain – a void – a loss – a transformation. There are a lot of feelings around being alone in this grief. Sometimes anger arises – at no one in particular; it’s just there. I’ve had unexplainable moments of bliss, ecstasy, as well. Whether or not they’re related or not, I don’t know. I just feel really open and raw.

I had to undertake a strict recovery program, which I’m still on. (Note: This means that I had to put myself on a more regular eating and sleeping schedule. Going through intense grief is a transformation that requires a huge amount of energy and is totally disorientating, and eventually calls for an attempt at finding a new rhythm so the body systems don't get totally whacked out, which happened to me anyway.)

I don’t feel ready to socialize much – it’s hard to socialize when you’re unsure if you’re going to cry or blurt anger or get ecstatically high all in the same conversation. Better to be alone… but it does feel like I need my friends to know what I’m dealing with.

On top of the heart-break of death, I also had three severe slips/falls in the month of his death, and I really have had to take extra good care of myself. (It appears that physical accidents occur more regularly to those who are grieving. This could be attributed to not being grounded, the soul wanting to follow the person who has died or left. I wrote a bit on this in Part One - The Guru Dies. It can also be attributed to the body taking on some of the emotional pain through 'accidents.')

Some folks have said, why don’t you talk to your other sangha members (fellow students of my teacher) to share your grief? Well, just because someone was/is a disciple does not mean they are in the same place as me. Maybe they aren’t as sensitive. Maybe they are distracting themselves. One fellow student told me to "just stay really busy," which is good advice, but the Truth is, I need to express myself. Whether anyone listens, or cares, or feels some of the same feelings, doesn’t matter – I just need to give myself the space to grieve and MAYBE I’ll get some comfort or reprieve by releasing it.

While I do spontaneously remember satsangs and moments of laughter, realization, and intensity of my teacher Ramesh in the flesh, the grief is different than merely losing the person...

The grief is also about the passing of a phase of my life – a chapter – in which I was a disciple – a devoted one filled with bhakti – in which I’d flown faster than the speed of light across the world, guided by the power of love and devotion, to express my gratitude and respect to this Master.

A time period where I endured some scary, scary shit in Mumbai to be near him (events surrounding the Bombay terrorist attacks of November 2008). And where I spent one of the hardest travel months of my life in June 2009, with no air-conditioning and the monsoon delayed three weeks. I felt I would explode from shakti and tapas, humidity and tension, but I knew that THIS WAS IT. These were the final days, the final talks with Ramesh, and I was determined to stay…

These memories, and many more, are in me. They are being alchemized, transmuted. They are in my blood, my bones, and more than “spirituality,” “enlightenment,” “realization,” or “advaita” (non-duality), to me, Ramesh, in the end, evoked in me THE POWER OF LOVE.

The Power of Love will take you to the Moon and back. The Power of Love will show you a strength you never knew existed. And the Power of Love is what makes miracles manifest.

The amazing thing about the Power of Love is that it cannot be manufactured. You can’t put it on your credit card. You can’t ‘do’ anything, for Love does it, to and through you.

Thank God for the perfect Guru, the perfect mirror. Thank you for this experience, for this fulfillment of seeking. I trust You, God, that the tears will end in Your time, not ‘mine.’

As the tears barrel down my cheeks…



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

December 2011 Tarotscope

Hi friends!

I've thought about posting a monthly sign-by-sign Tarotscope for a long time. Like peanut butter and jelly, astrology and tarot are two alchemical magical arts that combine for astounding mystical revelations.

Check out your sign and the card chosen for each. Be sure to read for your Sun, Moon, and Rising Sign for best results. Your feedback is appreciated so I can know how many people enjoy this and whether to keep it up in the future.

To receive a personal reading for 2012, click here for details. For general astrology and tarot reading information, see my astro-intuitive page.

Enjoy and many blessings!

For a close-up of the card images, watch the little video here!

**Bonus card for everyone!**
We are the world! We have it all! Total completion and fulfillment. Everything comes together at last this December. It is all understood. We understand what we have been doing in 2011 and why. This is a fine end of a major cycle. Welcome the incoming of 2012 with wonder, awe, and excitement. No fear and dread to be found. Celebrate!

Aries: Six of Swords

This month, you’ll be focused on letting go of a past wound. Perhaps you’ve been going through a hard time, a difficult situation, a physical or mental malady. It could even have been a depression. Now you’re moving to brighter shores. You’re not totally out of the blues yet, but it’s getting easier every moment. A gentle moving on.

Taurus: The Hierophant
Hello, teacher! It’s time to embrace the inner wisdom you carry. Take the opportunity to participate in education this month, whether teaching or learning – it makes no difference if it is formal or informal, spiritual or practical. Say yes to learning and teaching. You are in your element.

Gemini: Two of Swords
Ha! You’ve been spotted getting caught up in that duality again. Don’t get stuck trying to play both sides, Gemini, or no one will ever win. Allow yourself to drop the battle of figuring it all out. In fact, drop the thinking game all together. You’ll be amazed at the freedom you will realize.

Cancer: The Empress
How Divine! Embody the Inner Goddess or God that you are! Enjoy all the abundance and good tidings of the season! If that means time with a lover or other, friends or family, you are the Queen or King Bee on the scene. Enjoy bee-ing and be glorious!

Leo: Three of Wands
You are getting ready to make your big move, regal Lion. You instinctively know that 2012 is YOUR YEAR and you will be in full alignment with the energy of the upcoming Year of the Dragon. Your plans are all laid out and you see clearly the innovative and courageous steps you must take. Vision!

Virgo: Three of Cups
“Eat, drink, and be merry!” This month, that’s you, Jungfrau-Virgo. This is a month for you to kick up your heels and have a good time celebrating. Especially plan a celebratory New Year’s. Come on Virgo, you can let your hair down a little this year. Your friends will love you for it!

Libra: Queen of Pentacles
You will be entertaining in the home this holiday, oh fair Libra. Get a new frock or fancy shirt, make a big pot of something, and enjoy being the queen or king of your own fabulous fortress. You can shine best and look great on your own turf this season.

Scorpio: Three of Swords
It appears you are letting go of something painful this month, Scorpio. It’s okay if you feel a need to cry – we aren’t always meant to be chipper at this time of year. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, remember a loved one or childhood memory. Your heart will open – and therefore, love even more.

Sagittarius: Seven of Cups
Hoowee, Sag, it looks like you’re totally prone to excess this holiday season! Be sure you know your limits and pace yourself with food and drink. That way, you’ll be able to last until New Year’s! Definitely looks like you’ll be enjoying the good life. Remember: all things in moderation, including moderation, indulgent Sagittarius!

Capricorn: Seven of Swords
It looks like you need some time away, Cappy. Even though it may be the start of your birthday season, this December you need some retreat and quiet time away from the hustle and bustle. Maybe you need time away from your job responsibilities. Getting away from it all for just a few days can give you a new perspective. You need it.

Aquarius: Five of Cups
It’s a month for you to feel your losses, your sorrows of letting go of people and times you may long for. Take the time you need to be quiet, go within, and let go. You already know the tides will shift soon, so use this time to feel and heal. You’re on your way! By Solstice time, December 21, the coming of the light will warm your heart anew.

Pisces: Ace of Swords
Tell the truth, fishy Fish! Stand tall in words, voice, pen, and email this month and say what must be said. Decisions are clearly made and boundaries set. You are clear as a bell and have the power to express it. Go, Fish!

Monday, November 28, 2011

On Grief, Love, and Loss (Part Three - Raw Emotion)

How does grief feel?

Far beyond sadness, far from depression or a general malaise.

Think of words like “wretched.” Wrenching. Tearing. Opening. Wreaking. Wrecking. Racking.

Sobs of sorrow that arise like a tumult of thunder, through the heart.

A small baby in sincere pain – raw, egoless pain – crying for the warmth of its mama’s breast.

Earthquakes. A quivering lower lip.

A cavalcade of tears dripping continuously down the cheeks, in the nose.

A wail. A whole-body shivering with energy, with emotion, with release.

A loss of appetite. A loss of joy. A loss.

Yes, a loss. It is a Death.

Then, there is the anger. Anger arises because there feels to be no tenderness, no understanding, no arms to comfort.

(from November 2009, six weeks after my teacher's death)

Because most people haven't had the experience of having a guru-master in the first place, let alone having one die, people tend to not know how to respond to my grief. I’ve heard some harsh comments through this, for example:

1. “Haven't you had anyone die before?”

Like that would make it easier! The fact is, NO, I’ve never had anyone so close to me die before. And, even if I had lost a sister, a mother, a brother, my father, a child, would that conceivably make it less painful?

2. “You are being selfish for grieving.”

What the...? Selfish because my heart is broken and I’m in pain?

The person said this because, “I should be so happy” for my Teacher going, since we know he was in physical pain, but c'mon here - set aside rationality and let me have my pain! It’s become so clear to me that the tears of the survivors are not about ‘the one who died’ (they surely are fine!). The tears are the human emotion experienced by those who are still living, for their own loss.

It’s just a feeling and I know Time will heal and transform but it does NOT help to minimize it. I loved my teacher and we did have an intense closeness at the end. It wasn’t more close or less close than any other student. That’s each person’s experience. I’m saying I loved him, and, his death is showing me just how deep that love goes.

3. “I don’t want any gurus near me.”

Or, "A guru is for people who need a father figure."

Or, “You don’t need a guru anyway.”

Sheer ignorance. First of all, unless you’ve had a guru relationship, you can’t possibly know, or judge.

4. “Still?” was one person's reaction when I mentioned I was grieving. This was a few weeks after he died.

I know the Guru is within, that the impersonal Guru has entered my heart and it is firmly lodged there, but it doesn’t mean that in this real time experience I don’t have pain of loss to heal from.

5. "He would have been disappointed in you."

Sitting in a cafe, I noticed an Aussie bloke reading a book by my grand-guru, Nisargadatta Maharaj. I saw the book sitting there, and I knew I was risking it by opening my mouth. "Oh, you're reading a book by my teacher's teacher," I said, grasping for a bit of connection.

The guy replied, “Ah Ram Balsekar,” giving Ramesh a nickname.

"Yes, Ramesh was my teacher. I miss him. I’m still integrating his death. I miss him still."

The Aussie replied, “He would have been disappointed in you. He spent his life teaching there is no individual. He would have been disappointed in you because you missed the point."

What a jerk. He has no idea what it means to love.

Screw all the intellectual understanding. I’m still in the body, I’m still human, and even if I know the Truth of impermanence, I am still having a human emotion. Screw your judgment, that I’m attached. Screw all of your concepts.

When my teacher Ramesh was still alive, tears arose when speaking of his own guru, and tears arose upon mention of his own son who passed. “It happened,” Ramesh said.

Even with total understanding of impermanence and no separation, emotions happen.

Emotions arise. Joy arises. Sadness arises. Anger arises.

And grief…


Let It Flow.

(Six months later - April 2010)

By the grace of the Guru, I came across the following passage in my teacher's book, It So Happened That… The Unique Teaching of Ramesh S. Balsekar. Exactly what I needed to hear.

Ramesh writes on loss and death:

A friend of mine lost his wife after fifty-five years of marriage. When I went to see him after ten or twelve days, he was again overcome with feelings. And he had the idea that he had the Understanding, that he knew what It was all about. He had been reading books for forty years.

So he told me, ‘All that reading, all that knowledge of forty years was found useless when the chips were down.’ When his wife died he was overcome with grief, and every time someone came to sympathize with him the emotions overwhelmed him again. He said, ‘Now, when you have come, it is still there, after nearly two weeks. And I thought I was a jnani [an enlightened sage]. I thought I had understood.’

At that time to speak to him on this matter would have been to add insult to injury. So I didn’t speak to him then. But when I went home somehow I went straight to my desk and wrote him a longish letter. I concluded by saying, ‘I presume you have read this. Please forgive the impertinence, and just throw it away.’

But I wrote because it was almost compulsive. What I wrote to him was this: ‘Your reaction to the death of your wife was a perfectly normal reaction for the body-mind organism in question. You love your wife; you miss your wife. That’s all there is. So the reaction to the death of your wife is perfectly natural, perfectly spontaneous. What is perhaps wrong is your reaction to that reaction. You are reacting to that reaction saying, ‘I thought I was a jnani and here I am groveling in grief.’ So that reaction is what is incorrect.’ And that reaction really proves that his understanding was not deep enough.

So I wrote and said, ‘If you had not loved your wife as much as you did, then probably her death would not have affected you as much. And then you probably would have thought, “I know what it’s all about. I am a jnani. The death of my wife doesn’t mean so much. I accept it.” But that reaction would not have been because of being a jnani, it would have been because you didn’t love your wife!'

On Grief, Love, and Loss (Part Two - Divorce)

Friends: This is a multiple-part grief series I wrote two years ago, in November 2009. It was raw, unedited and emotionally messy material I penned in the weeks just after my spiritual teacher died - during a time I felt utterly alone in my grief. I've always wanted to post these, but the time has never been right and I don't know if it ever will be. I'm preparing material right now for my second book (the follow-up to Bindi Girl), in which I'll be delving deeper into my spiritual journey in India. Therefore, I've decided to rework this grief material and post it here first. Also, I never know if my readers may be going through similar passages in life; therefore, I like to share these writings in case they offer insight or inspiration during one's time of need.
Love, Erin

(Continued from On Grief, Love, and Loss: Part One - The Guru Dies)

Grief is a difficult emotion to write about. It seems so much easier to write about love. Even anger, or sadness, seems easier.

I can’t put my ‘thoughts’ together. I keep waiting for the day I wake up, like I used to, and some story or missive or vignette will flow forth and I will know for certain, “This is the entry to share with my friends. This is the piece to post.”

But it’s not happening.

Instead, I feel more constricted and alone in my grief. I know there are a few people who are ready to hear it, who can hold me through the tears. It's just so hard to know how to reach out, and how to receive.

How do I know this is the emotion called grief? How do I know it’s different than mourning, depression, or mere clinging to the past?

It feels different. Grief just feels different. And, I’ve been here before – a few times. I’ve been through something called D-I-V-O-R-C-E, so I know this is a similar emotion.


My first marriage was monumental, even though it only lasted seven years. It was the real-ationship and male-female partnership where I’d felt truly my-self, for better or for worse. We were truly friends, and I trusted my husband with full exposure.

When the Tower came crashing down at the end, I knew it was merely Life acting through Death, that we were being sent in separate directions in order to keep growing, evolving… and we could not do it together.

With 100% certainty, I knew it was for the Highest Good of All Concerned for my marriage to end. No matter if it was the right thing: even if you know it's gotta go, it's like losing an arm. Needless to say, it hurts like hell.

It took a good year for the most wrenching, intense waves of grief to quell. I was working a super-intense job at the time, one in which I had to be ‘on’ with a happy face, and it was evenings and weekends that I’d sit on balcony overlooking the San Francisco skyline, slowly puffing one cigarette, feeling the ache of the let-go of my married life, the departure of the dream, the passing of an intense love relationship.

And yet, and still, it hurt like a mother. It hurt so bad I’d cry and cry and cry. I never once “wanted him back.” I did wish for his – and of course, my own – ultimate peace and happiness. I knew the past was the past, and it was clearly over. Sure, nostalgia arose – the missing of joyful times, like cross-country skiing in the winter, breakfast in bed and making love on Sunday mornings, having someone to spoon with. Having someone to sing with, to cook for. Someone to have on your team.

It took about two more years for me to stop wondering how the ex was getting on. Slowly, new life entered the fold. The ex got remarried, rapidly, and had children before I’d even had a proper date, let alone boyfriend steady.

I went off to India, Europe, New York City, grad school, and the cosmos, refilling my coffers with adventure, passion, growth – and, eventually, boyfriends, too.

Slowly, slowly, over the course of the next several years, I forgot about my ex-husband, though I never stopped being grateful for the seven years we shared together.

But I was talking about grief, wasn’t I?

I brought up Le Divorce because it evokes the memory that "I've felt this emotion before," and it's here now again. It is real, and I need to talk about it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just Spell My Name Right

There’s an old saying in politics and entertainment journalism: “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.” The line has been attributed to dozens of folks, most notably P.T. Barnum as well as other outspoken figures Mae West, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain. And now I’m saying it, too.

The gist of the saying is that there is no bad publicity: you know you’re making waves and getting to be well-known in the world when you receive reviews, whether negative or positive. Today, I joined the “just spell my name right” ranks as I just received my first negatively slanted review of Bindi Girl: Diving Deep Into the Heart of India, which is a top-rated India travel book on Amazon Kindle soon to be released in print.

I’m still human enough to be pleased they emailed me the review directly rather than posting it on Amazon, though it could happen sooner or later. The reviewer was actually quite kind and sensitive toward my feelings (which I find touching) and politely wishes for me to remove certain distasteful chapters. Reflecting now, a book that makes one think – even if it’s unpleasant – must be effective.

(Ed. note - The comments were a letter to me personally, which I removed from this post per reviewer's personal and most polite request.)

Would I change the chapters suggested? Nah. They are part and parcel of Bindi’s unsentimental and often messy journey into the heart – and guts – of India. Not so many solo western women get to travel as the poorer locals do – third class. According to a 2010 Oxford University study, 55% of India’s population lives in poverty. So my reporting, gross and uncomfortable as it may be to read (for a cozy person living in clean hygienic western standards) is accurate. Kudos, Bindi.

I suppose I’ll never be heralded as a squeaky-clean, holier-than-thou spiritual gal. Shucks. I’m a seeker of the roll-up-the-sleeves, rule-breakin’ variety, and I’ll probably never be embraced by the devout as their spokesmodel. Every single morsel of wisdom has come through viscerally experiencing the Divine directly. And sometimes, that means Bindi boldly goes where the average traveler would never normally go.

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