Good morning (or good afternoon) to you all,
Today I am going to share a few words on our experience last week at the Sanctuary at Two Rivers. My intention is to assist in the integration and assimilation of what was a very powerful week of sadhana, satsang and sangha. For those who were present, much of what I write will make sense, for those who were watching from afar, only some of what I write will land. Either way, this post will help to ground the buzz and clarify for anyone reading what we are doing.
The first thing I'll say is a resounding THANK YOU. I've not experienced such a level of group coherence and depth before. Whether that was due to the material of the training, the people in the group, or the commitment and devotion that each person brought, I am not sure. I am certain there were numerous contributing factors to the experience and I'm grateful for all of them. The Sanctuary is a very special place to gather -- one of the best, in my opinion, for the deeper dives into sadhana. It is truly a place built by yogis, for yogis. Thank you Naga for cultivating such an epic landing pad for our work.
The retreat itself was structured like most of my week-long retreats -- an opening ceremony on arrival day where the details of what to expect are discussed and the ground work laid for what's ahead, a good night's rest, and then jumping right in on Day 1.
I like my retreats to have a healthy combination of practice, workshop, lecture, discussion and ritual processes. We begin each day with sadhana, have a lecture on the daily theme before breakfast, then midday cover the topic in depth with workshops, discussion and more practice, before having lunch and a break. By the evening we are sufficiently juiced up to drop into the evening ritual activity.
Something to say about ritual -- the ritual process is seen as a core component in the Tantric art of transformation. After all, Tantra is the spiritual science of self-transformation, and the pillars of Tantric sadhana all feed into the main principle: transforming lower thought patterns into a higher, more divine substance. The technology of ritual is one that follows specific steps to assist the practitioner in focusing their awareness to a level that is normally not experienced in everyday awareness. The concentration that is awarded in a correct ritual act allows for deeper change to take place. A Tantrika (practitioner of Tantra) is attempting to heal/transform/grow beyond their conditions and step into a more expanded state of being. There are demands for attention, focus, pranic alignment, energy, and more. All of these components come into play when the ritual act is executed well and effectively, which leads to (the possibility of) a complete and total personality re-haul. Effectively, we use the mind to transcend the mind, and we put certain steps or activities in place to help us do this.
During the retreat our goal is simple -- examine what's happening within us and see if or where transformation is desired. Each person comes to these immersions from a different place on their spiritual journey and at a different stage of their path and development, but one thing is in common amongst us all. We are all looking to grow and further actualize our true potential. This can look like different things for different people, and that's okay. As long as there is a mutual understanding, the possibility for the group opens up, and there is a shared level of commitment that positively shapes the experience for all.
Of course, with this particular retreat, Voices of the Earth, we were working a lot with sound and the voice as the tool for our transformation. Working at the level of vibration allows us to shift thought patterns on subtler levels. This does not mean we left out the body -- each morning our sadhana was a combination of breath, movement and rhythm using a combination of Hatha Yoga practices and techniques, but we integrated a lot of this into our singing and chanting practices. Opening the VOICE, as it were, is a process whereby the soul itself becomes more expressed and open in its manifestation. The body is less "in the way", and our true nature and essence can literally vibrate through. Coming into this level of alignment with the cosmos can sometimes take a bit of practice and time, but its certainly possible and a desirable attainment for some. This is not just about becoming a beautiful singer, it's about sensing the vibrational quality of your inner Truth, and allowing that Truth to be seen/ heard/ felt THROUGH you by the world around you. In this process, the deeper Truth of life and the Natural Laws that are within us start to manifest outwardly and shape our external reality. Vibration simply doesn't lie, and our instruments benefit from a little tuning.
Through this week-long experience we went through various stages of learning and practice. The first couple days are really like an attunement for the whole group, where we are coming into coherence. Synchronicity starts to happen, an "openness" in the "field" is palpable, intuition and psychic activity comes online and the individual starts to merge more into a collective organism. In effect, it's like we are all starting to march to the same beat. This allows for a shift at the individual's level of identity as we become a little more fluid and less fixed in who we think we are. There is a space that opens up for more expansive contemplation, inspiration and creativity. The requirement here is that the individual feels safe enough to surrender INTO the group container, and that the group container is held in a very strong but relaxed way. There needs to be clear edges and structures in place for the containment to take place effectively. If containment is executed well, an individual in a ritual process can "tolerate the terror of change" to quote Robert L. Moore. Moore is a depth psychologist who has studied the art of spiritual transformation through ritual and initiatory processes. His work has shaped how I execute the facilitation of these efforts.
Containment is a function of understanding the history, background, rules, guidelines, and steps of the path to be walked. These things create the "container". We understand what we are stepping into, and we understand what is to be expected of us if we are to walk the road ahead. We learn these things by studying the roots of the practices and teachings. This gives us context and also the safety of the lineage. The lineage itself is very much a container. It's not a fixed thing, necessarily, but it is a holding pattern -- a generationally agreed upon set of parameters that has been effective for prior students of a particular methodology or system. Although I mentioned "rules", there really are no true RULES, only guidelines and suggestions that serve as a framework to flow into. This helps our shakti, our life force energy, enter a channel. Once the energy is flowing in a channel, it can catch onto the movement of others in that channel and experience the benefit of previous practice. We are standing on the shoulders of giants here. This is why in a ritual process, one of the first steps is to acknowledge the forces that have brought us here. Giving thanks and asking for permission is one way we get the blessing of those who have gone before. We are trying to continue the Great Work of bringing more harmony and goodness to our planet and we are not the only ones who have devoted themselves to this mission. There are countless others -- masters of so many great traditions, that have devoted their entirely lives to this. A lineage is simply an unbroken thread of consciousness that traces back to some original root. There is a benefit to picking up where others left off.
Understanding the Path itself is another big component in this Great Work. As it is said in Tantra, one of the most important aspects of progress on the path is what they call "correct View". That is, one must contemplate regularly on WHERE they are trying to go in their spiritual work. In its essence, the View describes the fruit of the work. Why do any of this stuff? Where is it taking us? What is the point??? If we start cultivating our land and planting seeds, we will want to have an idea of what seeds we are planting and how we need to cultivate the land in the first place to bring about the optimum fruit. So, a clear picture of the View is needed. More can be said about this but for now, this is enough to contemplate on.
Over the days that follow in the retreat, after we've spent some time discussing these subjects, we are now clearer in ourselves and our objectives. The work we are doing has more "ground" to stand on, so to speak, which propels us further into our efforts. Our mind and heart is more "in it". By the middle of the week, we will have covered most of the material needed to get us in a very solid and focused groove.
Wednesday, half way through our training, was the introduction to the Fire Ritual known as the Dhuni. The Dhuni is a lineage-based practice emerging from a Tantrik Kula of Naths. Kula means family and the Naths are a category of Tantrik practitioner seen all over India. Each particular Nath sampradaya, or lineage, is arranged into a slightly different pattern of worship and practice, but they goal is the same. Self-actualization. The International Nath Order is the lineage where the particular pattern of practice with the Dhuni comes to us. Although not an initiate myself, I hold high regard for these practitioners and yogis and give my thanks and respect to their ways as I have found substantial benefit from following their outlines. Naga, the owner of the Sanctuary where we had gathered for our retreat, is an initiate and practitioner himself, and I've learned much merely by observing him and practicing fire ritual together. I would consider him a teacher of mine. Om Sri Naganath Namaha!
The Dhuni itself is something of a cosmic spectacle. There's not much to say for someone who has not participated in this rite, but what could effectively be transmitted in words is the technicality of the ritual. A fire is used and is seen the central object of worship for those gathered for the act. The fire represents the cosmic principle of transformation -- agni. (Agni is the deity of fire). Bringing agni to life in our mind and heart, we are worshipping the essence of transformation and inner alchemy. We use the fire to focus our attention towards a centrifugal place and engage in a process of chanting specific mantras to enhance our fire and concentration of mind. This channels our life-force, or prana shakti, in a particular direction, and when done with a group, the result is a tangible experience of essentially a LOT of energy being channeled. An individual who knows little at this point can still enter into a powerful groove with the group and temporarily experience a greater amount of energy moving through their organism than has been previously experienced. This slowly opens the nervous system and subtle body to larger and larger amounts of energy to flow, in general. It also allows for greater perception to occur, as the individual with all of their conditioned mindstuff and karma gets greatly purified during this activity. The Dhuni, a 2.5 hour experience, becomes a key ritual in our group process of achieving greater clarity about Reality and subsequently ourselves.
Although we'd planned only one Dhuni on this retreat, the energy of the group demanded a second one, so we prepared ourselves for another fire ritual on Thursday night. Two back-to-back rituals of this type allow for a deeper sense and understanding of what's happening in the process, as merely one of these rituals can be quite expansive an eye-opening for an individual. Getting to do it a second time with close proximity to the first may offer some integration and a refinement in one's comprehension. The process of Yoga is a complex and multi-layered experiment so we need to approach carefully and with curiosity, attention, and consistency.
By Friday morning the group had reached its fullness. The Full Moon on the Wednesday/Thursday night Dhuni was an assisting force in this openness and the moon corresponds to the mind, and when the moon is full the mind is maximally illuminated. With the moon now waning away from fullness, we could slow down a bit and integrate what had taken place.
Friday was a day full of singing and expression. We enjoyed hours of singing together and a closing ceremony that night. The songs and sweetness of the voices blended together to create such a beautiful harmony and melody is still staying with me today. After doing all the "work" through the week, hearing everyone sing together was such a gift. What we are singing to and for makes a lot more sense after all of that!
By Saturday morning the guys were sufficiently cooked and we could enjoy one last practice together before our final departure.
Is there more to say? Probably. As I said at the beginning, it would be difficult to put into words but I felt like sharing a few here to help me in my own integration process. The facilitation for this retreat felt different. It felt like a homecoming for me. I stayed relaxed and present and allowed all of my own training to flow through me and it just felt so effortless. I feel so blessed to be sharing these practices and teachings with my loved ones and to feel the strength of the sangha and mutual interest growing. The beautiful beings who came on this retreat are now flying onward and upward. With great fortune we continue to tread the path, giving thanks to all those who've gone before and blessing those yet to come.
With love and joy,
Om Namah Shivaya