A year ago I was introduced to Roshi Joan Halifax when I went to Upaya in Santa Fe New Mexico. It was a life-changing experience. In fact, it was the life-changing experience for me.
You may have heard this story before but here it is again. I went as a guest and board member of One-to-One Women Coaching Women, a nonprofit of which I am very, very fond. It was a four-day workshop with Lynne Twist, author of the Soul of Money, which included a Dharma talks with Roshi Joan where she talked about how Upaya came to be. What got me all choked up was when she recounted how she had spent time at Joshua Tree in California on what I would call a vision quest and had given most of everything she had away.
A while later after her trip she was invited to dinner at Le Bernadin in NYC with Laurence Rockefeller who was urging her to take the reins of Upaya. And while she searched for an answer the words, “ I want for nothing, but I am open to everything” came up for her.
When she said that phrase I got so chocked up that I had to leave the talk. I was in the back hallway balling my eyes out silently…which is super hard to do when you are sobbing uncontrollably. I closed my eyes and I could here Joan talking and then Lynne thanking her. My eyes were still closed when I felt arms around me. I opened my eyes and she and another Zen master were standing with me. They looked at me and she said, “You just broke through.” (Or something very similar to that).
It was true. I had just broken through. Those words became my mantra and to this day I use that them in meditation. I breathe out “I want for nothing,” and breathe in, “I am open to everything.”
What was really weird, coincidental-not so much, as I believe that there are no coincidences and that our lives are a series of synchronistic events that once we open up to the flow of life we can see how these events string together to bring us into our God-given purpose.
Anyway, what was really “weird” was that when I came there I was given a cot in a room with three cots and I shared the room with a most fabulous woman. The room was Spartan to say the least and for anyone who knew me…knows me…she knows that I love my down comforter, 500 plus count sheets and any other luxury a boudoir can afford me. I love my bedroom and all its luxuries and I’m not ashamed to shout it from the rooftops. So imagine my surprise when I was shown to my shared room and was given a towel and washcloth that was quite frankly the most threadbare items I had seen, useful, yes, soft and plush, no. In addition, there was a rule of not flushing unless it was brown. Yuck. I thought this is taking environmentalism way too far, but in an arid environment where water is at a premium…maybe not so much. Things were shifting. Then once I had actually gotten used to the Spartan surroundings and my Ikea baby cot with austerity written all over it, another shift.
Right after that life-changing event I went back to my cot and my things were gone. I was told that I would be staying in Roshi’s house. I went up to her house and it was like entering into a temple, or a womb, or your childhood home. All these feelings came through but the one thing I knew was that I was home. I never spoke with her. She came and went and as I was off the kitchen I could here the bustling in the morning of making tea. Every night I slept to the sound of an owl hooting out of my balcomy doors and I dreamt. I dreamt she and I were sitting in the garden and she was instructing me on wisdom and compassion.
I’ll never know for sure in my logical mind. In my subconscious mind I know that it was real and I am forever changed.
I bought two of her books and asked the office if she would sign one for me and one for my mother. The next day on the alter by the front door were my books. Mine was inscribed,
Her book, The Fruitful Darkness, is a journey through Buddhist practice and Tribal wisdom. It’s her story and a universal story. It’s the story of how to be a Buddha Mama (this phrase, I’ll explain in a minute.)
She talks about the process of initiation and describes the Dutch cultural historian Arnold Von Gennep’s three phases of the journey of initiation as separation, transition, incorporation: the Severence, the Threshold, and the Return. “The first phase, the Severence, is a time of preparation for the ordeals and tests faced in a rite of initiation. The neophyte abandons or is severed from the familiar and begins to move into seclusion. The second phase, the Threshold, has been called, “the fallow chaos.” It is a time when the limits of the self are recognized and a territory is entered where the boundaries of the self are tested and broken. Incorporation means the return to society, but in a new way, with a new body and a new life.” (pp 15, 16, The Fruitful Darkness, Joan Halifax)
To me these three phases underscore the work of a shamanista, my work.
The three terms, separation/ the Severance, transition/ the Threshold, and incorporation/ the Return follow the three terms conscious, subconscious and superconscious. Conscious, subconscious, and superconscious are defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:
Conscious: perceiving, apprehending, or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation or; sharing another's knowledge or awareness of an inward state or outward fact.
Subconscious: existing in the mind but not immediately available to consciousness.
Superconscious: transcending human consciousness or;
of, relating to, or possessing the highest consciousness or a margin of consciousness above that within the ordinary range of attention.
In our conscious minds and world we live in we let ego take control. We actually think we can create a plan and be the driver of that plan. And then something happens.
Life gives us a run for our money.
Change happens and it we can’t control it. This is when we know we are about to shift. So we turn inward. And because we don’t live in a tribal environment of initiation rites we do it alone. And we are afraid.
Because we know we have to go through it alone and we know we have to go through it regardless.
As the old saying goes, “The only way out is through.” But fear is a guidepost to change and If we’re lucky enough to have a guide, a shamanista - if you will, we can clearly see that this time is the moment when we explore the landscape of the subconscious. The subconscious has a direct link to the superconscious-the All-That-Is. And breaking free from the conscious mind-ego mind, is the only way through.
The superconscious mind transcends all time and space. Time and space, as Einstein calculated in his Theory of Relativity, are able to bend. So when we are bending time and space we are in the flow of superconsciousness or the superconscious mind.
When you are moving into severance you are in a state of consciousness and desire. You think you are in control and it's not working because in consciousness ego state you block the flow from super consciousness to subconscious beds. So something rocks your world, or you get a knowing and that knowing is telling you that there is more; that there is another way of living.
And when you accept this fact into your life, you have entered into the realm of the Threshold. Just like Alice in Wonderland when she topples down the hole, things are about to get weirder and weirder. What was up was down and what was down was up.
This time is where you learn to give your ego a new job. It’s where you learn to let go and let things and life flow. You surrender. And you step into the answers to the questions you have been afraid to answer:
1. What do you want your ideal life to look like?
2. What would you do if you were 10 times bolder?
3. What would you dare to do if you knew you could not fail?
Back to the Buddha Mama comment. While I was at Upaya I sat by the main alter and stared at two statues one on each end. One statue held a sword and I learned it was Manjushri-Wisdom and the other statue I recognized as Quan Yin-the Goddess of Compassion. They balanced one another.
Today, I walked into a jewelry store to get an appraisal and get my rings cleaned and I was shown some absolutely breathtaking jewelry in the glass case next to Cartier, David Yurman and VCA (all of which are beautiful but for some reason I’m over it-been there done that.) But this, this was spiritual and luxe balled into precious and spontaneous pieces. And what was it? It was Buddha Mama. I was given the brochure about the founder, Nancy Badia, who started the company after deciding it was time to “embrace life in a more creative way while continuing to honor her spirituality.” I opened the page and there it was…Buddhism teaches that in order to reach enlightenment, a person must develop two qualities: wisdom and compassion.”
There are no coincidences, Buddha Mama!