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This week in the Spiritual Nomads course, we were asked to put together a guru board, a collection of photos of the people whom we consider gurus, or spiritual teachers.  Guru is a loaded word. The traditional guru-student relationship involves a lot of blind trust. I don't do blind trust very well, which explains why I am a solitary practitioner by choice. It may also explain to some extent why I am a spiritual nomad. You can share your wisdom with me, but if I can't internalize it and reconcile it with the wisdom I have gleaned so far in life, I won't blindly accept it. So, when I speak of my gurus, I mean teachers, authors and inspiring figures.

In no particular order (unless you have seen my guru board*, in which case, the order of the names corresponds to the order of the pictures):

Thich Nhat Hanh
As a spiritual nomad, I really appreciate people who are open to dialog with others who walk different spiritual paths., people who open and inviting about their own path, but in a gentle and tolerant way. I don't have to be a Buddhist to appreciate Thay's lessons. He speaks about things so universal, ultimately so simple, that I just open my mind in wonder. Consider his teachings on washing dishes mindfully.  Yes. The washing up is a spiritual practice. Every little thing is spiritual, if approached with complete presence. This has made a profound impact on my life. I savor ordinary things. I am less inclined to rush forward toward the next thing. I am content to be in the Now.

Sharon Salzberg
Although I have read much that she has written,I didn't meet Sharon Salzberg until last year, one autumn afternoon at Occupy Wall Street. We were at a tense moment in the movement, facing a lot of pressure from the surrounding community and the police. It was a blessing to sit down and practice metta--lovingkindness meditation--and find an oasis of peace. In metta meditation, you open your heart and express love for all living beings, starting with yourself, spreading outward to loved ones, acquaintances, strangers, adversaries, and everyone. My lovingkindness prayer goes something like this:
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be safe
May you know peace.

Where do I begin?  The Fifth Sacred Thing is one of the most fascinating books that I have ever read. Her work in earth activism inspires me. When we finally met, also this past autumn, but after the raid on the camp at Occupy Wall Street, it was for a workshop that blended ritual and activism. The ritual helped me heal from all the hatred that was heaped on us.  I knew things were bad the day I yelled at a total stranger who was heckling me.  We talked a lot about activist burnout in the workshop.  It's very real, and I am still dealing with a touch of it. We also explored the role of ritual in activism.  A lot of energy is raised in marches and protests.  It needs a place to go, or we return home feeling fritzy and ungrounded. One friend says she can see little lightening bolts sparking from my fingertips when I feel that way. So, we need symbolic transformation and resolution in our activism. Puppets and effigies go further than to illustrate the cause. They become the focal point for our energy, the ritual objects by which we will the change to  happen.

Phyllis Curott
The original Ara tradition of wtchcraft, as outlined in her book, Witchcrafting, is all about co-creating your life and your magic, working to find the Divine within yourself and become more closely aligned with Her. Phyllis was the first teacher I worked with that encouraged her students to explore their shadow side, the parts of our selves that we are not so eager to face, the aspects that we need to understand and perhaps redirect into something more affirming. I really struggled with my decision to include Phyllis as one of my gurus. I had to do some shadow work to understand whether my decision to leave an Ara circle was rooted in her teachings or other considerations. In the end, I believe it was all other considerations.

 Dr. Mikao Usui
Dr. Usui brought the practice of Reiki into the modern era. Perhaps he found the truth in old Tibetan manuscripts. A thunderclap on a mountaintop attuned him to become a conduit for the universal life energy (rei=universal ki=life energy). Those of us who have been attuned, master to student, follow in an unbroken line from him. For this, I am deeply grateful.He gave us five precepts to follow in addition to our practice of Reiki.  They are:
Just for today, I will not anger
Just for today, I will let go of worry
Just for today, I will do my work honestly
Just for today, I will give thanks for my many blessings
Just for today, I will be kind to my neighbor and every living thing

Libby Barnett
Libby Barnett is a Reiki master teacher and she performed my first level attunements in Reiki. We were at the Kripalu Center, my spiritual home, and the attunements were given during a period of meditation. When it was my turn, out of the silence, came a raucous cawing.Every crow at Kripalu was applauding my attunement. Isn’t that so typical of my life?Bhavani teaches at the Kripalu Center, and was a member of the intentional community there. She’s an amazing woman, filled with joy and love. She is a skilled and compassionate teacher of meditation and kirtan. I remember taking one of her classes on singing. Yes, me.Singing. It scares me, but I have enough trust for her…that she could almost be a true guru. So, I opened my mouth and sang. Her kirtan style is simple, filled with the classic beauty of her voice and bolstered by her knowledge of Sanskrit and of the Hindu deities. Singing kirtan, she told us, was a beautiful devotion, because we are chanting the names of the Divine. God, God, Goddess, God. Ram, Ram, Sita, Ram.


Layne Redmond
Layne is a priestess and a drummer.She taught me the rudiments of playing a frame drum, along with the practice of bhramari prananyama, the bee breath. Imagine the energy of a circle of women humming like bees! It is hard to put this into words. Drumming goes beyond words. It is our heartbeat. It is our life.

Pema Chodron
“We don't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts.”― Peman Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times
It’s not easy to read or follow her advice, but it is compelling.  She pokes at who we are.  She makes us poke harder at ourselves. Of all the teachers on my guru board, she is the second one that I nearly did not include. Notice the commonality between Phyllis Curott and Pema Chodron?  They both encourage us to understand our shadow side, and to lessen its influence on how we live and interact with others.

Swami Kripalu
 (who was a traditional guru)The Kripalu Center for Yoga is a place steeped in sacred spirituality. I spend some retreat time there every spring, recovering from the exhaustion of winter.  This is the place I learned to meditate and to sing, where I discovered bhakti (devotional) yoga. I never had the honor of meeting Swami Kripalu, but I have felt his influence in those who were taught by him, those members of the vowed community and ashram who remained as teachers when the community dissolved. Kripalu's love and devotion shines through them.
"Truly, the wise proclaim that love is the only path, love is the only God, and love is the only scripture. Love brings unity by healing the painful split between the body, mind and heart. When these unite, one merges with the soul like the countless rivers and streams merge into the vast ocean. Whether the scripture you hold in your hand is the Vedas, the Bible or the Koran, it is trivial without love. Love is God's only envoy, the only worldwide religion, everyone's well-wisher and the true guru. Love is not far away. Love is as close as our hearts. We can find it living there without walking a single step. Love is my only path. I am, in fact, a pilgrim on the path of love."
 Krishna Das
I've never told him this, but Krishna Das saved my life.  I had been at Kripalu Center for a weekend of kirtan, sacred chanting, taught by Krishna Das.  I was in that perfect state of balanced energy and relaxation that comes from breathwork, chanting and meditation.  The road home includes going down a steep mountain on a twisting two-lane highway.  The sheer stone mountain walls rise on the right, and the oncoming traffic is on the left. The speed limit is 45 MPH. I ended up with an arrogant trucker driving behind me. He rode my bumper down the mountain, pushing me to go faster and faster in my light little car. It wasn't his brakes that were the problem; it was his attitude.  I could feel it. So, in the worst part of the curves, we were going about 70 MPH and I was chanting out loud, trying to keep calm and keep my focus on the road. That's how I made it down the mountain.  Thanks, KD. When I'm not chanting to save my life, I am chanting for the joy and devotion. Sacred chants in the familiar idiom of western music are his enduring gifts.

It's quite an eclectic list, some Buddhists, some Witches whose ethics I value beyond measure, some Reiki masters, yoga and meditation gurus, and people who create sacred sound.  All of these beings shaped who I am today. Namaste.
Swami Kripalu said it better than anyone: LOVE is my only path.

If I can borrow these five words, thus I can define my path.  

*I've decided that I shouldn't publish my guru board on this blog.  It's a photo collage of all these gurus mentioned above, using pictures I found around the internet.  I don't have permission to re-publish the photos.

Date: 2012-02-16 10:50 pm (UTC)
seaivy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] seaivy
Thank you for adding words about these people. Some of them I already knew about. I'd like to hear more about all of them and what they mean to you.


athenagrey: (Default)

June 2012

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