Part of the Never-Ending Story

This image of Orion and its Cloud Complex by Rogelio Bernal Andreo has got me transfixed this week. Orion the mighty Hunter and his belt is such a familiar constellation to us that we often don’t even pause to wonder what secrets it may be holding, and yet here in this mosaic, stitched together so beautifully, we can see just how wondrous Orion really is.

There is Barnard’s Loop – that red gaseous crescent moon shape on the left. There’s the Witch’s Head Nebula down in the lower right that I’m still not quite certain isn’t Falkor the Luck Dragon flying our hero Atreyu through the universe.

Just above the left-hand star of Orion’s Belt (Alnitak) we find the Flame Nebula, and just under it, the eerie Horsehead Nebula emerging out of the dark. And then in the lower centre, the incredible Great Orion Nebula we can even see with our naked eye.

But this is just scratching the surface. There’s an open cluster of stars, three of which are perfectly aligned north to south, Collinder 69, that lie in the face of Orion  – when was the last time we even gazed upon our Hunter’s face? And then the Reflection Nebula… The list goes on and on.

It is the myth of these constellations that really lights a fire in my heart, and Orion, seen the world over, has birthed thousands of tales and legends. Looking at this image one can’t possibly help but think of Orion as mythic. And it raises the question, what is myth? Does it have to be an ancient tale of a great Hunter who, in his pride, was stung by a scorpion? Or a tale of a Belt that in the South Pacific is instead a canoe taking fishermen heroes out to sea?

What if a myth is also a story of an exploding star (did you know Betelgeuse, that red star on the left shoulder of Orion may explode as a supernova in the relatively near future and that humans on Earth will see it?), or a tale of how humans saw an eerie horse or witch’s head in the sky above? Or, of a face that is rarely looked at yet wears three distinguished stars across a cheek… Where does the myth end and where does it begin? Or perhaps, what we discover is that it is all a myth. Life throughout space and across time is simply a beautiful, fantastical, unimaginable, rich mosaic of a story, and how lucky we are to be part of it.

Why We Need the Wild…

“The clearest way into the Universe, is through a forest wilderness,” said John Muir. There have only been a handful of times in my life that I have felt this connection—between myself and the Universe—and they have indeed happened in the wilds.

One of these memories was in Australia. I had been visiting my aunt who was living and working with local artists in a remote Aboriginal community in the middle of the country. We had taken a drive into the bush, turning left after 40 minutes at an old teakettle that hung on a tree branch, and then driving another 30 minutes until we arrived at an area of canyons splashed with Aboriginal paintings and the structures of old shelters (wiltjas).

It had been a brutal summer, raging at more than 100 degrees for weeks. And while there had been life in the canyons once, it had dried up, or—like the Aborigines—had moved on. All that remained was shriveled trees; spinifex grass; baked, red earth; and dust.

We were about half a mile into our silent hike when we noticed a speck far away on the blue horizon. For about five minutes we watched as it made its way toward us, until finally it came fully into sight—a tiny bird, smaller than a sparrow with red, black and gold feathers. It landed its bedraggled little body a few inches away from us on a brittle branch of a dead tree, and looked at us expectantly.

“It knows we have water,” said my aunt. And so we poured a little into a bottle cap and watched as the impatient bird hopped around our feet in anticipation. It followed us through the brush as we hiked for another 15 minutes, stopping intermittently to share our water, and splash its feathers, before flying on.

Rewilding the Earth

Unfortunately it seems the experiences we have in the wild are few and far between. The Wilderness Act, put in place in the U.S. in 1964, describes wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” But those places have become far fewer. It only recently occurred to me, while talking to my grandma who is 99 this year, that, when she was born, there were 1.24 billion people on the planet. Now that number is 7.4 billion. And if I live as long as my grandma I may be sharing this planet with 10.5 billion people.

Faced with this rapid and all-encompassing encroachment of man upon the planet’s wilderness, there have been efforts in recent years across continents to reforest and “rewild” Earth. In Europe bison and wild horses have been reintroduced. In Scotland white-tailed eagles and beavers have been released. In Brazil there are attempts to repopulate the golden lion tamarin. In the U.S. and Canada bison are being brought back, and bald eagle and peregrine falcons are no longer on the endangered species lists thanks to successful reintroduction programs.

The momentum has to be continued. While the Wilderness Act has resulted in 110 million acres of land being preserved and protected, in most states it is less than 1 percent of total land.

The Path to Remembrance

We need the wilderness. It is who we are. And we have not forgotten. For all the glass and metal, cloth, noise, and circuitry with which we cloak our existence, all it takes is the sound of air spouting from the blowhole of an orca whale, or the crash of a waves against a cliff, for us to remember that we are supposed to be free, that we are wild.

“In many indigenous cultures there was no word for ‘nature’ because they did not experience wilderness as some ‘thing’ separate or distinct from themselves,” says Buddhist teacher Mark Coleman. It’s hard to imagine—now that we have become so disconnected from our origins—but in these wild moments we have glimpses of understanding, when we realize, says Mark: “Where does the sound of a robin singing and the vibration in our inner ear end?”

If we doubt that our souls remember this oneness, we need only look to the wild. George Monbiot, writer, environmentalist, and rewilding advocate, points to the remarkable story of the boar and the robin. For 700 years, wild boar had been absent from Britain. Once plentiful, they had been hunted and farmed out of existence, and the robins with whom they had a symbiotic relationship had been forced to find a different animal that would unearth grubs with its digging—the human gardener.

In 2009 in the Scottish Highlands a group called Trees for Life began a project to rewild Dundreggan, and in doing so released several boar onto the land. Within twenty minutes, the robins arrived and took up their place alongside the boar. It had been 700 years, but the robins remembered.

Rewilding Ourselves

It is the same for us. When we swim alongside seals, come face to face with a great horned owl, or hear the call of a coyote, our own domestication falls away—we realize we have mistaken our identity. And in that moment of remembrance we let go of all the labels and the opinions, and take up our seat again as part of the whole—not apart from it. We join with the wildness. As I heard “The Forum” founder Werner Erhard once say: “Take all those opinions, all those achievements, and all the things you think you are and go tell it to the stars, and see if they care.”

It’s not that we don’t matter. It’s that what we think matters, doesn’t—and the wilderness reminds us of this every time we meet it head-on. It wakes us up. Faced with its raw, pristine honesty, we catch a glimpse of an “us” without limitations. If open, we come away knowing that the mental constructs we have built must be abandoned for us to return to that state of freedom and oneness.

Search every wisdom teaching and this is the message: The Earth and our spirit are one and the same, and we need only look to Earth to learn who we are. The growing field of spiritual ecology seeks to remind us of this. Search science and the message stays the same. In the words of Albert Einstein: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

In the witnessing of the wild, we remember and reclaim our own.  When I got back to the village from the hike with my aunt I sat down with one of the women as she painted. I wanted to understand why art was so important to the Aboriginal community, and I told her about the bird. “And you remembered who you are…” She said. “And now you know why we paint the stories—to remind the young ones of who they are.”

And this is why we must try harder to preserve the wilderness—because if it is ceases to exist for the generations that follow us, not only are we denying them the beauty of witnessing a tiny gold and red bird in a desolate canyon, but we are denying them the chance to remember who they are.

Author’s note: This article was written initially for Wanderlust.com 

Coming Home to Ourselves

In the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, homesickness was considered a serious illness. Its symptoms were nervousness and melancholy, and unfortunately for patients, doctors argued there really was no cure, other than simply to “go home” and see if it passed.

With the advent of global travel, the idea of homesickness, however, became almost juvenile—something children experience at camp perhaps—and the notion that ‘home’ is more of a feeling than a place lost credibility altogether.

I’m intrigued by homesickness simply because I have never really felt ‘at home.’ It’s a sentiment I know a lot of people share. It’s difficult to describe, but it has a quality of mild unease, of feeling unsettled, off-center perhaps, or a little ungrounded—like there is some place you belong, but you’re not sure it even exists.

This feeling of being homesick is simply an experience along a soul’s journey, and our awareness of it becomes a turning point.
Initially I assumed it was just a side effect of moving around, or not having a partner or family of my own, but as those boxes were ticked and the feeling remained, it became clear that that wasn’t it either. Where was this so-called ‘home’ that I felt but could not find?

The answer came to me on the wings of Shamanic wisdom. There this feeling of being homesick is simply an experience along a soul’s journey, and our awareness of it becomes a turning point. According to the Shaman, we arrive in the world complete, but as we move through life we begin to energetically discard parts of ourselves. Sometimes that is by choice. The things we learn not to like, we disown—a part of our body that we perceive to be ugly; our desires, anger, or emotions that we were once chastised for. And sometimes it is through no choice of our own that parts of us leave. It is said that during traumatic experiences pieces of our soul become so frightened that they scatter.

If we wondered whether a place called home even exists, the Shaman says that yes it does, and our hunch was right—it is not outside of ourselves. It is our soul. The homesick feeling we sense actually belongs to the discarded pieces of our soul calling out to us to be found and welcomed back. Our job is therefore simply to gather those scattered pieces and invite them back in.

How do we do this? In the dictionary, one of the definitions for home is “where we flourish, and where we originate from.” So how do we begin walking back around the outer reaches of the spiral towards the center gathering the pieces of ourselves as we go?

First we can simply breathe a sigh of relief. Just to have the awareness of being unsettled and the desire to feel whole is enough to alert our inner voice to begin teaching us the way. Then it becomes a personal journey of self-reflection—one that should be looked upon with awe, curiosity, and great love. We gather these lost pieces back to us only once, so, as spiritual teacher Matt Kahn says, “Whatever arises… Love that.”

There are many great spiritual practices and tools for uncovering the parts of us we have pushed aside, and there are many Shamanic rituals for soul retrievals, but here is one of my personal favorites.

Making a Nest

Birds have been symbols for pagans, shamans, seers, prophets, and native peoples all over the world. Their ability to be at home soaring in the heavens, and equally at home nesting in a bramble bush close to the earth reminds us that home is within us, not without us.

The practice of “making a nest” was shared with me recently to welcome in a new soul as I was having trouble conceiving, but what I soon realized was that this was a practice calling in the parts of myself that had been discarded and letting them know it was safe to return.

To begin, create an altar area or a small safe place in your home that seems inviting—if you have an altar already that would work.

Then, like a bird, begin to gather things to make a small nest. If you feel a connection to the Earth, you could forage for small sticks, feathers, stones, leaves, and pine cones. But you could also use seashells, crystals, yarn, or paper. It’s entirely your creation, so it can be whatever feels inviting and nurturing to you, and it can look however you choose.

The center of the nest can remain empty allowing room for whatever would like to come back to you, or you can place a symbol like a stone in your nest to as place markers.

Then, this is when our nest becomes an act of great self-care. Every day take time to speak, sing, or read to your nest. Perhaps you will feel called to add new things to your nest such as flowers, photos, trinkets, or gifts, and after a few weeks you may also feel inspired to clean the nest, move it, or re-do it entirely.

As your sense of care and love for this small symbol of your soul grows, notice how parts of yourself you had forgotten arise in your awareness now feeling safe enough to come back in.

Pray Always, and All Ways

(This article was originally written for Wanderlust.com)

A few weeks ago, while poring over another medical study showing that mindfulness improves cardiovascular health, I came across something in the details. According to the data, a lot of us are praying. Yet an extensive survey recently found that the American public is becoming less religious.

Dr. John Younge and the rest of the study’s researchers made the uncommon decision to include ‘prayer’ as a mindfulness practice. Not only that, but they chose “only to include prayer that was not part of a group religion”—so as not to have the positive social aspect of group religion influence the results.

Of the 15,000 respondents who qualified as having a mindfulness practice, almost half said that this non-religious prayer was their activity. It wasn’t many in total—a little more than 1 percent of people surveyed in fact—but extrapolate that across the world’s non-religious population, and it could well end up being tens of millions of people. And if tens of millions of non-religious people are talking to their version of God as a daily practice, why are we not talking more about this? Do we believe that praying is only for the religious? Are we worried that we will be co-opted by a religion if we pray? This occurred to me last year, when my 97-year-old grandma—who has no patience for religion, but who has also never given a jot what people think of her—whispered to me over a cup of tea: “Don’t tell anyone… But I pray.”

“Prayer purifies, elevates, and transforms us. It awakens our souls.” – Michael Berg

Personally, I don’t consider myself part of a religion, but I am a pray-er. Since I was young, much to my atheist parents’ dismay, I just loved speaking to God. I had no idea who God was, or that “God” has religious connotations. Indeed, I had no idea what religion or “connotations” meant—I was only seven. But I felt “God’s” existence, and, given that God was apparently not at my house, or my school, prayer seemed the only means to be in touch.

“Dear God, I’m very thankful for this lovely family you gave me, but please can you come down from the sky and get me now?” was the nightly prayer I recited with my nose pressed against the bedroom window. And before falling asleep I would imagine myself curling up in the arms of one of the many images I had of God in my mind—An owl, the ocean, a faerie mermaid, the Kraken, a star, a giant egg, and three towering men with heads as made of cities.

Who are we praying to?

Over the years, when it became apparent that God was not sending a spaceship to collect me, I had to make the journey to her/him/it/them/us myself. And so the God of my prayers has changed names as I have studied and practiced my way through mystical and spiritual teachings. I’ve prayed to the Divine, the Universe, Oneness, the Great Mystery, the Mother, the I Am That I Am, Shiva, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Mary, Spirit, Allah, Source, and God again… Each one possesses different qualities for me but ultimately are all bridges that lead me to the same place.

Why do we pray?

Author Michael Berg says the reasons aren’t important. “Rather, realize that prayer is an immensely worthwhile end in itself: a spiritual tool for opening channels of Light… Prayer purifies, elevates, and transforms us. It awakens our souls,” he says in his book on Kabbalistic wisdom, The Way

Prayer awakens my soul. While I cherish meditation for the expansion and peace that it brings me, prayer is the only practice I know of that allows me to express the vast love inside me that claws at my chest, yearning to get out. It is like my namaste on rocket fuel—an uncontrollable urge in me to bow down and say to the Universe, and to all who live in it: “Thank you, I love you, I love you, I love you….”

What are we praying for?

Brené Brown says she prays for love and light. Mark Nepo says he asks what use and bridge he can be. Gabby Bernstein encourages praying for guidance. Michael says to pray for others. And Meister Eckhart? According to this philosopher: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

I’ve had my concerns about prayer. Does praying to God somehow mean we are placing this divinity outside of ourselves? Separating ourselves from the “source” in the way that religions do? I wrote to Deepak Chopra once to ask his opinion, and he assured me it was perfectly OK. “If one has a natural disposition for reverence and devotion, then it makes much more sense to be devoted to the Divine as an object rather than devotion to one’s divine self,” he said. Essentially, we should pray the way that suits us best.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, an 18th century scholar and mystic, goes as far as to say that prayer is actually how we discover that the presence of the Divine is inside of us—by endowing us with the power of prayer, God gives us the opportunity to experience His presence in the most intimate way. We discover this presence is not somewhere up in the sky when we look out from our window, but actually within ourselves.

If that is the case, then why wouldn’t we pray? It’s not only healthy for our hearts, it’s good for our souls.

How do we pray?

Over the years the expression of my prayers has evolved. During my time learning yoga, my prayers emerged as a sensual dance for Shiva. In my study of Sufism, my prayers expressed themselves as amateur guitar songs. Immersed in paganism, I planted my prayers in the form of flowers. Throughout Buddhism, the paintbrush was my medium. For Krishna, I have always chanted.

Palms together, kneeling down, in silence, out loud, singing, dancing, painting, chanting—while serving others, writing, gardening, in meditation, or upside down in headstand—it’s all a prayer if we intend it to be. Whatever we do to honor our hearts, and to find connection with whatever it is we believe in, is always—without exception—the perfect way to pray.

Nature as our Yoga Studio

(This article was originally written for Wanderlust.com)

“The birds have dissolved into the sky, and the last remaining clouds have faded away. We sit together the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.” – Li Po

You can feel the grass settling between your toes as the sole of your right foot plants more firmly into the earth, extending like a root deep down into the soil. The coolness of a breeze brushes between your shoulder blades, catching the perspiration that is beginning to form as you focus on maintaining the balance—left foot tucked into right thigh. Your fingertips, reaching skywards, are warmed by the sunlight. It travels down your palms and arms, and onto the crown of your head—the same sunlight that dances upon the trunk of a birch tree which your gaze gently holds.

All around you life comes into your awareness: the two-note whistle of a black-capped chickadee up above, the scent of pine in your nostrils, a rustle of leaves in the treetops as the breeze passes through, the tickle of a caterpillar as it crosses over your toes—but you breathe and hold steady, because this is what you are here for.

And all of a sudden, you’re no longer just “doing” Vrksasana—the tree pose—you are the tree. And a thought arises—ahh, but of course… I had simply forgotten.

Nature’s Embrace

Is there a better classroom for yoga than in the cathedral of a forest? I have never found one. I try for those cold months of the year to practice—and to teach—yoga indoors, but it’s hard to muster the same enthusiasm.

As a result, I have spent a large amount of time wondering why this is. There is no doubt that it in part can be explained by science. That exposure to vitamin D, and breathing lungfuls of clean air is better for the body than being inside. That nature has a soothing effect on the brain.

There is also the perspective that, no matter how inspired, a studio may never be as aesthetically pleasing as the great outdoors. With all love for our classmates, faced with the choice of raising up our cobra to see the sun rise over an ocean, or to greet the soles of the feet of the person on the mat in front, the former wins every time.

But that’s not it.

When we practice yoga outdoors we more easily remember our connection to the whole—which is the very point of yoga itself. It’s as if nature in her wisdom has been patiently waiting for us to come and ask her questions, and once we start our practice she receives the green light to answer us fully. And then we are enveloped in her arms.

The Essence of a Practice

We often forget that the postures are here to invoke in us certain qualities or energies. Particularly when we’re in a room surrounded by the distractions of other humans, upon who we are, by our nature, often judging (or receiving judgement from). In this environment it often becomes too easy to solely focus on alignment, and to only notice the physical aspects of an asana. We simply “do” it, rather than “become” it.

But outside in Vrksasana, with one bare foot rooted into the earth—our classmates the trees themselves, and nature holding space for us—we can begin to feel the essence of the posture. We understand how the four elements of earth, water, fire (through sunlight), and air were needed for us to be here. We understand the fragility of life in spite of our strength. A strong gust of wind could bring us down, too much sunlight could cause us to wither—we could be ridden with disease, or we may be chopped down at the hands of man—the line between the tree and our self blurs. Much like the line between the mountain and Chinese poet, Li Po, quoted above.

In this moment we begin to fully appreciate the lesson that trees (and tree pose) can teach us as we travel along our yogic path. As we stay still in our balance, butterflies may land on us or ants may travel across our rooted foot, and yet we must stay still and welcome it all, lest we ourselves fall. We are all in it together. As trees we provide shade and shelter for all those who visit us, regardless of if it is an owl, a creeping vine, or the woodcutter here to destroy us. As trees we have the deep understanding that in the circle of life, our death will bring much-needed nutrients back to the forest floor. Perseverance, allowance, unconditional love, and wisdom of the inherent oneness of us all—these are all qualities that we invoke when we practice Vrksasana.

The Sacred Studio

Take any posture out into nature, and the fullness of its expression and essence will come alive. Tadasana, the mountain pose: serenity and strength. Bhujangasana, cobra pose: wisdom, infinity, and love. Virabhadrasana, warrior pose: kindness with courage. And once we experience those qualities it is easier to assimilate them—to take them with us when we leave the forest behind.

Above all, there is a deep sacredness that I believe happens when we step out to practice under a canopy of stars, on a rocky cliff face, or in a meadow of wildflowers. That when we place our bare feet on the earth we take up our position alongside our ancestors who walked before us. Early cave painting, thousands of years B.C., depict stick figures standing, arms aloft to the sky, feet rooted in the ground. How many times have we ourselves done this very pose? Deep in our bones, or our consciousness, this practice has always been there—of being still, of listening, of learning, and of connecting to the infinite web of life. Nature is our greatest reminder, and in my humble opinion, the greatest yoga studio of all.

Yoga by the Ocean

This article was written for Wanderlust.com

There is something about the ocean that draws us in. Whether it is gazing out at the sun dancing on its surface; diving into its cool depths to become part of an underwater world of aquatic life; listening to the rhythm of its waves crashing on the shoreline; or gently bobbing up and down on top of it—the ocean soothes our souls, clears our heads, and leaves us replenished and at peace. It is a perfect complement to our yoga practice.

There is still little science to back up why the ocean has this impact, although the healing power of water was identified by our ancestors. Various forms of hydrotherapy have been recorded in ancient Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman civilizations. And in both Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, the water element is integral to providing balance and harmony.

Our Original Home

It is perhaps unsurprising—given our evolution—that we experience water as a healing element. Water is as close to “home” as we can get: Our blue planet is about 70 percent water, and our distant ancestors emerged from this water to crawl, and eventually to walk, on the small amount of land there was. Indeed, we still emerge from water into existence. “We spend the first nine months of our lives immersed in the watery environment of our mother’s womb, and human fetuses still have gill-slit structures in their early stages of development,” Wallace Nichols, marine biologist, reminds us in his bestselling book Blue Mind.

There is an innate connection between the ocean and the depths of our consciousness.

Water is pivotal. Indeed, it makes up who we are. When we do emerge into the world from our mother’s wombs we are comprised of some 78 percent water. And even when that drops to 60 percent later in life, our brains are still made up of about 80 percent water. It is also, of course, our life source. We cannot live without clean water or clean air, and the ocean even plays a role in the latter—ocean plankton alone provide more than half of our planet’s oxygen. When we can see the ocean we know we are supported; on a subconscious level we can relax.

Exploring the Depths

There is also an innate connection between the ocean and the depths of our consciousness. It has an impact on the mind that Nichols has sought to explore. He calls the state invoked by time spent contemplating water or being around water the Blue Mind—“a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and the general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment”—a state not dissimilar to that induced by yoga.

He further contends that the influence of water upon meditation doesn’t detract from the practice, but rather “enhances, adds to, and expands” meditation’s benefits. The ocean, or indeed any body of water, therefore is a perfect place for a yoga practice—it supports our path of self-discovery.

By contemplating the ocean, or simply by being in its presence, something stirs within us. We are reminded of this infinite unknown state, and we are propelled to surrender to it.

It’s not a new notion. Throughout history, spiritual, philosophical, and religious texts have contemplated the ocean as a symbol of the vast infinite being that we are. In yoga’s beloved text, the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna compares our True Nature with that of an ocean that is never affected by the rivers streaming into it. The Quran refers to two seas—a surface sea that represents the manifest, and the depths below that represent the unmanifest. In the Old and New Testaments, the ocean is seen as a source of miracles—be that flooding the physical world in order to purify it, or walking upon the ocean’s surface, representing the strength of our underlying being to uphold us.

Calming the Mind

The ocean is used as a symbol of encouragement for us to dig deeper into our spiritual path. Just as 95 percent of our oceans remain unexplored, so too do the depths of our minds. Somehow, by contemplating the ocean, or simply by being in its presence, something stirs within us. We are reminded of this infinite unknown state, and we are propelled to surrender to it.

Nichols points out the ability of the ocean to allow us to enter that state of surrender. In an interview with The Huffington Post he points out that in a world of sensory overload, the simplicity of a view of the sea, or the sweet sound of the ocean can help to quell the endless thoughts. Gazing at the ocean becomes a practice of yoga’s fifth limb, pratyahara.

What better than to allow the ocean to support and encourage our spiritual path than by practicing yoga in its presence this summer. Here as a guide is a yoga sequence to help merge with the ocean outside of us and within us. In particular this sequence focuses on the second chakra (svadhisthana, or the sacral chakra) that is governed by the element water. As always, please take care when practicing in a hot or sun-filled environment, and note the contraindications of these postures.

Ocean Yoga Practice

1. Centering
In Sukhasana (Easy Pose) we begin to settle into our practice with an ujjayi breath—the ocean breath—seeing if we can let go of controlling, and instead allow the breath to merge with the ebb and flow of the tide.

2. Warming Up
Classical Surya Namaskar is a beautiful practice near the ocean. It is a prayer to the sun—the other powerful source of life. It is thanks to the sun that we have water, and so our Salutations become a practice also of gratitude for the ocean. Here we move slowly, breathing deeply, connecting in each of the 12 postures to the heart center, while allowing the warmth of the sun and the humidity of the ocean air to soften the body in this warm up.

3. Standing Slow Flow Sequence
Spending one or two minutes in each asana, we breathe an ujjayi breath, and see if we can create a smooth transition between the following postures that connect us to the Earth, open our hearts, and allow energy to flow more freely through the sacral region: Tadasana; Virabhadrasana 1 (left leg back); Virabhadrasana 2 (left side); Trikonasana (left arm extended upwards), Virabhadrasana 2 (left side), Virabhadrasana 1 (left foot still back); Tadasana; and repeating on the opposite side. We end our standing flow with Dandayamana Yoga Mudrasana (the yogic standing seal), allowing our arms to rise up to the sky at the end, drawing the ocean in front of us into our hearts.

4. Ground Sequence
There are several floor postures that seek to balance the sacral chakra. Here is a suggested sequence starting with Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) to make the transition from our standing postures to the ground, followed by 10 rounds of Cat/Cow to warm up the middle back. Deep breathing and opening our hearts to the ocean is our intention while holding these postures for one to two minutes: Salabhasana; Balasana; Bhujangasana; Balasana; Adho Mukha Svanasana; Kapotasana (right leg); Adho Mukha Svanasana; Kapotasana (left leg); Adho Mukha Svanasana; Balasana; Dandasana; Ardha Matsyendrasana (both sides); Paschimottanasana.

5. Meditation
In either Sukhasana or Vajrasana we bring our hands together into dhyana mudra representing our intention to set aside our manifest life as we dive deep into our True Nature (ourselves as an ocean) with a five-minute meditation.

6. Savasana
We complete our practice by lying on our mats, listening to the sound of the waves as we dissolve with the ocean within.

7. Gratitude
Finally we take time to offer a message of gratitude to the ocean for supporting us, and a prayer that all beings may share in our healing, and that the ocean itself may benefit.

Moon Rituals

Author’s note: This article was written for Wanderlust.com

The moon is such a powerful presence in our lives — pulling on the ocean’s tides, and creating a rhythm for all life on our planet. Whereas the phases of the moon used to be honored by people across the globe, defining our farming calendars and our own fertility, and determining celebrations and events, today much of our modern culture ignores our deep and ancient relationship with this celestial object.

A moon ritual therefore can be a great way to reconnect to the rhythms that we share with all life on Earth. It can also be a powerful tool to align with the ebb and flow of energy as we seek to foster a life of our dreams, and release the things holding us back.

The two most popular moon rituals are carried out on new moons and full moons — although three days on either side also works.

The New Moon

The new moon brings with her the opportunity for creativity — appearing dark, or empty, like fertile ground. Over the following 14 to 15 nights the moon appears to gather more light from the sun, becoming a crescent and eventually a full moon, and so brings with her the power of growth and potential. It’s a time to plant intentions for the things we want in life, and to align with the moon’s energy to help us grow those seeds. Quite literally, gardeners that work with moon phases will sow seeds of leafy and short-root plants during a new moon. As the moon waxes, its tidal pull draws water up to the top of the soil nurturing the seed.

The Full Moon

While the new moon is a time to sow seeds, the full moon is a time to pull weeds—a time to release the things that no longer serve us. As the moon brims with the sun’s energy, we offer her the things we would like her to take with her as she starts to wane over the next 14 to 15 days, emptying out back toward a new moon.

A ritual created using our own intuition is always the most powerful, and once we become more in tune with the rhythm of waxing and waning energy, that intuition will grow. Here, however, are some ideas to include in any moon ritual.

Opening Sacred Space

Ideally for a moon ritual, you would be outside under the moon, but if that’s not possible then being near a window, or even setting an intention in an indoor space will work. Whether alone or with friends, smudge yourself and the area you are going to be working in with palo santo or sage, call in the Four Directions, the Four Elements, or any angels and guides you feel would positively support your ritual, intending to share the benefits of your ritual with all beings.

Making an Offering

I like to collect fallen leaves, feathers, branches, or stones leading up to a ritual and create a mandala on the ground or on a table for the moon. Similarly, you could lay out petals or crystals (under a full moon, crystals will also have the added benefit of being charged). To represent the elements of water and fire, a glass of water and a safely-lit candle can be added to an altar — although try to let the candle burn out by itself or gently snuff it rather than blowing it out. We can also offer our thanks during our preparation, pondering the many ways the moon brings joy into our lives.

Sharing our Intentions

Take a moment if you haven’t already to write a short letter to the moon asking clearly for what you want help with. At the time of a new moon you will be asking for things to come into, or to grow in, your life. This could be a job, a baby, a new friend or partner. It could also be greater clarity around an issue, or creative energy or stamina for a specific project. You could also ask for more playfulness, joy, or laughter to blossom in your world.

During a full moon, the same letter would ask for help releasing something from your life. That could be a relationship, a thought pattern, a grudge, a physical ailment, or feelings of anger or envy. I like to release blocks that are holding me back from my dreams—so that the full moon and new moon become part of a month-long ritual. Then place your letter somewhere on your altar, where you will leave it to be received by the moon overnight, before clearing away the next day when the sun has risen.

Celebration and Closing

A ritual, while serious, is something to be celebrated. Together, or alone, you could sing, chant, read a poem, dance, or even roll through some moon salutations in honor of yourself and the moon. When you feel like your ritual is ending, close the space and give thanks to the Moon and all those that joined you in the circle.

Finally, observe how you feel for the next few days. Rituals are very powerful. After a new moon you may have insights as to how to take action toward your dreams that you won’t want to miss, and after a full moon you may be guided to rest or drink lots of water. As the moon rules the water element, a bath can also be a great post-ritual addition — and a moon phases calendar so you can plan for your next ritual.

Earth as Community

We are all made from the stardust of the same source, so quite literally we are all related. Thomas Berry was a cosmologist and earth scholar, who dedicated much of his life to inspiring humanity to look to the universe’s origins and consider a new creation story — one that is still happening, and one that takes into account the interconnectedness of all of Earth’s life, the Earth itself and the universe beyond. Here is an extract from his selected writings on how we are all community. This is not an idealogical dream, but rather a reality.

“Everything in the universe is genetically cousin to everything else. There is literally one family, one bonding, in the universe, because everything is descended from the same source.

On the planet Earth, all living beings are clearly derived from a single origin. We are literally born as a community; the trees, the bird and all living creatures are bonded together in a single community of life. This community is not something we dream up or think would be nice. Literally we are a single community.” 

Tiny Crab, Big Story…

Cancer

It’s amazing how a small crab with a walk-on role in Greek mythology is such a fixture in our daily life today…

The constellation Cancer (Latin for crab) is one of the most modest in the sky. It has no particularly bright stars, and its only claim to fame is that it belongs to the zodiac, and contains the beautiful M44 open cluster — The Beehive. But back 2000-odd years ago it was a different story.

When the Sun reached its summer solstice (its most Northern position in the sky), the constellation it happened to be in front of was none other than Cancer. It was a big deal… For Mesopotamians, it marked the gateway for the descent of souls into incarnation.

That positioning of Cancer also gave rise to what we know today to be the Tropic of Cancer — the imaginary line we draw to depict latitude, also known as the Northern Tropic.

Even though, as a result of precession, the Sun’s most northerly position has now moved westwards between Gemini and Taurus, the name has stuck.But how did such a tiny crab find its way up into the sky in the first place?

In Greek mythology, Hera, the wife of Zeus, vowed to kill Heracles — the son of a mortal woman, and sadly also the son of philandering Zeus.  In a fit of jealous rage she made Heracles insane, and in his insanity he killed wife and children. Guilt-ridden, poor Heracles consulted the oracle of Delphi for advice on how he could make up for his actions. The penance it was determined would be set by Heracles own cousin, Eurystheus. And so Eurystheus set Heracles 12 impossible tasks to complete called the 12 Labors of Heracles — the second of which was to slay Hydra, a serpentine water monster.

Still full of jealousy, Hera sought to distract Heracles during his battle by sending a crab to nip on his toe. But the tiny crab was no match for Heracles who crushed it beneath his foot. While it may have been just a brief appearance for our crab, Hera rewarded him for his efforts by placing him among the stars and he’s been there ever since.

Spirit as an Astronaut

Taken from the Oxford Handy Helps Series:How to Locate the Stars written in 1891. Published by Hinds, Noble and Eldredge. New York City.

“Surely as we look up at the myriads of stars bespangling the sky, and remember that our star-sun has seven planets moving round it of which one at least — our own earth — is full of living beings, we must picture these glorious suns as the centres of unseen systems, so that those twinkling specks become as suggestive as the faint lights of a great fleet far out at sea, which tell us of mighty ships, together with frigates and gunboats, full of living beings, though we cannot see them, nor even guess what they may be like.

“How insignificant we feel when we look upon that starlit sky and remember that the whole of our solar system would be but a tiny speck of light if seen as far off as we see the stars! If our little earth and our short life upon it were all we could boast of we should be mites indeed.

“But our very study to-night lifts us above these and reminds us that there is a spirit within us which even now can travel beyond the narrow bounds of our globe, measure the vast distances between us and the stars, gauge their brightness, estimate their weight, and discern their movements.

“As we gaze into the depths of the star-lit sky, and travel onward and onward in imagination to those distant stars which photography alone reveals to us, do not our hearts leap at the though of a day which must surely come when, fettered and bound no longer to earth, this spirit shall wander forth and penetrate some of the mystery of those might suns at which we now gaze in silent awe.”