At the beginning of April, on the last day of my stay at Lendrick Lodge, my alarm went off before the crack of dawn. At about 4:15am I put on my sarong and walked out into the cold, dark Scottish morning (so, not normal). I hovered by the fire my friends and my dear teacher Stephen had been tending since about 2am. With the rest of beautiful group I’d been with since Wednesday, I ducked down into the sweat lodge held by our incredible Apache teacher, Morning Star, to pray together in the heat. The sun came up while I was still in the dark. After four rounds of the sweat I crawled out of the lodge into the light of the early morning.
It was one of the last ceremonies in five days of deep, transformational work with two exceptional healers. The others were traditional tobacco ceremonies, another sweat lodge, shamanic journeying for ancestral connection, arrow breaking, fire walking, and simple joyful drumming with my new friends. Once again I emerged from my Lendrick retreat transformed and filled with a new and heightened awareness – of myself, of where to let go, of what to do next. Then I came home and the work could begin.
Big ceremonies can be initiatory experiences
Events like this are powerful moments that offer transformation and transcendence. If we are skilfully held as they happen, and if the timing is in right alignment for us, these are initiatory experiences. I am privileged to have experienced so many powerful ceremonies in my life – within several different traditions – that have pulled me deeper and pushed me forward. And every time I have come home and started the work.
I love deep, initiatory work. I love taking myself out of the demands of every day life and falling into the crucible to be melted down and re-made again. I love the insight I gain (even when it legitimately sucks and makes me cry) and the strength it gives to my centre. I have been part of and led many ceremonies, retreats and healing courses that precipitate shifts like that. I think these moments are essential to a spiritual path of healing – and we always remember them. That time I broke arrows and walked on fire even though I was terrified. That Reiki attunement that shifted me so much the world looked physically different for days after. The soul retrieval ceremonies that left people who knew me accidentally walking past me on the street because I did not look the same. Releasing something so old into the dark heat and crawling out into a new, cool sunlight. These big shifts are always thought of as our defining moments on the path. But what if – hear me out – they are not?
Big healings and initiations hold a type of glamour for those of us who are on a spiritual path. Rightly so: they are gifts of power that nourish our souls and give us the strength to transform our lives. Done correctly, initiation is a gift of rebirth as well as love and acknowledgement of that new, changed self. But what comes next?
Healing is an every day task
When we emerge from the safety of whichever cocoon we have chosen for our deep healing, the sun will inevitably rise on the next new day. We will have to get back in our cars, bound for our homes and normal routines. We will have to go back to the relationships that existed before we transformed, and the jobs that pay our bills. As we inhabit those spaces, the self-knowledge and power gifted to us during the big healing is at risk of retreating into memory. From there, it can retreat further, into a half remembered dream. Sometimes we can adjust ourselves to fit back in to where we were before.
This is the power question: what do we do after the ceremony? How do we keep on with the healing and the growth? How do we stay connected to the depths we touched in ceremony once we’ve returned to the regular business of being a person?
I believe that healing – and any true, sustainable path of spiritual development – cannot be confined to initiatory spaces and ecstatic experiences. It must be lived, honoured and practised regularly. The teachings we have received must be applied to our lives so that we can bring ourselves into alignment with the great gifts we’ve been given. If we think of a great shift as a seed being planted in our lives, it is then our responsibility to tend to what grows.
There is no glamour to that, I’ll admit it. I’ve heard this statement many times: “You walked on fire? Wow! I’d love to do that, it sounds amazing!” I’ve never heard this statement: “You have to get up early for your meditations every day, even when you don’t feel like it? Wow! I’d love to do that, it sounds amazing!”
Sometimes it is amazing, actually. Sometimes I find powerful answers in the morning pages, or I see or feel something in my meditation that brings me great peace. But sometimes it’s a bit shit. Sometimes I scowl over my morning pages and struggle to get my words out, or my meditation feels like I’m going through the motions. Worse: sometimes I don’t like the insight I am given, so I’ll spend days in resistance before getting honest with myself about what I need to with it.
The answer for those difficult days is to show up for the work anyway, to take the next step – and to take care of yourself while you’re doing it. And then show up again tomorrow. The most important work is there: in the every day. Like any path, a commitment to the healing path means showing up for the bits that aren’t glamorous and exciting, the bits that can feel hard or boring or thankless. Because they aren’t thankless: those tasks are what allows the healing to take root and grow. Without it, the seed that was planted will die.
I will never cease to be grateful for the great teachings and big ceremonies I’ve received. I will continue to seek them out whenever it feels right. But they are not what defines our path. It is the commitment to continuously engage with our personal healing and to live the changes and values in the every day that lets us stay on the path.
Support for walking the path
I care about the healing path, and I care about the small, diligent steps along it even more than I love and honour the big moments. This is where we find out who we really are – and who we can become.
Because of this I am very excited to launch Propolos, a service for those on a healing path to receive support and guidance for their self healing and continued development.