My Two Great Teachers of 2016

I’ve heard people say that 2016 really sucked. Well, we lost lots of amazing musicians and artists, the weather wasn’t great, there was Syria, the refugee crisis, the abysmal U.S. presidential campaign season, and lots more. OK, so it’s not on people’s list of favorite years. I gotta tell ya, my 2016 was one for the books, too. But last year was perhaps one of the greatest of my life, due to the presence of two remarkable teachers, one spiritual and one physical. Let me tell you about them.

(This is a bit long for a post, but there’s a lot to say. I think it will be worth your time.)

The first teacher showed up in April, on the 12th, to be exact. Coincidentally, this is the final day of the Asterian (Sidereal) astrological year, which I think is significant, given what happened. (You can find out more about Asterian astrology here and here.) I had been on an intensive, at-home meditation retreat. I was going at it six to eight hours a day for several days. The method I was using was Light and Sound, a method I had been initiated into several months before, meditating about an hour each day since that time. Progress had been gratifying, and I was hoping to “pop through” into an Awakened state during this retreat. That is, I was hoping without hoping to become Enlightened. The word Enlightenment has some baggage, and lots of misunderstanding, attached (Buddhist pun intended) to it. That’s something for another post, though.

Suffice it to say, I was in it to the hilt. And I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen. I achieved my Awakening, and I have been forever changed. I’ll tell you about it sometime, but the experience isn’t germane to the current discussion, so I’ll save that for later, too. Now, for the teaching part of it. This experience taught me to still my mind. It no longer intrudes. It has become the tool it is meant to be. I understand suffering at an entirely new level, and my compassion for others has skyrocketed. I have learned that we are truly all One. Also, I have learned to see impermanence, the transience of all things. Nothing lasts, but the All is eternal. (You can’t help talking like this once It happens. All dichotomies have dissolved at the level of spiritual vision. It’s indescribable. It’s incredibly beautiful. Everything is.)

OK, on to my second teacher. I was extremely fortunate to encounter the first before the second, as it made things a whole lot easier. In August, I was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a life-threatening illness. This insidious illness is rare (estimated incidence ranges from one in 100,000 to one in a million – I mean, I’ve always been an outlier, but this is ridiculous!), and it has an unknown cause. What happens? Well, cells in the bone marrow start putting out tons of misfolded proteins. These buggers settle in the organs, like the heart, kidney, liver, and digestive tract, gradually gumming up the works and leading to the failure of the affected organ(s). They can also settle in other tissues, like the tongue, salivary glands, body fat, etc. Untreated, the disease progresses rapidly, and death usually occurs in a couple of years. The other outcome is that I was forced into retirement from my psychotherapy practice, but as you will see, it led me to another purpose.

While not strictly a cancer, amyloidosis is treated very much like its cousin multiple myeloma, another bone marrow disease. I was lucky enough that, the disease having been identified relatively early in its progression, none of my major organs had been strongly impacted. Actually, the big tip-off was my very enlarged tongue. Macroglossia, as it’s called, is a symptom that occurs in fewer than one-third of cases, but its presence has probably saved, or at least greatly extended, my life.

Treatment is a bundle of fun. I was fortunate to qualify for an autologous stem cell transplant (Your own stem cells are collected from your blood, and put back into you at the appropriate time during treatment. Since you are your own donor, rejection of the transplant is not a problem.). Add onto this a regimen of chemotherapy and three-plus weeks of hospitalization. Oh, and there’s a follow-up year of chemo as well. Improvements in the condition don’t show, however, for many months into treatment, and a return to “normalcy” is a couple of years after that, as the body rids itself of the accumulated amyloid deposits. So, it’s kind of a big investment in time, energy, and resources.

I’m a couple of months into follow-up chemo, and just over 100 days post transplant. Things are going as well as can be expected, though I have to avoid crowds and wear a mask whenever I venture outdoors, or anywhere else for that matter. My immune system is being relentlessly knocked down by the chemo, as it eliminates the malfunctioning plasma cells. In the hospital, my immune system was brought to zero, as my transplant took hold and replaced my completely destroyed bone marrow. I’m like a newborn! By the way, the irony isn’t lost on me that Enlightenment is also a rebirth. The aggravating thing is that I will have to be re-inoculated against everything, and my smallpox vaccination scars may as well be tattoos for all the good they do me. But through all this, I have remained remarkably even. I haven’t been seized by fear or anxiety, and go through the weekly chemo-poisonings on an even-keel. People have noticed, really!

Disease as teacher. Quite a concept. I have no fear of death. (Enlightenment saw to that.) I have learned to value each moment for the perfect expression of creation that it is. I am at peace with whatever outcome occurs, though I have chosen to pursue continuing to live, as a physical choice. You see, I think I have more to do. I guess it’s part of the reason I’m writing this, in fact. My purpose now is to spread the information, and to offer hope that anyone can reach a pinnacle of spiritual development. I’m here to help.

It’s already helping, too. Even without my trying. The fact that I have this illness, and that I am navigating it as I have, has impacted the people with whom I have come into contact – family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, even Facebook friends. They are examining themselves, their relationships, and their reactions to the physical world and its happenings. The most amazing part is that I haven’t done anything, directly, to influence them. It’s their simple observation, coupled with their desire to take action, that has made the difference. I am only a tool of Grace, the Cosmic, whatever you’d like to call it.

The teaching and learning continue every day. As I teach, I learn; as I learn, I teach. The smooth ebb and flow of the nurtuing energies of the Universe. It’s a beautiful thing.

An Encounter with the Mystical Along the Way

Last May and June, I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) in northern Spain with my brother-in-law. We walked along the Camino Frances, to be technical about it. Yeah, that was a while ago, so why am I writing about it now? The Camino is like that. It is like a fine wine that mellows with age. It takes some time to process through you, and lately I’ve been thinking about the experienceleon cathedral more and more. It becomes deeper with each passing day. As a bonus, there are plenty of opportunities to experience the mystical while walking the Camino. Here is the story of one of my encounters.

We started our journey in León, a major city where several of the Camino’s paths converge. The cathedral there is grand, a magnificent structure, built on the site of Roman baths. It is over 1000 years old. But this wasn’t the place where I was to have my experience. Beautiful and awe-inspiring as this cathedral is, there is another, more modest one in the city of León — the Cathedral of San Isidoro.

grailIn this cathedral is a cup, one that is said to be the Holy Grail, the cup Christ used at the Last Supper. Granted, there are about 200 cups in Europe that are claimed to be the Grail. Some even feel that the Grail is not a literal cup at all (DaVinci Code, anyone?). Regardless, when in Rome, er, León . . . the thing to do is to go to San Isidoro and visit the cup.

Now, I won’t go into the provenance of this particular cup. It can be found here if you are interested. The innards of the cup (sans the gold and gems added later) are of simple origin and the right age. Definitely a must see item for me. The cup is in a museum adjoining the cathedral. In the museum are ancient manuscripts, some tombs, other medieval bric-a-brac, and the cup. This relic is in a room of its own, enclosed in a glass display case. “No photos!” we were told by museum personnel. There was even a guard of sorts in the Grail’s room. But, you know, that guard couldn’t stay in that room forever. I’m probably going to hell for this (add it to the list, I suppose), but I got a couple of pics while he was gone. The miracle, though, actually occurred when I first set foot in the room where the cup is housed.

How to explain it? As soon as I was in the presence of the cup, I was hit with a wall of Sacred. So strong was the power of the energy in the room that tears began to stream spontaneously down my cheeks. I was filled with a sense of ecstasy that lifted me out of the mundane and into the numinous. I was hooked, like a planet, orbiting the cup’s case, circling and circling. Other visitors came and went, but I stayed and stayed. I finally tore myself reluctantly away to look at the rest of the museum.

I think about this experience often. However, encountering the mystical can happen at any time, in any place. You don’t have to be in the presence of the Grail, or whatever that cup is, to feel the presence of the Divine. I had felt it before my Grail experience, and I have felt it since; but, wow, what mojo that cup in San Isidoro has!

Be sure to allow the presence of the Divine in your life, especially in the ordinary things. Your spirit will soar, and your existence will be forever enriched. (And, if you’re ever in León, make a beeline for San Isidoro. You won’t regret it.)

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do

It’s been a while, so I thought I’d write about some of the stuff that’s been on my mind.

One matter that has occupied my attention has been the belief that it doesn’t matter what you do. Sounds nihilistic, I know, but I don’t mean it like that.

Here’s the deal. There are lots of things to “do” in this world, and I’m specifically referring to occupations. Some hold high prestige, other not. Take refuse collection, for instance. This is one of the most important jobs in modern society, yet it is held in low esteem. After all, who wants to be a sanitation worker? But without them, we’d be in deep . . . you get the point. Where’d your civilization be then, huh?

Anyway, I don’t want to get too far off point. What is really important is not what one does, but how one is. Each of us has a life purpose, and it is our duty to seek it out and follow it. This is essential for our soul’s sake. Living and being in accord with one’s purpose is what makes each moment holy, not how much cash we have or how much other people envy us or think that we are cool. A person living his or her life’s purpose is approaching enlightenment. Ultimately, that’s what matters. At least that’s my opinion.

Seek it out. Live it. Embody it. The rest, as they say, is just window-dressing.

What A Fine Fallow

Farmers know that it is advisable to let a field lie fallow occasionally to rest the soil. Intensive planting and harvesting will only exhaust the land, and lead to inferior results. This is an example of the role of cycles in nature and, by extension, in ourselves.

It is an important, if often underestimated or forgotten, principle of esoteric study that one cannot make constant progress. It is essential to allow study and practice to incubate in order to blossom at full potency. Those who feel that they are constantly reaching greater heights and states of accomplishment are building their castles on a sandy foundation. It is an illusion. Their structures are certain to collapse upon themselves, leaving them with nothing but shadows of their imagined glory. There is no substance to such practices.

The Tarot card often associated with cycles is the Wheel of Fortune. This is the card of the Third Chakra and the planet Jupiter. The card reminds us to respect cycles and to understand that they are part of the cosmic order. Respecting cycles includes an appreciation for those times when no progress seems to be made in our practice and spiritual development. This is merely a time of resting of the spiritual field – a period of germination of previous practice which is moving inexorably toward a greater level of understanding and functioning on the spiritual plane.

Take a lesson from the Wheel of Fortune and see that all is unfolding as it should. Meditation on this truth will yield fruitful results.

Mystery, Mastery

I don’t know about you, but I get occasional bolts from the blue. For me, it’s almost like hearing something; it pops into my head as if it were being spoken to me. Hallucinations, perhaps?

(I won’t get into it now, but it is my opinion that all symptoms of what we call mental illness are really normal phenomena carried to an extreme in frequency, intensity, and/or duration. For instance, we’ve all had the experience of asking someone if they had just spoken to you when in fact they had said nothing. Seems to me that you just had a hallucination.)

Back on task now – I had one of those bolts that other day. A voice said, “Move from mystery to mastery through the power of YA.” Of course, it was a play on the two words, whose spellings differ by those two letters. However, the implication is potentially profound. Let me explain.

YA is a shortened form of the tetragrammaton, the four-letter Hebrew name of God. It’s the one usually transliterated as Yahweh or Jehovah. The two Hebrew letters used to form YA are yod and heh.

In the Major Arcana of the Tarot, each card is associated with a Hebrew letter. Yod is associated with the Hermit, and heh with the Emperor. These two cards are manifestations of power, with the Hermit being internal and the Emperor, external.

What’s the message? It seems that taking the mystery, an understanding of which is arrived at via the Hermit consciousness, and transforming it into mastery, via the Emperor consciousness, is the path of making the spiritual manifest in the physical world. In other words, if one can take deep spiritual truths and live them day to day, then mastery is truly achieved.

Who says that all hallucinations are bad?

Heart-Centered Living

What does it mean to live from the heart? There are plenty of opinions about it, ranging from giving it all to everyone to taking care of yourself first. Like everything else, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The Buddhists have a term, bodhichitta, which is defined as limitless compassion for all sentient beings. This is the ultimate in heart-centered living, but it is most difficult to attain. After all, it means the release of all attachments. These attachments are replaced by pure compassion. I’ll let you know when I get there.

Living from the heart means to have at least a well enough developed sense of empathy to be able to understand and truly feel with another’s experience. This releases judgment and replaces it with identification. But does the release of judgment mean that everything is OK, regardless of the action or its consequences? Obviously not.

On the Tree of Life, the sphere of Compassion (Chesed) lies opposite that of Severity or Judgment (Geburah). – You can review the Tree in my post here. – The goal of consciously incorporating the Tree into one’s being is based on balance, or following the Middle Way, to borrow a term from Buddhism. In other words, from a Tree of Life perspective, balance must be maintained between Compassion and Judgment. Straying too far one way or the other leads to error. To put a further twist on it, sometimes the best way of showing compassion is through a stern punishment. True tough love.

It’s difficult to live from the heart, and it’s an easy out to justify insensitivity on our part as “taking care of ourselves.” After all, love does begin at home. Without self-love, all other forms of love are hollow, being ill-directed attempts to find inner acceptance. Carried too far, though, self-love becomes narcissism. Not carried far enough, it becomes self-loathing. Neither alternative is pretty.

Balance, balance.

Planetary Forces – Pluto

The final planet to consider is Pluto. Whether it’s a planet in astronomical terms or not doesn’t matter. It’s a planet as far as astrology is concerned, and it represents a force in the human psyche, just as the Sun and the Moon are considered planets in this regard. Pluto is elemental Fire and is associated with the Tarot card Judgement (Major Arcana Key 20).

Discovered in 1930, Pluto arrived at a time of great upheaval in human history, almost as if it were announcing the depths of the Great Depression and the beginning of the period of World War II (remember, China and Japan began hostilities in 1937). Pluto has therefore become associated with change, but of a violent or upheaving type. It co-rules Scorpio, along with Mars, and is seen as a higher octave of the Red Planet.

Scorpio is one of the so-called fixed astrological signs, and it has two symbols – the scorpion and the eagle. These represent the two extremes that the Scorpionic temperament can take: vengeful or majestic, seeing far and wide. Scorpio also rules the large intestine in the body, which certainly gets rid of whatever isn’t needed, and sometimes in a violent fashion.

Pluto, elemental Fire

Pluto is also a rule breaker, psychically and physically. The planet itself is inclined to the usual orbital plane of the other planets, so it wanders outside the boundaries. Also, its orbit is such that for a couple of decades each revolution around the sun, it is closer to the sun than Neptune.

In our psyches, Pluto can bring about rapid cleansing, and asks us to die to ourselves so that we may rise anew – hence the Tarot card that shows the dead rising.

Pluto has the same note (C natural) as Mars. Look for Pluto in sweep in and really shake things up. It can seem traumatic at the time, but it often signals a growth period, as that which is outmoded dies and the new rises from that destruction.

Planetary Forces – Neptune

Moving outward, the next planet is Neptune, which is elemental Water. It is paired with the Hanged Man (Tarot major arcana Key 12).

Water is the emotional self. It is also our contact with the unconscious, both personal and collective. Neptune was discovered in 1846, after its position was predicted mathematically. Isn’t it just like emotion not to explain itself truly until rationality is put into play?

In astrology, Neptune is our dreamy side and it helps us formulate hopes and aspirations. On the negative, it can enslave us with unrealistic expectations and even addictions. It co-rules (with Jupiter) the astrological sign of Pisces, perhaps the least grounded of all signs. Its rulership of this sign gives a clue as to its ability to put us into contact with our intuitive parts. Perhaps that is why it’s considered a higher octave of the Moon.

Neptune, elemental Water

Recall that the Moon is paired with the High Priestess (the post for the Moon is here), the mistress of memory and intuitive connection. There is a decidedly feminine emphasis here; also the Hanged Man (post on the Hanged Man is here) reminds us to look beneath the surface, not to take things at face value. In other words, there more to life than what the senses tell us.

The note for Neptune and the Hanged Man is G#, because of the relationship with the High Priestess.

Here is an essential point: Rationality without emotion is cold, while emotion without reason is unfocused. It is again, no surprise, about balance. The lessons of Neptune and the Hanged Man are indispensable. They ask us to dream and to hope. Without that, life becomes meaningless and pointless. Out of Cosmic Memory comes the true sense of connection with something greater.

Let Neptune bring you to the heights of fantasy and dreams, while you keep yourself tethered to the physical. This is the formula for making dreams into reality.

Planetary Forces – Uranus

This is the first of three posts on the outer planets, those seemingly unknown to the ancients. Whether these planets were really unknown is not the issue, though. The issue is that these planets were not used in the casting of horoscopes. The explanation usually given is that these outer planets made their appearances (were discovered) at a time that was most apropos to their function in the human psyche.

In Tarot, the outer planets are given as rulers of the elements (Saturn, the outermost in the ancient planets is given as ruler of elemental Earth – compare this with my post on Saturn here).

Uranus, elemental Air

The first of the outer planets to consider is Uranus, elemental Air. It corresponds to the Fool (Major Arcana Key 0), and the Tarot suit of Swords. I have posted on the Fool here.

The element of Air is associated with quick thought and movement. There is a gregarious quality to it, and those with much Air in their temperaments are quick-thinking and sociable. However, the dark side of Air is cold, aloof, and sometimes cruel.

The Fool is often paired with the so-called transpersonal chakra, located about 18 inches above the head. It is where we commune with the rest of the human race.

Uranus is considered to be a higher octave of Mercury, another fast-moving entity. As such, it has the same note (E natural) as Mercury and the Magician. This planet (with Saturn) co-rules Aquarius, the astrological sign of humanitarianism. Its discovery in 1781 came at a time of the eruption of new thoughts and bold visions (like that upstart nation the USA), so those things are associated with this planet.

The Fool encourages us to step forward with complete hope. Uranus calls for change. Air appeals to our thinking selves. Put them all together, and one gets results.

Planetary Forces – Mercury

With our visit to Mercury, we have reached the Seventh, or Crown, Chakra. This chakra is associated with the Tarot card The Magician (Major Arcana Key 1).

The Seventh Chakra is our connection to our Higher Self, the place through which divine wisdom enters. But why Mercury for this chakra? Shouldn’t the planet be something, I don’t know, loftier? Well, there are a couple of reasons for this choice.

First off, in mythology Mercury is the messenger of the gods; you know, the guy with wings on his heels, like in the FTD logo. It seems natural to assign the planet Mercury to this chakra, then. Also, Mercury is the communications planet in astrology. Where our Mercury is in our natal chart shows how we think and communicate.

Mercury, the Seventh Chakra planet

Astronomically, Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, and the Sun is seen in many esoteric traditions as the physical manifestation of the divine in our solar system. As such, Mercury is the intercessor, in that it lies between us and that representation of the godhead. Notice in The Magician, the figure stands with one arm aloft and the other down, directing the force from the above to the below – once again, an intercessor, a messenger, and a transducer of the power from the divine.

But the associations don’t end there. The metal for Mercury is, as you may have guessed, mercury or quicksilver. This curious element is a liquid at room temperature and runs about quickly (if you’ve ever played with it, you know it forms globules and balls that shimmer and move away at a touch). Furthermore, mercury is seen in alchemy as the symbol of the superconscious, the highest source of communication. Sulfur is symbolic of our regular consciousness, while salt is the unconscious, or automatic consciousness.

Too much Mercury leads to a disorganized mind, flitting from one topic to the next, a very ungrounded situation. Too little Mercury beings a dullness of thought, and a rigidity of belief untempered by a true connection to the divine.

The note for Mercury and the Seventh Chakra is E natural. This is the beginning note of the Phrygian mode, a mode used to evoke rapid movement and quickness. It is often used in flamenco music, for example.

Mercury – communication and communion. Listen carefully and you will be able to hear the whisperings of the divine.