Here’s the story of how it all began.
It all started from a point of suffering, a crisis, as many awakenings do. I was your typical highly stressed, career-driven teacher, freshly married and thinking this was finally the answer to my dreams; a guarantee of happiness, love and safety. (Boy did it have a lot to live up to!)
One day, these dreams, and with them my happiness, identity and my life were swiftly whisked away, when my husband became severely ill with the dark beast that is known as depression. The pain, fear and very real threat of death pushed me to question existence, challenged my faith in human nature and confronted the idea of god. (It’s best not to put in print what I called ‘him’!)
On the upside; my exposure, yearning for certainty, looking for happiness and love outside of myself and experiencing the very real power of the human mind, (albeit the destructive side) woke me up. Also, for the first time ever, I was shown understanding about the powers of unconditional love and sacrifice and reminded of nature’s law.
The ‘dark night of the soul’ appeared one winter’s eve and I was (as usual) resisting another slow and agonising drive home. I loitered around, shuffling papers and preparing lessons. My perpetual denial was made incredibly easy; sacrificing your time and placing the profession before your life was a prerequisite for being a ‘good to outstanding teacher’. Besides, I had to believe I was good at something, with a hidden husband tucked away in the attic: Vanessa Tucker’s Frankenstein starring Dorian Grey.
It wasn’t the drive I feared as much as the anticipated thoughts I knew would arise. My silence on the subject could not silence them. And when they spoke I heard the voice of the monster. Had this beast, which had clearly devoured the angelic man I’d married, also contaminated me? My perpetual busyness assisted me in wrapping the comfort blanket of denial tightly and expertly, shutting out all possible light. Nonetheless, when the stillness came the truth would blind me, a bit like opening the curtains too soon.
“What would I find tonight?” I worried, as swinging ropes pierced my vision. “The medication isn’t working, what can I do?”
The previous night I had arrived home to Robert De Niro’s Travis, in a scene from Taxi Driver. His beautiful hair laying on the floor and his pained eyes pleading suicide, “the idea had been growing in my brain for some time”.
That evening a death did take place, and came as predicted: unexpectedly. I remember laying on the bed together our arms embracing tightly, when he bravely said, “I can’t do this to you anymore, I love you so much I have to set you free.”
This nihilistic death absurdly brought a flicker of relief to my incomprehensible world. Of course, the romantic co-dependent who thrived on the idea of love conquering all couldn’t bear it, she had failed shamefully and had no idea what to do in this situation; angry endings of betrayal and deception had been her forte.
Paradoxically, this heroic gesture was far too ‘loving’ to comprehend. Unconditional love had left only the choice of acceptance. We made this choice together and lay supported in each other’s arms for the long night ahead.
I carried on existing in life and found myself facing one of my biggest fears and living alone for the first time. Until…
One sunny July evening, I came home from work and sat on my sumptuous sofa, surrounded by a fabulous new kitchen, gorgeous hardwood flooring and sparkly accessories. I realised I still wasn’t happy. What was wrong with me? I had all this and even a caring new man to fill the love gap. And there was a gap…
I wasn’t satisfied. I was living on autopilot blindly wrapping up the pieces of one shattered dream and disguising it as new by sticking random bits of tinsel on the top.
I took a breath of despair and sat silently. I then heard the magical question that was manically popping in my head, “what would I do if I was told I had six months to live?”
The answer surprised me; well I certainly wouldn’t be sitting here working all the hour’s god sends, for what? I’d have no need for the kitchen, or floor, or …
I’d stop waiting and start living. I’d sell up, travel the world and ensure everyone I loved knew it. With these thoughts came a flutter of energy I now recognise as ‘catching the flow of life’. It’s the energy of possibility, empowerment and ease. It’s golden.
And so I did just that. I sold up, packed up, had my home on my back and embarked on a round the world journey. This turned out to be a priceless experience, a precious gift of kindness and love that I bestowed on myself without guilt or shame.
My mind did try to squash it with tasty morsels of fear mongering, a juicy dose of doubt, and many what ifs? Of course normally that would have been enough for me to say “one day…” But now I heard another voice, a knowing voice, saying, “ just do it.”
I planned my journey by choosing all the amazing places I was curious to see and the magical things I’d dreamt of experiencing as a child. I connected with all the possibilities that made me squeal, “oooh I’d love to do that”. I honoured my heart.
Hitting the shores of Fiji with the sound of song and tribal clapping, I stepped into Fiji time. The coral reef, connection with nature and timeless reality, melted my heart. I was actually enjoying being with me. I relaxed for the first time in years. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I thought I’d been relaxing every weekend with a glass of wine and my feet up! But this quality of relaxation was like nothing I could remember. I relaxed my grip enough to listen to myself, to see what I was holding onto and spent enough time with myself to create a new relationship. This was to be the start of a beautiful love affair (although it can still be rocky at times!)
After cuddling koalas and some uncomfortable clean-up work in Oz, I finally touched the soil of India. This was where I ended up fulfilling the old cliché and found myself, or perhaps more accurately: listened, re-discovered and took a good look. I had a hunch before I’d even begun my travels that this was going to be a special place for me. I had wanted to go to India for many years and didn’t really know why. I thought it was because I was a bit of a hippy chick at heart and loved to shop!
This country was unlike anything I had experienced before and yet, I felt as though I had arrived home. My eager and tentative steps came to symbolise all she has to offer: she is a cultural paradox full of diversity and contrast. Beautiful sari’s flutter in the dirty streets, the farting monks text on their mobiles, she forced me to cover my shoulders and expose my heart.
She holds up a dusty mirror to who you are and if you are courageous enough to wipe off the dust and look at the contrast that is you, she will inspire grand change with humbleness and gratitude. And ironically amongst her chaos, she instills balance, wholeness and peace. The only place you can find peace in India is within!
I simultaneously love her and hate her. She will accept you, take you high and make you cry. She can be guaranteed to hand you what you need, although it may not be what you think you need and there is an adventure to be had around every chai stall.
If you embrace her she will show you how to lift the veil shrouding your heart. And offers you an abundance of tools and experiences to do it. She asks you to accept, to trust, be courageous and guides you on an invigorating journey of ever increasing enlightenment. It can be a challenging and bumpy ride that is best taken with an attitude of curiosity and a huge dose of humour and playfulness. One rickshaw journey will require all of these qualities!
I started my journey in the gentle South. Tasting the sweet cardamom coated swaying palms with every sticky breath, it was intoxicating: the rhythm nourished and relaxed. One day, I took myself for a nonchalant stroll amongst the dusty roads of Varkala. I came across a sign saying reiki healing. “Hmm” I wondered curiously, “perhaps I’ll try that today, I already had a massage yesterday”.
And so, I found myself lying in a tattered, basic room with the magical scent of incense forcefully purifying my nasal pathways. Little did I know this was to become the powerful scent that now invokes the familiar friend within.
The chanting sounds and drifting scent set the scene for expectation. I closed my eyes and wondered what this was all about. “Oh it’s not as good as the massage yesterday”, I thought judgementally, “what a waste of money, she’s not even touching me, I’ve been conned again”. I laid back and let it happen anyway. When her hands moved to my heart chakra I felt an overwhelming nurturing energy, it was horrendously loving and physically tugged on my chest; I couldn’t control the wet pain seeping from my eyes.
What a relief. After the treatment, the wise lady divulged much about my life and myself, offering guidance for healing if I wished to take it. I was amazed at this extraordinary experience. Although, I thought little more about it until I found myself sitting next to a beautiful Israeli girl on the bus to Pushkar, a little Holy town in Rajasthan. I discovered this girl had completed her reiki training in the Himalayas; she positively glowed whilst raving about her healing journey. A seed was planted.
My journey of Rajasthan first took me to the fairytale city of Udaipur, with its mixed flavour of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture and gleaming palaces. The magical atmosphere of this city indulged my fantasy. Artisans, peacocks and elephants drew upon the India I had imagined and I felt anything was possible.
After my morning chai I took a stroll with the intention to find a jeweller who could make my designs for me, a hand painted Ganesh necklace surrounded by semi precious stones beckoned me into a shop.
Inside I found a meditating Jain surrounded by books. I greeted him with a smile and a ‘Namaste’ and proceeded to gaze at the treasure chest that greeted me. The energy in the room was of gentle peace and the now familiar scent of incense was welcoming, even homely.
For some reason I felt very lonely and sad. I missed my family, my life and burst into uncontrollable tears. Not again I thought, what’s wrong with me? It’s like wetting myself in public. The poor man was very concerned for my welfare, offering me a listening ear whilst pouring the chai.
We drank abundantly, as I sobbed out my story apologetically. He shared tales of Jainism, advocating its importance. The principles of Jainism are simple and kindly: all living things are equal and to practise non-violence to all. “Don’t kill the fly,” he said as I waved it away from my tasty chai.
His aim was to transcend the physical: “bodily pleasures and passions were a distraction and should be kept under control with meditation.” He instructed. Hmm, I thought, I’m not sure about that bit, although the altruistic and compassionate nature of Jainism appealed to me.
He advised me to meditate and explore philosophy as he discussed the idea of absolute truth, reality and perception. “Meditation will help you to see, come back tomorrow for a lesson”.
I seized his invitation and was introduced to the power of the chakra system. After some regular practice I opened to the energy, I became more sensitive to the subtleties and learnt how to consciously listen. I found myself becoming less emotional. I was also introduced to his wife and children and invited to attend a wedding with them.
On the evening of the wedding, he picked me up on his scooter and instructed me to ride side-saddle. How bizarre and sexist I thought, what if I fall off? We finally arrived and I was rather pleased with my side-saddle skill. The lavish affair blew me away and the sound system blew my eardrums. The floating saris glistened as the dancing girls took pride of place. I was particularly grateful to experience such a beautiful and playfully ostentatious affair.
The next morning I went to the shop for my customary meditation practice. Waiting sleepily crossed legged on the floor, I settled easily into my breathing. As I began to relax and open up, I felt a light force touching my root chakra. Was this Kundalini rising I thought? (Something was). The pressure became firmer and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I opened my eyes. “What are you doing?” I demanded, “you want this, I can feel it in your energy” was his useless reply. I left outraged and disappointed.
I couldn’t believe he had destroyed my trust in him and everything I’d learnt, what a bastard. My illuminating experience was tainted forever.
Actually, a few days later on the bumpy bus to Pushkar, I thought about this incident and realised I had a choice about how I labeled the ‘experience’ and stashed it away in my memory. Labelling the whole experience fake didn’t sit well with me. I felt different.
It dawned on me that I could change this perception. The meditation practice really had created a shift in me, the wedding was a wonderful sight to behold and our philosophical chats had left me with profound understanding. I could also keep myself safe and handle a formidable situation. I could trust myself. This was just an ordinary man who decided to push boundaries. In doing so, he betrayed himself and his authenticity. This wasn’t my stuff it was his. I wasn’t responsible for his behaviour, he was. Why should I let it taint all of my delightful experiences? I arrived in Pushkar, chilled and capable.
The next morning, I was sitting having a chai and met a modern British Indian traveller from London. We shared parallel stories, both grieving the loss of our broken dreams. This chance meeting opened up possibilities and experiences that fuelled my transformation. His male Indian descent and fluent Hindi opened doors for him and provided me, as a western female travelling alone, with privileged insight into a deeper realm.
I tasted the lives of the Sadhu’s and was welcomed into their tented home perched precariously on the edge of the roadside, as they proudly extended their hospitality in the traditional Indian manner: sharing food and stories. They chopped fresh vegetables with rusty knives and one Baba (who carried a kitten in his pocket and had intense soul revealing eyes) told of his reason for renunciation of the life he once knew and explained his quest for the spiritual.
His motivation was also because of a broken-heart; he was in love with a Muslim woman and he was Hindu. “This love affair cannot happen in this lifetime and I accept this is not my path” he said matter-of-factly, so he decided to dedicate his life to Brahman. I thought his detached emotion around the subject was strange and revealing.
This weirdly painted man, dressed in orange robes was not so dissimilar to me. I don’t think we looked that different either, my hair felt like it was about to start dreading and I am still quite partial to the vibrancy of orange! At this moment, the necessity of acceptance was made paramount to me in more ways than one.
The next day my friend introduced me to his reiki master; a serene powerful looking Indian man with white robes, a long black beard and kind eyes. (He looked like your traditional stereotypical Guru).
We discussed life, spirituality and reiki and the next thing I knew I was having my first attunement for reiki level 1 healing. My initial experience of reiki was back in the south and had a compelling effect on me. Before that I had never heard of it. Coming to it this way bypassing the cliché with no real expectation helped me connect to its power, and let it do its thing. There’s definitely something about childlike faith and curiosity.
We talked of the power of reiki before the attunement and I was told it would increase my connection with the cosmic energy, which is nature. “All you need for reiki is love, pureness of heart and intention. Reiki heals all areas of your life he said, it will change you forever.”
“Hmm, I’m not sure I want that” I thought, “I quite like who I am really.”
“A new world will open up, one you want and require. You will develop intuition, your health, relationships, work environment, friends circle and income will all change for the better.” I voiced my concern, “I’m not sure I want everything to change?”
“Reiki will take you on a journey of enlightenment. You can go as far or as little as you please” was his reply. “A grand promise” I thought, with a hint of skepticism and hope.
Tentatively, I sat on a chair in the dark room both feet placed firmly on the ground, the coolness of the stone was comforting to my bare feet. I watched the metal bathroom door, peeling with rust. My nostrils welcomed my old friend as the master smudged the room chanting. My eyes closed, I was left with my breath. There was stillness, for what seemed to be an age.
A buzzing energy at the top of my crown started to tickle, a bit like rubbing a balloon on your hair to make it stand up on end. It was nice. I relaxed. Tenderly, I began to bliss out and remained in this state intermittently, offering loving drops of gratitude from my eyes. I melted and expanded.
After giving thanks, I was instructed to open my eyes and put my hands out, (which had become an amalgamation of fire and sweaty feet by this time) and ask for reiki energy to come. I hastily wiped them on my kurta and instantaneously felt a mighty heat flow through them. “Wow this is like magic,” I thought, “weird” and smiled to myself.
I remained in that state of joyful bliss for the next two days. I was loved up and highly alert; walking on air, entirely at peace, (think a cat on catnip). I saw only love and that was what I received from all I encountered, (for a couple of days). The only previous experience that came comparatively near to this feeling was taking ecstasy. Yet, this euphoric bliss was clean, serene, pure and masterfully balanced. The tap was well and truly turned on and flowing wildly, it was abundant. I was totally loved.
Through dutiful healing practice the energy within me balanced. And like all euphoric experiences there has to be a comedown, in this case it came in the form of conscious awareness, authentic healing, self-actualisation and a whole set of positive new beliefs. I was offered the mirror of life and asked to look inside. Although often uncomfortable, for the first time ever I could see beyond the surface, push through the judgement, pain and distorted perception to unearth the hidden truth: a reflection of love.