Embodied Prayers & the Westerbeke Meditations
What follows is the text of a small book, published in 2003, that resulted from my friendship with two remarkable women, and in particular from the work that we did together at Westerbeke Ranch in the hills above Sonoma, from 1994 through 1997.
These things here take place:
I pray to God, I meditate upon God,
and I contemplate God.
My prayers take place when I speak to God,
my meditations take place when I listen to God,
and my contemplations take place
when I remember that all this is God,
For quite a long while— a few years ago— a small group of us gathered each month in a little chapel at the Westerbeke Ranch, in the hills above the Valley of the Moon here in Northern California. We sang together, and drummed, and danced.
We listened to one another and we told stories out of many traditions— and we meditated together, and we prayed together. We prayed with our minds and we prayed with our bodies, and we prayed with our hearts, where the mind and the body come together to be healed, in prayer.
I came to think of these prayers we offered up from that chapel as embodied, much as life itself is embodied: lived physically as well as mindfully, tangibly, accumulating out of the increasing darkness of our history into the dawning light of our destiny.
Fundamental to the immediate, indigenous, tangible experience of such prayer is the personal and immediate awareness of a physical body that is imbedded within a physical world. In this way meaning is given to a life that must otherwise be lived asleep, indicating the mysterious vivification of the material body— its resurrection— by the consciousness of the soul.
I have collected into this book a few of these prayers and meditations in an appreciation of my friends Anne Bearheart and Maia Silver, who shared those Sunday services with me (to my deep happiness and gratitude).
We had begun working closely together back in the '80s, in offices we shared at first in the old blue-tiled medical complex on Andrieux Street in downtown Sonoma. Over the years we supported one another through all the challenges of our profession, recommending lectures, books and movies to one another, consulting on the more difficult cases, and occasionally facilitating group sessions together.
During the time that we held spiritual gatherings in the little chapel at Westerbeke Ranch we also presented special New Years' Eve celebrations at the end of each year, from sundown until sometime past midnight. There we witnessed for one another a renewal of our dedication to the work and friendship that we shared.
What we three became, in the fifteen years that we worked and played together, was more than a group of colleagues sharing office space: we became deep friends. Anne and Maia were in fact the sisters my mother had not provided me in a childhood where there were only brothers.
We encountered one another, we confronted one another (sometimes troubling one another) and we comforted one another. Those fifteen years hold a fascination much more than nostalgia: much of myself, even beyond a professional persona, was defined by what we had done together. It would be no exaggeration to say I am grateful for those years with these remarkable women.
The material presented in this little book was written to be read aloud and listened to at the gatherings, to be offered as prayer, and to be heard as meditation. It may be read aloud to others, or recorded for a later time. The form is symphonic, with three movements and three interweaving themes: the Altar, the Body, and the Pearl. They develop, it is hoped, a descriptive appreciation of the journey that is taken up by the soul through what we have come to know as the human condition.
Crouching down and close at first, with our eyes closed, let us once again remember and imagine the primitive clenched tightly within its cave of darkness as it slowly becomes aware of the pulse of life itself, as a heartbeat deep within, which echoes the throbbing deep within the warm dark earth.
Let us become slowly aware of light growing where that throbbing is, dimly, faintly at first, and let this light mount within us as it grows, rising and swelling within our bodies, vitalizing it, and emerging finally through us, passing through the skin in radiation, and out and finally overhead as a brilliant sun dawning.
Then let us slowly stand towards this sun that has risen through us, and let us stretch and reach towards the warmth of its light overhead, as we stand upon the warm dark earth that still throbs beneath our feet.
We open our arms wide to receive this light that had been born through us as it flows back down upon us from above, filling the cauldron that is our body to the brimming and overflow with nourishment and clarity.
We bring our hands together before us in a clasp, to embrace and shelter this light against the rising darkness of the earth, nourished as a candle against the wind within our hearts, breathing gently into it.
We crouch down again to shelter this light, and to hold it close to us, until we feel the sun swelling to rise once again through us, from the earth beneath us, and into the heavens above.
Our word "altar"...
...comes from the Latin word altus, which means "high". The word originally indicated a place on high where sacrifices or offerings were made to an ancestor or a god; it has come now to mean a raised platform, a table or a stand, a piece of furniture that is used for sacred purposes in a place of worship.
Priestesses of the oldest form of the Goddess in ancient Rome— Vesta— kept the Eternal Flame burning at the center of the Empire on such an altar. They were known as Vestal Virgins, having vowed never to marry because they were already brides to the spirit of Rome, just as nuns in today's Catholic Church are devoted brides of Christ. Their Goddess was known in ancient Greece as Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth— a mysterious word which contains the words "heart" and "earth".
The earliest altars must have been modeled upon the primitive maternal hearth, a large flat stone that rested before the tribal fire to heat and cook upon, but more: in time it came to symbolize the Mother— Mother Nature, and Mother Earth. Earth's regenerative womb was often represented as an altar, whereby things are cleansed and born new again. And the Eternal Flame that danced upon her altar originated in the fire about which a Paleolithic community had first gathered, that tentative spark of light within a prehistoric darkness out of which the human condition eventually grew.
If the flame happened to become extinguished on the altar of ancient cultures and communities, it was a time of crisis, a time that needed the attention of complex rituals for spiritual renewal. After millennia this came to happen annually, when the calendar was done each year, and before another could begin. The legend of the miraculous flame that burned on the altar of the Temple at Chanukah underscores the psychological necessity of this central point of light, as are the poignant tales "To Build a Fire" by Jack London, and "The Little Match Girl" by Hans Christian Andersen.
It is said that an early identification and confusion of the metaphoric Altar— its archetype as the constellation of stars in the heavens known by that name, under which the worthy dead would gather— with its tangible counterpart, as a piece of furniture for the focus of spiritual attention, established the relationship of the altar with the tomb, and made of it a place for honoring one's ancestors and saints. Indeed, the crypt, located beneath earlier Christian altars where relics of the saints were kept, lent further sanctity to the place; later this sanctuary was replaced by a small chapel, where a confession of sins and faith could be heard in private devotion.
There is another thing I'd like to say about the hearth. When Maria and I first returned to Sonoma County to begin our family, in the countryside where I myself had spent my childhood decades before, I brought her to see the land on which I was raised. I showed her the fields and the pastures, and the groves of eucalyptus and madrone; and together we found the fort that I had built in the big tree (or where it was indicated by rotted planks and rope), and the bridge my father had made of eucalyptus trees felled across the ravine. But where the cherry orchard had stood behind the house, and the rose-garden with its fishpond, and the raspberry and strawberry and blackberry patches, where the house itself had been, there was nothing but grass— knee-high and thick, for acres.
As I moved about the area, just about where the old home had stood, my foot struck against something hard; and when I parted the grass I saw the hearth of our fireplace, brick upon brick, there in the otherwise open field. I sat down there suddenly and hard upon the hearth, there in the open field, just as I had sat upon it in the shelter of my childhood home throughout all those years, and I wept at the abrupt and immediate connection that I felt with who I had been my first eighteen years.
I have been in several homes where altars are tended as mindfully as had the Vestal Virgins tended their duty in ancient Rome. I think of Laksmi, whose small coffee-table was always covered with photographs of her Hindu guru, and freshly-cut flowers, and prasad— offerings of fresh fruit and baked treasures to the gods, which we were allowed to eat only when they were satisfied. I think of the small table in Kalia's room where pungent incense burned constantly as she chanted namu myoho rengekyo ("Reverence to the Wondrous Law of the Lotus Sutra") as a devout member of the Nichiren Shoshu sect of Buddhism.
And I think of the altars built for each of their children by Barry and Joyce Vissell, where favorite items and mementos would be placed to help each child identify this as their special place within the wide world to regain a sense of the self. Their parents, too, would make use of these special locations in their home, to contact the essence of a child when there was trouble contacting their more human personalities, when they were fast asleep and perhaps more available in their dreams than they had been during the day.
The altar is a special place in the home then, a manifestation of it's spirit, and a place where it is encountered and met, and celebrated. For many it is still the fireplace that is central, for others perhaps that popular conveyer of the collective culture, the television, or the family computer as terminal for the Internet, or perhaps it is the dinner table about which the family gathers, where prasad can be spoken over and shared. Usually, however, the altar is not clearly recognized and acknowledged in the modern home, and its usefulness as a spiritual focus can be therefore neglected.
To build an altar, consciously, whether within our homes or within ourselves, can remind us of the spiritual focus that needs to be housed by the architecture of our lives, giving that fabrication a conscious spiritual focus. How an altar is to be built is best left to each of us as a personal spiritual work, with details of material and construction that rise out of our own personal associations, needs, and loves; but devotion would be the necessary right attitude in the building of it. If self-discipline is in fact becoming a disciple to one's self, then this project would become a significant step in that most religious undertaking.
The guided imagery that follows...
...is intended to help build an altar in your mind, to help find a place within yourself where you might worship. Perhaps you could record these words for later listening, or have another person read them to you after you have made yourself comfortable and closed your eyes, following your breath for a few moments.
The first thing I would ask you to visualize is a piece of furniture, a table perhaps, or a low cabinet. The wood from which it is made may be simple and rough, or finely finished. As you run your fingers along the texture of the surface, you can sense the care and quality of its construction, its history, and its purpose. This piece of furniture may have come to you as an inheritance, from some very significant member of the family, or you may have discovered it in an antique or used furniture store.
Perhaps you had hired a cabinet-maker to build it, especially to your specifications and design, or perhaps you had gone yourself to the lumber-yard, to select the wood from which it was made, and you had carefully, slowly assembled it yourself. In whatever way it came to you, it is now yours, and stands in a special room that you have set aside for it. This is to be your altar.
Walk about it, to view it from all sides. Study its detail, and stand back to see its entirety and its completeness. Notice how the legs stand to support it, how a small closed drawer is set neatly into the structure of its undercarriage, and how the surface of the top is large enough to hold several items, yet small enough to hold them in a specific relationship to one another.
Then there is the altar-cloth. Take up a piece of cloth and, unfolding it, hold it out by the upper corners. Of what fabric is it made? What is its color? Its shape? Its design? Is it large or small, has it a fragrance, is it new and sharply creased, or old and worn? When you lay it across the altar, how does it look there? Do the edges hang down over the edge long or short? How is it edged— is there a fringe? And does it cover the surface of the altar thoroughly, or only in part?
An altar must be lighted. There must be an open flame to represent the dancing spirit; for this we have candles, and lamps. Take one of these, or, if you choose, more than one, and place it, or them, upon the altar. Choose among the wide variety of lamps, or candles and candle-holders— perhaps the humble votive with its glass container, or the simple candle-stick, or the ornate candelabrum made of glass, or metal, or wood, and the specially designed religious holders such as those found in celebrations of Chanukah and Kwanzaa. Place these upon the altar in a special place, and light them, carefully. Stand back for a moment to acknowledge and recognize the spiritual tableaux you have created.
Perhaps something else burns there as well upon the altar— many choose to light an incense, to allow a scented smoke to hover there in an aromatic representation of the spiritual atmosphere in which the lighted candle burns. Perhaps the incense burns in a small dish, or as a stick in a special holder. If you choose, visualize this addition to the small scene you have arranged there on the surface of your altar.
Something liquid is often set at the altar as well, in acknowledgment of the liquid, washing, quenching things of life— a nourishing drink, a soothing balm, a cleansing bath. Perhaps this is a small dish, or a glass of water, or an ornate goblet holding wine. Take time to consider this item if you choose to include it, and notice the detail and the entire effect as you place this with the other items on the surface of your altar.
Now in your mind's eye search about your home and your life for the little items you have kept with you, the precious little knickknacks that have come to you in special ways to remind you of things beyond the routine and the humdrum.
I have a small rock that I had brought with me from the fields of my childhood, a clay tile taken from an ancient North African mosque and given to me by a wandering Sufi elder, the sword-guard of a 16th Century Samurai warrior given by a companion from the Berkeley years, and the wooden worry-beads strung upon a leather thong, handed to me by my mother just before her death, handed to her by a Greek fisherman during her final travels— these items now rest upon my altar in my mind's eye.
Take a few moments to look through your home just now, and through your life, and locate those things that are important to you as well, and place them, with devotion, on your altar.
Think now of all the people that you love and have loved— and see each of them one at a time as small portraits in small frames that can stand individually upon the altar. Pick them up, one by one, and gaze at these wonderful people, observe their expression, their manner, and speak to each, and place each in their place upon your altar.
Now I want to draw your attention to the small closed drawer in the front of the altar. There is a knob at the center of this drawer, and a small keyhole above it. As you tug gently at the knob of the drawer you realize immediately that it is locked, and that it has been locked for a very, very long time, and that no one has looked into this drawer before you. Somehow you understand that, if it could be opened, you would be the first person to see what is inside; but it is securely locked.
You stand back from your altar now, and take in its presence in your life. You understand how it came to be there, and of what it is composed. You understand each item that is there, from where each came, and there is a sense of order, and mystery, and consecration there. You feel moved to close your eyes before your altar and open your mind and heart in prayer, in meditation, in contemplation...
After a few moments, there is a sound and you look to find a small key lying at the very center of your altar, and you know immediately that this is the key that will fit the locked drawer perfectly. You take the key up and examine it closely, noticing the workmanship with which it is fashioned, its general shape and its detail. Then you fit the key into its lock, and open the drawer.
Inside the drawer your eyes make out the presence of one single item. At first it is not clear, there in the darkness of the drawer, but as you take it up in your hands and remove it, and close the drawer, and hold it up to the light, you recognize what you have found with some surprise as something that has always been important to you in some way. Something that has been missing, and has now been returned.
It is something that has been returned to you in a most special way. Turn it in your hands slowly, and touch it, and see it, and reacquaint yourself with everything it has meant for you. Let what it means to you take shape in your mind and heart, as you place it where the key had been, at the center of your altar, near the liquid and the flame, and among the other items on the altar-cloth.
Now take a few minutes to be alone in silence at your altar. Look carefully at it in all its detail, and then— in your mind's eye— close your eyes to take into your soul its presence in your life. Perhaps there is a sound that sings in your heart, and your mind is stilled as it lingers to consider this state of consecration. Gradually you become aware of other presences about you as you sit in this contemplative state, presences from other levels who have shared this attitude of devotion throughout the ages, everywhere; they are your company.
In a few minutes I will ask you to open your eyes and return to the world from which these words have come, but as you do please remember to place this altar you have built, and at which you worship, in a safe and loving place, promising to yourself that you will return again and again for spiritual nourishment.
We are now going to bring our attention to the blessing, healing and praise of this physical body that we inhabit. Take a few moments just now to find a comfortable way of being with your body, and feel yourself settling in, and resting there.
Close your eyes for a moment, and follow your breath. Sink deeply into an awareness of the way in which your body cradles you. We are going to bring the healing focus of spirit into this body with each cleansing breath, celebrating the way in which it has supported and protected us, and releasing the tension and dis-ease that it has carried for us so far. We do this, asking that the Light of the Holy Spirit work in and through this action, allowing only that which is for the highest good of all concerned to take place.
We will first bring our awareness to the loving attraction that always brings the elements of the cosmos together into orbits of a mutual loving relationship. In this way the suns of the universe eternally circle one another throughout great galaxies, holding together in a dance of divine coherence and integrity, as the planets circle about our own sun, framing for us a reality of measured time and space.
In this way all beings that live upon earth come together to build up a great world-wide community of vitality and enterprise. And in this way our parents came together at one time in a sensual and loving embrace, to prepare for our birth as a celebration of the perfection of their relationship.
As Unlimited Beings of Light we are present at that time to love, to praise and to bless the special moment of their union, which will continue on throughout the span and structure of our own lives, although the range of their embrace may long since have finished.
In the company of other Beings of Light, we praise and bless the seed, recognizing the germ of genius that pursues in its virility, and we praise and bless the egg that awaits in its fertility, and we praise and bless the sanctity of their union, the arrangement of chromosomes that dance in the mysterious genetic patterns that unfold within the original cell to tell our heritage. We praise and bless the increasingly complex mitosis, as that cell wrinkles and crumples in upon itself, embracing itself, and then exploding into a supernova of life.
We place light with each evolution of tissue and structure, with each organ and system as they evolve, with the bones upon which it all is hung, and with the envelop of skin that encloses it, and with the sanctified appetites that drive each part to take its place within the whole: the heart to beat, the foot to kick, and the circulation of fluids that bring life to every corner of this body that is prepared for us. We stand in the company of other Beings of Light, and with song praise and bless the miraculous unfolding throughout the weeks and months, as this body is fashioned for us.
Then, when it is time, we attend upon the birth of this child's body, and praise and bless the surge of light that pours in through the eyes, the roar of sound that pours upon the ears, and we enter with the breath of air that fills the lungs, and it is our triumphant cry of life that pours out into this world into which we are born, with the praise and the blessing of spirit.
We are grateful for this gift that's given us, for this opportunity of life, and for this body that has been fashioned for us as the instrument and medium of life. Each stretch, each yawn, each reach that we take is blessed as sanctified in its ambition, and holy in its appetite.
As the Being of Light that inhabits and guides it, we now turn our loving attention to the glorious years of youthful exuberance and vitality, when we feel eternally vigorous and open to the infinite pleasures of nature flowing within us, just as we flow through all of nature. Flying alongside the running child that we have become, we praise the laughter and bless the tears, and we honor the depth at which our emotional nature expresses the passion of the world in which we live.
We place here too blessings of light in every expression of joy with which our youth participates in life, for this capacity to enjoy— to place joy in— each enterprise of life is itself a healing, and a blessing. We praise the appetites that bring us forward to find and explore the possibilities of life that await us.
Yet, in the adolescent scatter of the plunge into life that we have taken, inevitably there comes that time when confusion begins setting in, when the chemicals that carry various messages from one place to another within the physical body begin to disagree, and the many voices that have inspired our appetites now seem to quarrel with one another, confusing rather than inspiring us to go forward. We turn to the other Beings of Light that have always stood by us, and we ask for support during these chaotic times, and a blessed healing begins to slowly pour through the body.
Sometimes there is still a crisis of health— perhaps there are eruptions of the skin, or strained tendons are stretched upon bones that have suddenly grown— but each time our Companions of Light bring gradual ease and comfort, and guide us gently forward, through the pain and confusion, allowing us to know the grace of spirit when the faith of childhood becomes impatient, frightened, and sorely tested by not knowing.
As the Being of Light that savors life, we turn our attention now to praise and bless the appetites of the body; for we know that it is in enjoying our five senses, and exercising conscious creativity through them, that the world's chaos is put into order, and pleasure is experienced in the recognition of its inherent beauty.
Five loving Angels of Light now come forward to guide us in the cleansing and rededication of these gateways of human experience, each taking their position, and directing their pure energy into our physical body.
The first of these angels comes forward, her fingers touching lightly upon our eyes and anointing them with the gift of visual clarity, that they might be as windows through which we see clearly what it is we look upon, perceiving the beauty of the human world.
And then the second angel comes forward, her fingers gently cupping our ears, that through them we might hear what we are listening to, and recognize the harmonious within all the sounds of the earth.
The third angelic companion then steps forward, her fingers caressing the fabric of our skin, opening our pores to the most delicate of textures and anointing them with the gift of sensitivity, that through the membrane which contains us we may also feel connected with the world through which we move, and through the sense of touch we might feel aroused by the immediacy of the world's sensuality.
The fourth Angel of Light comes forward with a flask of liquid that she places against our lips, inviting us to taste the cleansing drink, and we find our mouths bathed, and the palate and the tastebuds of the tongue refreshed, and we remember how to taste the blessings of the sweet and the sour, the bitter and the salt, and to savor in each the wonder of flavor.
Finally the fifth and most delicate angel of all comes forward to help us to remember how we first enjoyed the sense of smell, when the world was new and moist with the aromas, the fragrances, the scents and odors of camphor, of musk, of flower and mint, of ether, and of things pungent and even things putrid. She gently waves her fingertips before our nostrils, stirring and fanning the air, and blessing it with olfactory delight.
And with this movement of air, we turn our attention to the constant cycling that takes place around and about the body, in praise and in blessing of the tides that govern the rise and fall, the ebb and flow of the life that courses through the planet, and through the body.
As the daily cycle of light that builds and falls throughout the morning, day, evening, and night, and throughout the unfolding seasons of the year through spring, summer, fall, and winter, so too the body flows in a blessing of cycles both manifest and subtle, building and releasing, as in the breath of air inhaling and exhaling, and in the pulse of blood in diastole and systole, and in the cadences of activity and rest.
We are reminded that cycle constantly revolves in an orbit about our wholeness, healing us, brought together by the attraction of love while spreading out in the desire to grow, the integrity of each in perfect balance with the other. Yet— if the draw of love's gravity loses its grasp upon our movement forward, and the desire to grow urges us to drift off in pursuit of some chimerical Absolute that floats beckoning beyond our wholeness like a mirage out in the distant dark void of the cosmos— a darker angel comes quickly to us, finger to her lips, warning us of the dangers of obsession and compulsion.
This one has held back, waiting to see if we might indulge our senses beyond the pleasure of moderate appetite, and lose ourselves floundering in an aimless dark reflux of gluttony rather than allow ourselves to be washed clean in the endless rise and fall of Cycle. This angel always stands aside to watch and weep for those that become lost in addiction— for whatever period of time. She waits patiently for their recovery and return.
Now, as the Being of Light that inhabits the body, we turn our attention to the feelings and emotions that well up out of the body to flow through our consciousness, and we see that they bring us the blessings of wisdom, and the healing of knowledge.
Angelic voices speak out from the dark blue regions of the psyche, speaking of the sadness and the gratitude that come from memories; they speak of the value that we sense in those things lost and those things gained.
Other voices speak out from the brighter, yellow regions of this realm, speaking in excitement of the fears that we project, and the great hope that we cherish for what might take place, speaking of awe, of risk, and thrill. Still other angelic voices speak out of the fiery, red regions of this realm, speaking of our passion, of our anger, and of the vitality and enthusiasm that indicate our beliefs and motivate us to express the courage of our convistion in self-affirmation, and right action.
A fourth angel stands quietly at the center of these voices for a while, listening closely to their counsel, before she speaks softly of the ways in which these feelings can be told in the world of men and women. She warns us that the emotions we share with others must remain congruent with the feelings within the body from which they flow, and that we must neither exaggerate nor deny the significance of what it is that we feel, and neither impose, abuse, nor violate the sensibilities of others, while giving full expression of our selves.
As we grow, and as all things grow, there comes a time of fullness, a time when the thrust of exuberance becomes replaced by the need for conservation. The voices of those angelic beings that indicate the need for rest and nourishment may now begin to be heard, and grateful for their guidance we turn our attention to caring for the body that has until now been a constant and dependable instrument of our experience.
Early on, we cannot hear these voices clearly enough, until the inconveniences and discomforts of illness and fatigue begin to demand our attention. So, becoming aware of the need to care for the body, we encounter angels at each of the four cardinal directions of a balanced health.
We first approach the Blessed Being at the eastern gate, and ask: what is it that we need to do, to care for the body, and the Being there speaks of the need to allow the body to rise tumescent to the exhilarating challenges of life, for exercise is essential to continue the thrust of life. An angelic voice then speaks from the southern gate of the need to allow the body nourishment, that it may take in and metabolize the nutrients that provide essential fuel for growth.
We turn then to the Blessed Being that stands at the western gate, who speaks of the need to allow the body cleansing, the washing away of those toxins that build up to poison us, ridding ourselves especially of the addictions that distract us from our health. Finally, an angelic voice speaks out from the northern gate, telling us of the need to allow the body rest, that it may digest the experiences of life, and prepare for more.
Another, darker angel— which we recognize has always been among the Companions of Light but has until now chosen to be silent— now stands forward to remind us that this body that we have is mortal, though our soul is not, and that at all times death is a constant presence in our life, not as a malevolent danger but as a wise and loving counselor. This shadowy daimon whispers gently of the poignancy and tenuous nature of life, which throws the bright spark of human consciousness into sharp relief against the dark depths of the cosmos that contains it, like the bright stars that flicker within the permanent depths of heaven. And we are reminded to always live life completely, without constraint, that— whenever it is done— our life may then be complete.
This shadowy, darker Being wants us to know that each point of light is in fact a tiny opening in the fabric of the dark face of the cosmos, beyond which a brilliant and infinite light blazes eternally. This Being tells us there will come a time to let this body that we praise and bless drop away into its final resting place, to dwindle and disappear in the darkness of this world, while we rise into the brilliance that lies in the Infinite and the Eternal, beyond the stars.
Whether death be abrupt or a long dismantling of consciousness, dying is simply letting this body that we love finally go, and blessing it as a well used tool, a beloved suit of clothing, a profession or position that we retire, a way we no longer need to be— but still something forever cherished, the gifts of which should never be forgotten. For it is through this body that we experience this life that we have chosen and are given, and it is with this body that this life is enjoyed and celebrated. We praise and bless life, and so we praise and bless this body in which we live this life, thoroughly, passionately, and with great joy.
Slowly, gently, bring your awareness back to this room in which your body is resting, and to your physical consciousness, maintaining that expanded vision of yourself as a Being of Light that is truly grateful for this body that you have and through which you live. Before opening your eyes take in a deep breath, and follow that breath throughout your body, and remember, and welcome, and bless each part of you into which the air is taken, stirring it into movement. And as you open your eyes to reclaim your physical presence, re-member this soft animal that is your body as the way that you are upon this planet, within this life, as the Being of Light that you are.
Consider the pearl, whose lustrous worth is built in gradual layers by the shellfish as it endures the aggravation of some anecdotal foreign particle, some item or event that had intruded to become embedded as a thorn within its soft flesh.
There, sheltered within its shell and resting in the depths at the bottom of the sea, the oyster copes with the invasion, and patiently fashions something lustrous of it.
Furthermore, beyond the surface of the seas below and the reaches of the skies above, consider this lucent pearl in terms of the brilliant stars, which are themselves embedded within the depths of the cosmos at many great distances and in all directions, surrounding everything, including themselves and the pearl.
"Consider" —this word consider has its roots deep in the hieratic tradition of ancient ritual and symbolic process. It comes most recently from the Latin word considerare, a term of augury that meant (to those who knew) the close examination of something in search of its ultimate significance, that is, in terms of the stars beyond.
We take this word "consider" now to mean recognizing and working through the personal value and meaning of something, in order to get at a deeper appreciation of our relationship to it, in terms of our relationship to the cosmos that surrounds and sustains us, measuring the worth of the thing in terms of the greatest values, and their most certain punctuation of the phases of life.
The pearl, on the other hand, is a traditional image from many cultures— an image of the lustrous beauty and perfection that continually evolves, in sheltered privacy, from the aggravation of the various painful events that compose the human condition, a condition that is viewed now as "soul-making".
Lao-tse had said that, although the person who has awakened to a spiritual journey may wear coarse garments, a precious stone lies hidden within the breast— this is the biblical "pearl of great price" that Mircea Eliade (in his book Images et Symboles) identified as the human soul upon its sojourn.
As night approaches we bring our children outdoors and teach them to search the skies for the first star to appear, and, when it appears, to make a wish:
Star light, star bright,
First star I've seen tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight...
and then we tell the children to whisper their deepest wish into the gathering darkness of that most sacred moment.
But why do we do this, and why is it done? —because there is magic in that moment, when our eyes first penetrate the mirage of the day's blue sky to perceive the true depths of the cosmos, in which the distant stars are planted, embedded within its depths at many great distances.
Until that moment when the first star appears to our mortal eyes we must be in denial to survive, and can only see what we have been taught to see by others, in an assumed reality of comment consent that amounts to little more than mass hysteria: to live always aware that we are surrounded by the heavenly host is to risk distraction from the routine tasks at hand, to go moon-mad with the god Dionysos.
And until our eyes have pierced the heavens with true insight, no one can guide our vision beyond the horizon to perceive what opens there for us, it can only occur to us as we ready ourselves and gaze independent into the gathering dark. Then, when it occurs, it is as a miracle that we recognize the immanence of our distant relationship with the heavens.
Consider the lone glowing fire that first was struck upon an ancient plain by a solitary primitive crouching there, and how for the first time ever the scattered stars quickly withdrew, and how a golden room began to bloom there upon the face of the otherwise dark wilderness, there at the hesitant, tentative origin of our civilization.
Visitors in time would venture into the firelight, gathering and bringing stories to share, stories that explained what had happened and taught what to expect; and they would sing chants to encourage the gradual building up of a heroic society, a civilization that revolved upon those sacred flames that protected those who believed in the demons that seemed still to prowl in the starry darkness beyond.
And so, then, there began a gradual layering of consciousness, much like the pearl, century after century, as civilization became gradually built up of stories exchanged about the ancient campfires, and songs were sung of encouragement and grief, and hope, and of the human struggle against the dark shadows of mortality.
But meanwhile there were a few others, who stood individually near the edge of the group, with their backs to the fire and to their company, gazing at the stars they could still make out overhead, and gazing into the darkness that lay beyond.
They heard the distant sounds of the wilderness more clearly than the nearby legends that were being told around the fire, legends that explained the noises of the night. These who stood aside did not want the wilderness explained, they wanted it listened to, and heard.
Consider the silent, attentive, patient pearl that was being built up within their gradual consciousness, at first a simple aggravation that had called out to their attention, then something slowly appreciable, a slowly growing presence, a glowing determination, an unfolding of a personal comprehension, and, finally, a personal vision that had completely taken them over, there, near the edge of the group, with their backs to the fire and to their company, gazing at the stars they could still make out overhead, and gazing into the darkness that lay beyond.
Meanwhile the others around the fire feed the fire, and tell the stories, and build religions to tie them to one another in mutual solace, in the name of the fire around which they stand, their backs to the dark wilderness that teems with meaning, and their eyes forget to see the stars that dance overhead at many great distances.
And the fire that is fed is a fire that grows over the centuries and millennia, and the golden room grows in size until it becomes an entire city-state, whose walls are built about the alter fire of a great cathedral, or mosque, or hall, in protection against the barbarians and beasts that still inhabit the wilderness beyond the walls.
But here in the city commerce and culture thrive, and great and clever concepts are developed and erected to explain everything that takes place in the avenues within the walled city, and those who listen for the sounds that are sometimes heard, less and less frequently, from the ignored wilderness which still was dark beyond the walls— these grow fewer in number, as the market-place and the halls of power become increasingly populous.
For the one god is a jealous god, who dwells at the heart of the city upon the altar of the cathedral and of the mosque, while its many ancestors still prowl in the darkness beyond, calling out to it less and less frequently. Some courageous ones still would walk along the walls, would look, would perhaps venture out alone into the dark— briefly, or for a while, or forever. Some of these would return, somehow changed, and a few of those who returned would talk about it.
Those who left never to return were seldom spoken of without derision, for they were by their own hand derelict, and foolishly deserved their uncertain fate. Those who did return, soon or late, were looked upon with suspicion, and it was believed they were mysterious and dangerous, made so by their passage through a mysterious and dangerous wilderness. But these popular beliefs were born of a religious superstition that had grown upon the alter at the center of the city.
Throughout time the cities that have become built discover and depend upon one another, forge trade routes that connect them, and establish diplomatic relations among them, and though they may disagree upon which is truly at the center, and may periodically go at war to debate the issue as they move from political system to political system, they always agree upon their common enemy: wild Nature.
They are grateful to see the wilderness gradually beaten back layer by layer, and while explorations are sent out to populate the surface landscape, everything becomes known and plundered, as nature yields up forfeiture of its great resources. But there still are some for whom the surface is not shallow, some who still will find a frontier, an edge to stand upon, a way to look up into the stars, out into the wilderness and down— down towards an ultimate mystery that had been all the while accumulating, like a pearl, and now begins to emerge looming upward into their awareness, out of the rich magma of the earth.
For they have begun to see in fact that the world is not flat, and does not revolve upon one or another disputed center of civilization, but rather it is curved, sloping beyond an appreciable horizon, and is centered upon a place deep within where the superstition of religious teachings gives way to the direct experience of God. And these people do not encounter the monsters of an abyss that had been drawn about the borders of maps by bureaucratic cartographers.
There is now a recognition among these special people that everything eventually must curve about something far more than monstrous that is buried deep, at a true center within, rather than upon the identity that dances temporarily like an ego upon the altar of a cathedral in the center of the city.
And they come to consider that deeper, truer center as the Self, a lucent pearl that looms up from where it is buried deep within the heart upon which they stand, and they consider that Self in terms of the innumerable brilliant stars which are themselves embedded within the depths of the cosmos at many great distances.
They have likewise come to see the stars surrounding them as pinholes in the fabric of the universe, through which pours one great lustrous pearl of light that contains us all, pouring down upon us from all directions, surrounding everything, drenching everything thoroughly with light, including each one of us, and the pearl that glows pulsing at the center.
The heart is located at the center, supported by the earth and cradled within the body, hidden there where left and right hands come to meet in a handclasp at the breast.
We breathe in and stretch our arms out, bringing our hands and fingers up and around in a large circle overhead to draw the energy of the heavens down from above through the mind, and into the head as the receptacle of the mind, and down into the heart as we inhale. And we exhale as we open our hands, and give from the heart.
Breathing in, we bring our hands down and around in another circle, to draw the energy of the earth up through the legs of the body, and into the pelvis as a cradle of the body, and up into the heart as we inhale. And we exhale as we open our hands, and give from the heart.
The heart is where the mind and the body, the thoughts and the feelings come together, and are integrated and given a balanced, appropriate expression in mutual context.
To help understand this, try giving from the head, from the mind alone, and notice how top-heavy this expression is, how unsupported it is by the body. Then try giving from the pelvis, from the body alone, and notice how bottom-heavy this is, how aimless this expression is, unguided as it is by the mind.
We return to the heart, with our hands clasped there. We feel how the one hand embraces the other, and how it is embraced by the other. We feel how the one abides within the other, and the other within it. We feel each sheltering love, and broadcasting love: this is the Radiant Embrace, where two are one.
We stand in a circle among friends, and reach out to hold hands with those on each side, with the left hand palm up and the right hand palm down, and feel the current flow from heart to heart, passing from left to right. Passing a squeezed handclasp about the circle will help us to recognize this flow, and give an awareness of our place within the total community.
We turn to the person on one side and hold each hand with each of ours, again with the left hand palm up and the right hand palm down, and feel the current flow from heart to heart, passing from left to right. Again passing a squeezed handclasp from one to the other will help us to know what we feel with one another. This is an awareness of our place in relationship to another member of the total community.
Dropping our hands, we turn to face the center once again, and close our eyes and clasp our own hands before us as we had done before. We feel how the one hand embraces the other, and how it is embraced by the other. We feel how the one abides within the other, and the other within it. We feel each sheltering love, and broadcasting love, and know this is the Radiant Embrace, where two are one. We turn to the person at our other side, and hold both hands with our own as had done before, and remember and repeat what we have done.
Then we drop our hands once more, and turn to face the center, and, closing our eyes, we bring our hands together one final time in a prayerful clasp before us, and again experience the Radiant Embrace that is always, always there.
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