Being the Rainbow

Anette's photo of the rainbow at Warrungup Spring

Anette’s photo of the rainbow at Warrungup Spring

Yesterday at our Kuan Yin Day gathering (thank you to the lovely women who came along and shared their beautiful energy and heartfelt stories that made the day such a nurturing time together), fellow pilgrim Anette shared a story about this wonderful photograph she took on Saturday of a full double rainbow across the Mandurah Estuary. Anette had been driving home when suddenly, after a cloudburst of rain, this glorious rainbow appeared: it was a full arch with a double rainbow that reflected in the still waters of the estuary. It was so breath-taking that she parked her car and got out and just stood there in awe of this beautiful scene. Then she snapped this photo before getting in her car to continue on her way home, feeling a sense of elation at having been witness to this special moment, even though she was unable to capture and share the full radiance of the experience in a single photograph. A moment later, as Anette drove away, clouds blew in and the rainbow disappeared, just as suddenly as it had appeared, but the feeling of awe and elation remained long afterwards.

I think it is very significant that the place where Anette “just happened to stop” was Warrungup Spring, the Aboriginal sacred women’s site where women had given birth to their babies for thousands of years (I wrote about Warrungup Spring in Sacred Places).

It is a wonderful blessing to be present in a sacred place and to bear witness to a glorious moment in nature. Sacred places are physical spaces within which there is a higher potential for spiritual transformation: perhaps this is because we know that it is “sacred,” which brings our awareness more fully to the experience or perhaps there is a deeper mystery present at an energetic level that permeates our being. Although the reasons for sensing the sacredness of a physical location remain a mystery (and instead of intellectualising about why this place is sacred), it is most important to bring our complete awareness into the body, into the heart, into the mind and simply open ourselves fully to the experience of the sacredness present in that place.

You can do this by relaxing your body and bringing your awareness into your feet connecting with the ground, drawing up the energy of the earth, feeling it streaming throughout your body; then bring your attention to your breath: gently following the breath in and out; breathing in the sacred energy of this place, breathing out and sharing your own energy, leaving the traces of your own sacred nature to add to the energy of this place. If you know of places that are considered sacred, it is important to visit those places with a meditative awareness – breathe, meditate, walk through these places and open up to receive its blessings and offer your own prayers, leaving your own spiritual footprint for the next pilgrim to find and follow.

Egret I met this morning at Warrungup Spring

Egret I met this morning at Warrungup Spring

Likewise, when you witness beautiful natural events such as rainbows, sunsets, moon rises, or share precious momentary encounters with native birds and animals, there is a moment of awe in which you are completely open and one with that experience. In that moment, all your cares and worries and preoccupations are suspended while you share in that connection with something greater than just “I”. It is in that moment when spiritual transformation is possible – you are open and momentarily there is no separation between what is ‘inside’ you and what is ‘outside’ you: there is just being completely within the experience itself. Just being the experience of the rainbow. Just being.

Sacred places and experiences are everywhere around us, all the time: we just need to be able to ‘see’ them. Step outside now and just look… then breathe… then just be the rainbow 🙂

Sacred Places

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I enter one of the sacred sites dedicated to Kannon (Kuan Yin) on Japan’s ancient pilgrimage route, it feels as though I am walking through an energy veil, a kind of force field that separates this space from the mundane world around it – I am stepping onto sacred earth, imbued with a special energy that I can feel permeate my physical body. What makes this energy flow? What makes me feel it? What is a sacred place?

Is it because over the course of hundreds of years, thousands of pilgrims have stepped here before me, all offering their prayers and opening their hearts. Or is it because the wisest of sages, hundreds of holy men and women have trodden this path and offered their deep wisdom and compassion to be shared by all who follow in their footsteps. Or is it the very ground I tread on, percolated with a special earth energy that permeates the ageless rocks and stones and sand of this sacred place and then imbues every footstep as I tread on this ancient path. Is it my own response of awe to this place, which is named as “sacred,” that brings my awareness to the potency of all the sacred signs in the statues, carvings, paintings, architecture, and priests in robes, and incense, and flowers, and the beams of soft light penetrating the mysterious darkened alcoves of the temple. Perhaps it is the sum of all these elements that casts its sacred spell upon my mind and all my senses, all at the moment of crossing the threshold of the great gates at the temple’s entrance.

Warrungup Spring by Gloria Keering

Warrungup Spring by Gloria Keering

2014.03.29_egretYet, today I felt that sacred energy once again – right here where I live. This morning, I walked my usual route, starting and ending at a local indigenous sacred place called Warrungup Spring. This site is a sacred women’s place, where women came to give birth on the edge of  a great estuary, at the junction of three water courses, where there is fresh water. I looked out over the estuary: the sun, as it rose, splashed the water with sparkles of golden pink, a white egret in the reeds paused to share the view, a flock of black swans elegantly glided out from the shore, pelicans were scooping up fish in their huge bills, and raucous galahs cut through the soft whispers of the sheoaks.  And in the western sky, the crescent moon hung languidly pale in the still dark blue. As I stood in this timeless vision, I imagined countless generations of women who, in the peaceful dawn after their long painful night of labour, holding their baby in their arms, also looked upon this same view. I was filled with a sense of profound awe at the resilience of these women and the expression of sacred beauty all around me. I felt the sacred presence of the Wargyl, the ancient Creator of the water courses that fed and nurtured the people and animals who passed through this sacred place. I felt humbled and full of gratitude for this gift.

2014.03.29_estuaryWhen I returned home, back to the profane world and the mundane everyday chores of housework, I felt as though I left that sacred world behind me. And then, while I was in the midst of doing the dishes, I happened to glance out the window and saw the crescent moon, so pale and fleeting, and in an instant I was suddenly reconnected to the scene of the early morning, reconnected with the awe I had felt. And in that moment, I realised that the sacredness of the Warrungup Spring was carried home within me: I was a container for its sacred energy – my body was imbued with its sacred beauty and meaning by having simply been there and breathed the air and touched the earth. I had born witness to its sacred nature with my body and had honoured that sacredness by the act of remembering.

A sacred place exists as a geographical location, but also as the living breath of the place that is carried away by anyone who visits, and as the breath is expelled, so the sacred energy is passed on to other living beings and other places. This is the healing nature of sacredness and the way that any place, anywhere and at any time, can be made “sacred.” We all “know” that the whole of the earth itself is sacred, and so everywhere and at any time we should be able to feel the same awe of the sacred that these special places bring. But we forget to recognise its sacred signs. It is our spiritual practice to not only connect with awe and gratitude to the sacredness imbued in the beauty and wonder of our world, but to remember.

Rose-coloured Glasses

2014.02.04_rosy copyTo look at life through “rose-coloured glasses” means to see things as better than they really are, or to think that things are more pleasant than they actually are. It has a negative connotation, as if the person with the rose-coloured glasses is avoiding an unpleasant reality. However, I actually think that we all need a bit more rose-tinting in our outlook on life.

At dawn this morning I took my dogs for a walk, relishing the cool morning air, bracing for another scorcher of a day. And as the sun rose, everything was suddenly bathed with deep pink light – the trees glowed pink, the black fur of the dogs reflected pink highlights, the leaves on the hot dry earth shone pink, my skin had a rosy glow. Everything was awash in warm surreal pink. It was as if I was looking at the whole world through rose-coloured glasses – and it was just so intensely beautiful. Yet it was real; there wasn’t anything unpleasant that was being avoided or a reality that was being ignored. Instead, I was bearing witness to a spectacular show put on by Nature and I was fully immersed in a world of ‘pinkness’. Not only was I seeing everything as rosy, I felt that I could smell, taste, feel and hear PINK. And I just laughed because it made me feel so happy! I laughed in the way that child spontaneously laughs – with joyful delight in a sudden magical moment.

The pink light, though, was fleeting. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared and the world of familiar green trees, black dogs and grey sand returned. But what didn’t disappear was the sense of awe and euphoria I felt, which stayed with me. I remained in a rosy glow, as I continued with the humdrum of doing my daily chores, still seeing the world not as actually bathed in pink, but as being imbued with some new quality. After experiencing the intense sensual immersion of the dawn, I became aware of the colours of everything I was engaging with – everything seemed edged with a radiant glow. Of course, my everyday world was in no way changed in itself; instead, it was the keen awareness I now seemed to have of the way light reflected off the surface of things and into my eye. In the aftermath of the pinkness, everything seemed more vibrant and alive.

I believe that a spiritual path is an engagement with beauty; spiritual practice is an awakening to beauty. In our media-driven bracing-for-the-next-crisis world it becomes harder to connect to the profound and awe-filled beauty that is all around us, waiting to be experienced at any moment. After all, I think it is significant that the Buddha experienced his awakening whilst outside, sitting under a beautiful tree. As well as encouraging you to take a walk at dawn and experience this awakening of the day in its glorious light and birdsong, I think we should all try wearing rose-coloured glasses more often, not to escape the unpleasant realities of life, but to see into its beauty and hold that in our hearts so that as we do confront head-on the difficulties of living, we can do so with images of beauty in our minds. Even in the midst of the fray, we can experience joy by simply remembering to ‘see’ what is also present that is uplifting. So, today I am sending you all blessings bathed in pink and a wish for you to awaken to beauty and to see the rosy glow in the world around you – look up from the computer, look out the window – what do you see?

“May all flowers and trees achieve enlightenment”

2012.12.08 somokutoDuring the course of my research here in Japan, I’ve encountered a wonderful tradition that has been carried out over the past thousand years in the northern area of Japan, called ‘somokuto.’ A sumokuto is a stone monument with an inscription carved into it that says “May all the flowers and trees achieve enlightenment.” It is placed at the location where trees have been cleared to make way for human habitation and acts as a kind of tombstone or memorial dedicated to those trees and flowers and plants that have sacrificed their lives in the name of human progress. This practice stems from the belief that all living things, including plants, have the potential for enlightenment in this and future lifetimes, and that even plants need our prayers and best wishes for helping them along on their own spiritual journeys.

The stones also act as a reminder of our deep connections with nature and our responsibility in taking care of the natural world. Wouldn’t it be great if we could introduce this practice into the Western world? Every time an area gets cleared to make way for a housing development or a shopping centre, thousands of plants die and all the animals and insects that depended on them must perish too. I don’t think it’s possible to stop this kind of development, but what if we could recognise this loss of nature in some way, such as erecting a stone monument to remind us of what was once there; to honour and acknowledge the natural world in a way that brings other people’s awareness to that connection as well. This is a simple thing that we in our own small communities could do as a way of honouring our relationship to the natural world. And how much more important is this reminder than in our ever-widening urban landscapes?

I think that developing a deeper personal and communal awareness of the way our lives impact on nature should be the root of our practice towards sustainability. Instead of a top-down approach, we need to work on a bottom-up approach to sustainability. The top-down approach is where we all have opinions about the actions of government parties and agencies, who argue ad nauseum about carbon tax levies and sustainable development. Instead, we should take a bottom-up approach that involves practicing awareness of our own daily impact on nature around us. This awareness practice helps to generate a sense of connection to nature by reminding ourselves that every one of our actions will somehow impact the natural world that we are a part of.

2012.12.08 weedAs you walk along the footpath, bring your awareness to the earth below and look out for the little weeds that always manage to find a way to thrive – they are the remnants of all the plants and flowers and trees that once covered that land where you are now walking. If we can always be aware of this history, then we will grow to feel once again the connection we have as living beings with the living earth. Even if there are acres of concrete, we can still develop an awareness of the living earth and appreciate what has been sacrificed for us to be able to live in a house and drive the roads and use the supermarket and so on throughout our constructed modern lives. This awareness practice is the root of sustainability.

Then as individuals who make up our local community, we should encourage communal awareness, such as the Japanese practice of somokuto. When I get home I am going to talk to the local Indigenous elder about this practice and see if there might be some way we, as a community, might be able to incorporate aspects of somokuto with local indigenous customs to mark the place where a new shopping centre is about to be built. I’ll let you know what comes of that in a later blog.

Dreaming Chamber by Karen Casey

Today I’d just like to share with you a beautiful artwork from the Australian Indigenous artist Karen Casey. I was introduced to the video by my lecturer at uni in the unit Art and Spirituality that I am taking this semester. I found it haunting, mesmerising and totally engaging as a meditation. Water is used in all spiritual traditions as a way of initiation as well as a way of healing and cleansing. Many of the spiritual practices that I have been engaged in have involved water: standing under waterfalls, immersion in icy streams, sprinkling water that has been ritually blessed over the altar and over fellow pilgrims, drinking from natural springs along mountain pilgrimage paths, and ritually bathing for purification before my initiation ceremonies. And as a baby I was baptised with water, as is the religious custom in all Christian and Jewish traditions of initiation and purification. Yesterday I was watching the rain as it ran off the corrugations of the roof into a bed of nasturtiums (the ones you see in the photo at the top of this page in fact). And as the drops fell, they landed one at a time upon the broad leaves as if the water was playing a tune as it struck each of the leaves – the music of nature. It was very beautiful and quite hypnotic as I began to really hear the mystical melody of the raindrops singing. This video artwork by Karen Casey brought to mind many such instances of being in water and being with water. How does it resonate with you? Please share your thoughts.