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 🙂

Loving Hands

HH Dalai Lama holding the hands of a leper in India, March 2014

HH Dalai Lama holding the hands of a leper in India, March 2014

I have returned home, from my journey into the Womb World on Mt Koya in Japan and the initiation from the Dalai Lama, feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude to all the people in my life who have helped and supported me to reach this profoundly significant point in my own spiritual life path. During this journey I was very privileged to have been entrusted with the prayers of several hundred fellow pilgrims, which I offered at the sacred places I encountered on my pilgrimage and which were ritually burned at the end of my journey. My own prayer now is that I can find skilful ways of passing on the great blessings I received during this time on the mountain to everyone I meet so that this flow of blessings can ripple out into the world.

I will write further about this experience in subsequent blogs, as the teachings I received – from my own teacher, from the Dalai Lama, from the mountain spirits – settle into me and I can find adequate words to describe what precious lessons I learned. For now, I would like to share with you two experiences I had during my pilgrimage.

The most sacred place on Mt Koya is the Gobyo, the shrine where Kobo Daishi (774-835), the founder of the Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism, is interred and is believed by many to be still living, seated in a state of perpetual meditation. As well as being the starting and finishing point for the 1,200 kilometre Shikoku pilgrimage, pilgrims come here from all over Japan to ask for Kobo Daishi’s help with problems in their lives. Every day during my own pilgrimage in Mt Koya I visited this sacred place as part of my ritual practice.

Path to Kobo Daishi's shrine

Path to Kobo Daishi’s shrine

On one particular day it was snowing hard and the two-kilometer path through the ancient cemetery of Okunoin that leads to Kobo Daishi’s inner sanctum was treacherously slippery and hard going, and there were very few pilgrims about. However, while I was reciting prayers in front of the shrine, a very old man came and stood before the shrine, dressed in pilgrim clothes of white and wearing a pilgrim’s straw hat, now dusted white with snow. He held the hand of a middle-aged woman, who was intellectually disabled and had difficulty walking, taking small staggered steps and holding firm to the old man’s hand. As he explained to her in a quiet, gentle voice, like speaking to a small child, that he was now going to say prayers and instructed her to stay close to him and not walk away, it became clear that the woman was his daughter.

The old man released his daughter’s hand so that he could hold his rosary beads in one hand and a small, well-used prayer book in his other hand. He lit a stick of incense, placed it in the brazier, and began to quietly and fervently pray. His daughter watched the puffs of steamed breath coming from her father’s mouth and found this very amusing, so she made huffing breaths of her own and delighted in the little clouds of smoke-like vapour coming from her mouth, laughing at the way the vapour moved over and around her father’s head. She then puffed out clouds closer up into her father’s face, mingling with his breath and continued huffing breaths around his head and neck. In the process of her happy game, she accidentally knocked off his pilgrim hat, but her father didn’t stop his praying to pick up the hat or to admonish his daughter, but just kept chanting in a rhythmic, lilting voice.

When he finished his prayers, he stooped and retrieved his hat; then, taking his daughter’s hands in both of his, he caught her attention and looked intently into her eyes, whispering something urgent and intimate. Then he just stood there for a moment in silence, holding her hands, with tears streaming down his withered old cheeks as the swirling clouds of their breath intermingled. His gaze was one of complete and unconditional love. Then he said, “Would you like a cake now?”, and in response to her wide smile and nodding head, he took he hand and led her away, back out into the snowy landscape.

I wondered what pressing prayer had driven him through the snow with his daughter to get here – was it perhaps a concern about who might care for his daughter upon his death? There was something deeply humbling in his act of prayer, and the purity and complete openness of that gaze of unconditional love for his daughter had pierced my heart, so I stayed and prayed fervently for their well-being and protection and that whatever he had asked for would be received.

HH Dalai Lama entering the temple at Mt Koya

HH Dalai Lama entering the temple at Mt Koya

The following week, when the Dalai Lama first arrived at the temple in Mt Koya, he came up to me and, greeting me as if we were old friends, he took my hands and held them and looked into my eyes with an expression of infinite compassion. Just like the old pilgrim. In that moment, I tried to bring to mind all of the people who had entrusted me with their prayers and all those who had supported and helped me to get to there, so that they too might share in this moment of blessing, together holding the hands of the Dalai Lama. And I received his blessing with the mind of a child, fully trusting that the gift of his teaching and initiation were bestowed upon me unconditionally and out of compassion to heal all suffering in all beings. And then I cried…

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?