Religion

Phoenix From The Ashes

Shadow.Ash.Spirit.Flame. - Gabriel García Márquez

Last November I finally told my Dad about my decision to give up alcohol. He’d never really known about my binge drinking or about everything that had happened because of it, mostly because we were not really close for most of my adult life and did not see each other that often. There were a couple of times when in desperate need for peace I asked him to take me to see healers or guides but I never really told him why and he did not ask. So, last November I explained to him that February 2nd, 2016 would be the anniversary of a life-altering decision I made in 2014. I asked him if he would have a thanksgiving hawan (prayer) for me. He said yes, simply and quietly.

Two weeks before Christmas Dad fell sick with pneumonia. It was really bad and on the fourth day the doctor told him there was nothing more he could do. Now, my father is very stubborn and may have decided to fight his illness just to prove the doctor wrong. For whatever reason, he pulled through and even though extremely weakened and still on oxygen and drips twice per week, he was up on Christmas Day, enough to have a few pieces of fruit on the family lunch table. As the days in January rolled by I had decided that I would not burden him with having the hawan for me, so when he called a week ago to ask if I would still like to have it, I was surprised and very moved. I asked him if he was sure he was up to the task and he said that he believed it would be good for him too. It would be a thanksgiving for both of us.

A hawan is a sacred purifying ritual, in which a sacrificial fire is built in a kund, and specific ingredients are burned according to Ayurvedic tradition. These fire ceremonies are performed for all types of occasions: to let go of patterns and obstacles in our lives, for healing, purification of the environment and ourselves, to pray for success with a particular venture, or to express gratitude. Before we began my father welcomed our guests and started to explain why we had gathered together. But the only words he managed to get out were “my daughter” before he was overwhelmed with emotion. I think it moved him that I’d struggled and ‘come home’, perhaps proving him wrong in believing that he failed as a father by never providing a “home” for his daughters to return to. I spoke up and explained that I’d made a choice two years ago which turned my life around and that I felt it best to honour what I’d been given. With my second chance and Dad’s health, our ceremony was a thanksgiving for my life and for his.

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Having not been brought up in the Hindu faith, even though my father is Hindu, I don’t remember much from my childhood in terms of the significance of the ingredients used and of the meaning of the mantras (prayers in Sanskrit) but my stepsister sat right next to me and guided me along.

The mango tree is a symbol of love, prosperity and fertility, and on Sunday it provided the kindling for our fire. Ghee (purified butter) was used to feed the fire and signified light being brought into our lives. Several little blocks of camphor was burned throughout the ritual. Camphor represents the negative qualities in us and when camphor burns, it leaves no trace. Guggul is a resin formed from the sap of the guggul tree, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over two thousand years. It too, shrinks and removes negative energies. Sweet rice was added to the kund too as rice is symbolic of wealth and success.

Samagri is a mixture of spices and each item of the samagri is significant. Ashoka, considered to be sacred tree, is also a herb that fights disease. Loban (frankincense) creates positive energies, creating a seal locking out the inflow of negative. Harmal seeds crackle on being heated, acting like grenades and explosives in the energy field, and drive away the negative astral energies in the environment. Specific Sanskrit mantras were chanted and sung too and these, together with the offerings to the fire create purifying vibrations that are beneficial to all present.

As the fire burned, the fragrant aromas triggered happy childhood memories of running through bamboo arches with deyas full of light, of delicious food and lots of family.

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Can you see the Phoenix? 🙂

I stared at the flames as they danced in the kund, charring the mango wood black then white. Dad spooned ghee over the ingredients yet to burn and pushed the camphor into unlit corners to ignite. There was forgiveness in those flames and hope in the heat I felt on my face. It is said that the smoke that rises from the kund contains a powerful healing energy, and as it rises to the heavens it purifies the atmosphere, both physically and subtly, encouraging peace.

For the last mantras (the ones I am the most fond of because they resonate with me, reminding me of a forgotten time) we rose to our feet. As the others sang I was very quiet, focused on the kund and what was left of the fire. I felt all my mistakes and my shame, guilt and remorse about them, reduced to black ash. I felt a surge of gratitude for all I have learned, for the courage and strength I was given, for all the new blogging friends I’ve made and the relationships with loved ones I was given the chance to deepen. I looked across at my father and he smiled at me. I am so thankful for this second chance. Late morning breezes began to blow, stirring the coconut and fruit trees in our garden into action. I felt love and reassurances all around me, from family, friends, the sky and sunshine, from myself.  Through tears I watched as the wind swirled, picking up the ash and carrying away everything I no longer needed.

“Happy New Year Phoenix, Year 3 is going to be even better.”

Love and light to you all, Phoenix

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You Can’t Meet God With Sunglasses On

Matilde Berk

Bono once said “…it is impossible to meet God with sunglasses on. It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.”

Surrendering to God (as we know him to be) is discussed often when we are talking about addiction, quitting and abstinence.  Surrendering to a higher or greater power is mentioned in seven of the twelve steps and is deemed essential to building a new life without alcohol.

How many of us actually allow ourselves to meet God? I’ve never really been one for organized religion. I mean my mom is a Muslim, my dad a Hindu. I attended a Catholic primary school, and a Presbyterian high school. I’ve been to Sunday school, Mac tab classes, Hindu prayers, and even a ‘small’ church where everyone clapped and hugged all the time. Twenty years ago, in university, there was a two week period when I researched all the faiths, especially the eastern religions, trying to see if any one connected with me in a particular way.

A few years ago I was liming at a bar talking to a girl I’d just met. It was a Saturday night and she was saying that she didn’t want to lime much longer as she had to go to church the next morning. We started talking about God and religion and I asked her about her faith and whether she believed in her religion. She said she never questioned it. She asked me what religion I belonged to. I answered her in pretty much the same way as I’ve stated above. She looked at me for a moment and then told me that I was lucky. She said that because I had the opportunity to see what fit me from all the religions, what I eventually believed in would be true to me and not to someone else’s doctrine. Until that day I’d never thought of my experiences that way. I stared at her and then smiled and told her thank you.

I can honestly say that I’ve felt God. Or at least, I’ve felt the presence of something greater than me, something timeless and perfect and comforting. I’ve felt that once. I was 19 or 20 at the time, still attending university. Late one night a group of us went to Maracas Beach. That is a beautiful beach to be on at any time of the day and at night I love it. I love any beach at night actually. I wandered away from the noise and playfulness of the group and sat down on a piece of driftwood just looking out at the water. I just sat there, feeling the cool sand under my feet and the salty wind against my face. I looked up at the millions of stars that are always easy to see at that beach. I looked for the unicorns in the waves as I always do. I listened to the music of the waves as they crashed and tumbled and raced up and down the beach. I sat there for half an hour. I felt happy. I felt at peace.

And then I just knew.

I knew with absolute certainty, that I was not alone.

I knew with absolute certainty, that I was a part of something greater than I could imagine. Something infinite.

As soon as that realization hit, the wave song was louder, the wind was stronger, the stars were brighter, and I was growing smaller and smaller. Less important I guess, or more correctly, less self-important. It was an amazing feeling. A fantastic feeling, unlike anything I ever felt before. I felt connected. I felt comforted. I felt eternal. I felt grateful.

I haven’t felt that way in a really long time. Sometimes, when I’m surrounded by nature, like at the beach or in Tucker Valley with bamboo all around, or in the garden where I used to do Tai Chi, I feel a tiny little bit of that connection. But it’s always fleeting. In yoga class, when we work on the heart chakra, the feeling lasts much longer but never really stays.

Today, I know why I haven’t been able to feel that way again. I haven’t let go the way I let go back then. I was 20 and angry as hell at the world and didn’t even know it. Full of self doubt and questions about life, purpose, love, parents, destiny, everything! I remember that night very well. I was fed up and tired and ‘soul weary’. I think I walked away from the group because I wanted to turn it all off: the noise, the questions, the ‘answers’, the bullshit, all of it. I just walked away, and stopped thinking about everyone and everything. The thing is, I did not make a conscious effort to stop. I just did. I just released everything. It was a beautiful moment that has forever been imprinted upon me.

The year which followed that night at the beach was a difficult one, in so many ways, and I am only now beginning to understand the reasons behind the choices I made in the two decades that followed. I know I want to feel what I felt on that beach. I know I want to let go and surrender to the divinity I feel in my heart and that I know is there. I want to trust that I will be ok. But some days are so hard and I feel alone and afraid and I worry that all that I have learned will be too much and too big. My heart beats fast and my tummy hurts just thinking about it.

Maybe I still have my sunglasses on.

Phoenix

Photo credit: Matilde Berk